Feb. 11, 2013
ACC Preseason Coaches' Poll
NC State Dream Big
By Sean Ryan
times since 1982, a team from Tobacco Road has traveled the Road
to the Final Four and waltzed away a champion.
Once, way back in 1955, a team from Tobacco Road
traveled the Road to Omaha and walked away a champion.
Although no ACC team since Wake Forest has won
college baseball’s national championship, the Road to Omaha may
go through Tobacco Road in 2013.
For the first time entering a season, rivals
North Carolina and NC State are ranked in the Top 10. The Tar
Heels are preseason No. 1 according to Baseball America
and Perfect Game and are ranked no lower than fourth in the five
primary polls. The Wolfpack checks in at No. 8 in the
Baseball America poll and are ninth in two polls and 11th in
exciting,” said Colin Moran (left), North Carolina’s junior
third baseman, of his squad’s lofty rankings. “It adds a little
bit more excitement going into the season.”
Added Carlos Rodon, NC State’s sensational
sophomore pitcher: “It’s cool to have two schools right near
each other in the Top 10. Hopefully we can play to that level.”
The Wolfpack certainly did in 2012.
After being picked third in the ACC’s Atlantic
Division and seventh overall in the ACC, the Wolfpack hosted an
NCAA Regional and captured a title before dropping two straight
games at No. 1 Florida in the Super Regionals to end a 43-20
About 45 minutes down Tobacco Road, North
Carolina backed up its preseason Top-5 ranking by earning the
No. 6 national seed for the NCAA Tourney. But, St. John’s
shocked the Tar Heels twice and advanced to the next round. UNC
stayed home after a stellar 46-16 season.
The conclusions of those seasons have lingering
Carolina was coming off an Omaha trip – the
program’s fifth in seven seasons – and led late on Day 2 of the
Chapel Hill Regional when St. John’s Danny Bethea ripped a
walkoff, three-run homer to stun the Tar Heels. The Red Storm
beat North Carolina a second time the next day, ending the dream
of back-to-back trips to the College World Series.
Moran said the feeling of disappointment and sour
taste from last year will help this year’s team.
“It’s definitely extra motivation,” Moran said.
The Tar Heels were reminded just how difficult it
is to return to Omaha.
that was the No. 1 positive about getting knocked out early last
year,” said Kent Emanuel (left), North Carolina’s junior ace.
“We kind of took it for granted that we’re going back.”
This year’s team, he added, has learned to stay
grounded, knowing a trip to the College World Series is not a
At NC State, the Wolfpack kept battling back
against the No. 1 Gators in the second game of the Super
Regional. State trailed by two in the eighth and rallied to tie;
it trailed by one in the ninth and forced extra innings.
Trailing by two in the 10th, the Wolfpack cut the lead in half
and had the tying run at second when the game ended on a suspect
called third strike.
State enters this season “very hungry,” according to sophomore
Trea Turner (left), who will make the switch from third base to
shortstop this year.
“Now we know we can win and how to win,” Turner
Added Rodon: “We know what it’s like to be in the
postseason and be in a big spot.”
the end of last season, Emanuel has done everything possible to
gain as much weight and muscle as he can. He’s been in the gym.
He’s worked with a nutritionist. The 6-4 lefty said he’s the
type of person who can eat whatever he wants.
“I always ate a lot, the big difference is that I
ate more often,” Emanuel said of his diet that has helped him
gain “11 or 12 pounds” since last season. That, and maybe a
particular liking to Oreos. “I’m big on cookies.”
The result continues a trend he’s experienced
each year since high school.
“I come back a little bigger and am throwing a
little bit harder,” Emanuel said.
Not the best news for opposing hitters. As a
freshman, Emanuel went 9-1 with a 2.33 ERA with 89 strikeouts
and 23 walks in 104.1 innings. Last year, he was 8-4 with a 1.96
ERA and 100 strikeouts and 23 walks in 110 innings.
“He’s real tough,” Moran said of his teammate.
“He can spot up his pitchers wherever he wants; he can just play
with you at times because he has pinpoint control.”
Turner, from NC State, called Emanuel “the total
“He’s a pitcher, not a thrower,” said Turner,
acknowledging that Emanuel kept him off balance. “He knows what
to do in situations.”
