Expectations high for Triangle baseball teams
Posted February 11, 2013
Updated February 12, 2013
Raleigh, N.C. — While baseball fans across the country are rejoicing the unofficial start of the baseball season this week with spring training camps opening up, devotees to America’s Pastime in the Triangle should be excited for the summer ahead as well.
UNC and NC State enter the season with high expectations as top-10 teams, Duke looks to get their program back on track with a new head coach and the trio of ECU, NCCU and Campbell could all be relevant on the big stage in May.
North Carolina head coach Mike Fox said this weekend that the ACC is so deep this year, navigating through the conference will prepare a team for a legitimate national title run. He should feel that confident because his Tar Heels are the preseason No. 1 in the Baseball America poll which boasts seven ACC programs.
UNC also drew preseason No. 2 in the National Collegiate Baseball Writers’ poll and the Collegiate Baseball poll behind Arkansas.
The Tar Heels held three scrimmages this past weekend and will play their final preseason intra-squad Tuesday. While pitchers generally have an early season edge on the hitters, UNC bats have been alive in the practice games plating 16 combined runs on Sunday and 25 over the weekend.
One thing to watch for UNC this year will be how they handle youth. They boast one of the top incoming recruiting classes around, but their roster is constructed of just three seniors, nine juniors and a combined 22 freshman and sophomores.
At NC State, Carlos Rodon and Trea Turner return after posting two of the best individual seasons in school history. Each was named to the ACC All-Conference team, each played on the Team USA National Collegiate Team last year and each is on multiple preseason All-America teams – and that’s just the short version of their copious accolades.
Oh, and each are just sophomores.
Rodon, a 6-foot-3 lefty from Holly Springs, was also a Golden Spikes finalist and will look to build on a year in which he ranked third nationally in strikeouts and fourth nationally in ERA. Turner played in all 63 games for NC State a year ago and led the nation in stolen bases, swiping a school record 57 on 61 attempts.
The Wolfpack are a more experienced team than many in the ACC as they boast 11 seniors and are ranked no lower than No. 11 in any of the four major college baseball preseason polls.
Meanwhile, Duke looked to Appalachian State in the offseason and lured head coach Chris Pollard to Durham. Pollard was the 2012 Southern Conference Coach of the Year and turned around a Mountaineers program that had won 10 games in back-to-back seasons to a team that has won 30-plus games each of the last six seasons.
The Blue Devils will challenge themselves out of the gate as they visit perennial power Florida in the season-opening series. Gone is first-round pick Marcus Stroman; present is a young team with 18 freshmen and sophomores and just three seniors.
All three schools open their season Friday and hope to be playing in late May. The ACC tournament will be played at Durham Bulls Athletic Park May 22-26.
Other ACC schools that find themselves in the national polls with high expectations are Florida State, Clemson, Miami, Georgia Tech and Virginia.
Outside of the ACC, East Carolina figures to regain national recognition following an up-and-down season a year ago. ECU was the definition of streaky in 2012 starting 15-4 then having four 3-game losing streaks mixed in with win streaks of four, five and six. The Pirates finished 36-24-1 and lost in the opening round of the NCAA Tournament, dropping their final game to UNC, 5-3.
Off-the-field issues have overshadowed their positive work in the offseason as pitchers Tyler Joyner and Tanner Merritt were removed and suspended from the team for rules violations. Ben Sanderson, Austin Morgan and Ryan Wood have all joined Billy Godwin's staff as first-year coaches.
They open Friday against nationally ranked Virginia in Greenville.
And finally, don’t sleep on North Carolina Central or Campbell.
The Eagles finished 2nd in the MEAC Southern Division a year ago after a nine-and-a-half game improvement from the year before under head coach Jim Koerner. Senior outfielder Luis Diaz turned heads with a strong summer and should draw pro scouts to Durham as the year goes on.
The Camels will say hello to Jim Perry Stadium under sixth-year coach Greg Goff. Last year’s team set 10 different school records offensively and started the season 23-3 after rattling off a school record 18 wins in a row. Thirteen seniors, 10 juniors and six sophomores return.