Emanuel, from Woodstock, Ga., leads a rotation
that returns Benton Moss (7-2, 1.94 ERA) and Hobbs Johnson (7-1,
1.56) and figures to be as strong as any in the ACC. The Tar
Heels will look to replace relievers Michael Morin and R.C.
“Our pitching staff is always so deep, the
competition for innings is such a driver,” Emanuel said.
Baseball America’s 2011 Freshman of the Year and Perfect
Game’s Freshman Hitter of the Year, headlines the Tar Heels’
attack at the plate. The smooth-hitting lefty hit .365 with
three homers and 35 RBI in 41 games – he missed 21 games with a
broken hand sustained punching a door in a March loss to NC
State. No other UNC regular batted above .300 last year.
Emanuel described Moran the hitter as “pure.”
“He’s one of the best hitters in the country,”
Emanuel said of his close friend, against whom he has a tough
time not smiling or laughing when he enters the box. “I’ve seen
him do just about everything with every kind of pitch.”
Rodon added: “He’s a good
hitter; he’s got a great approach.”
Like Carolina, State has an ace lefty and a
brilliant infielder leading the way.
(left) and Turner describe each other as intense competitors,
whether it’s on or off the field. The roommates compete at just
about everything, from iPhone games to pool or ping pong,
according to Turner. Rodon said Turner has the edge in Call
of Duty, while the pitcher gets the better of the hitter in
MLB The Show.
“He wants to win at everything,” Turner said of
Rodon. “I think that’s what makes him great on the mound.”
Rodon, Baseball America’s
Freshman of the Year and Louisville Slugger’s Freshman Pitcher
of the Year in 2012, didn’t lose as a freshman, going
9-0 with a 1.57 ERA and 135 strikeouts and 41 walks in 114.2
innings. Opponents hit a flimsy .176 during his freshman
“It’s his demeanor on the mound,” Turner said,
adding that his low-to-mid 90s fastball is “obviously
who said he worked on his change and pickoff move in the
off-season, has a big fan in Emanuel.
“He just has unbelievable stuff,” Emanuel said.
“I don’t know how else to say it. He’s so far ahead of his age
in what’s in his arsenal. The sky’s the limit for him.”
In addition to Rodon, from Holly Springs, N.C.,
the Wolfpack returns the bulk of its staff.
Fellow starters Ethan Ogburn (5-4, 3.38), Anthony
Tzamtzis (5-5, 4.38) and Logan Jernigan (5-1, 5.71) provide the
Wolfpack with an experienced rotation. And the bullpen, led by
closer Chris Overman, brings back Vance Williams, Travis Orwig,
Dillon Frye and Danny Healey.
a bit shocking Turner wasn’t recruited heavily out of high
school in Lake Worth, Fla. All he did as a freshman was hit .336
with five homers, 43 RBI and a nation’s best 57 stolen bases (in
61 attempts) – he stole more bases than more than half of
Division I’s teams. He also ranked sixth in the nation with 72
“Trea is a true competitor,” Rodon said. “He’s
such a gamer; he works so hard every day. It’s so unbelievable
how much he’s grown.”
Emanuel admires Turner’s “killer speed.”
“I remember sitting there Saturday and Sunday and
watching him run,” Emanuel said. “He stole a stupid amount of
It’s the first Saturday of February, and the
start of the college baseball season is less than two weeks
away. NC State is prepping to intrasquad, and Rodon will be on
the mound at some point, possibly facing his buddy Turner.
The sophomore stars each reminisce about their
freshmen years with modesty. One just wanted to play and
contribute to a winning team; the other simply trying to throw
strikes and win for the team.
“Last year means nothing, but we can take a
couple things and use them,” Rodon said.
Three days later, North Carolina has finished a
scrimmage, and Emanuel and Moran – who like Rodon and Turner
starred as freshmen – sound like seasoned vets.
They appreciate the preseason accolades. But they
know the challenges that lie ahead.
“We all know that everything changes once the
season starts,” Emanuel said. “When we go out and play, we want
to act like we’re the best team in the nation.”
Added Moran: “The bar was set with those past
teams. The expectation is to go to Omaha.”
Time will tell if a team – or teams – from
Tobacco Road will be making that trip.
(photos courtesy of UNC & NCSU Media