College baseball: North Carolina ready to start anew in tough ACC
North Carolina's baseball team didn't figure to be back in this position again.
But the Tar Heels embark on another season coming off a spring without an NCAA Tournament bid.
"It's over with. Move on. Be in the present," junior shortstop Logan Warmoth said. "We're hungry."
Long a prominent team in the postseason, the Tar Heels have missed out on back-to-back NCAA Tournaments -- and last spring didn't make the Atlantic Coast Conference Tournament field either.
It wasn't like it was rotten season, with the Tar Heels posting a 34-21 record, but only a 13-17 ACC mark.
"For me, the juniors and seniors, we haven't done anything, really," junior center fielder Brian Miller said.
The Tar Heels begin with 17 consecutive home games, with today's season opener against Kentucky starting a three-game series.
"This should give the young guys in our lineup an opportunity to get comfortable," senior outfielder Adam Pate said.
Junior right-hander J.B. Bukauskas, who's likely to be high on draft boards in June, draws the opening-day start. The weekend rotation is rounded out by junior right-hander Jason Morgan and freshman right-hander Luca Dalatri (out of Wall Township, N.J.). Bukauskas struck out 111 batters in 78 1/3 innings last season while posting a 7-2 record and 3.10 earned run average.
"I think our guys really want to win ahead of anything else," 19th-year coach Mike Fox said.
There are adjustments with the coaching staff. Former ace Robert Woodard is back with the team, serving as pitching coach. That moves Scott Forbes, who held that role, into the hitting coach role.
Sophomore Brandon Riley out of Williams High School is expected to be the left fielder and bat near the top of the lineup. Riley hit .294 with 35 runs batted in (fourth-best on the team) last year. He started in 51 games, often as the designated hitter.
North Carolina struggled at this on offense with runners in scoring position. With only 32 home runs and 18 triples along with less than two doubles per game, Fox said there's a need for more power production.
"That's something we need and something we've talked about," Fox said. "It's not because we haven't emphasized it."
The Blue Devils, who are coming off their first NCAA Tournament appearance since 1961, play their first four games at Surprise Stadium in Surprise, Ariz. That's the spring training home to the Kansas City Royals and Texas Rangers.
Duke will face Oregon State (twice), Gonzaga and Indiana across three days. Chris Pollard begins his fifth year as coach.
The Blue Devils, who were 33-24 last year, have all nine players who were considered starters in the 2016 batting order back. That includes sophomore outfielder Jimmy Herron, an All-ACC second team selection and the first Duke rookie to land on the all-conference team since 1997, and junior first baseman Justin Bellinger, who batted a team-high .336 last year.
However, Duke returns only two pitchers -- Jack Labosky and James Ziemba -- who started a game last season.
The Wolfpack, which was eliminated in the NCAA regionals last spring in excruciating fashion by eventual national champion Coastal Carolina, starts its season with a three-game series at Hawaii in Honolulu.
Among the Wolfpack's key players is junior outfielder Brock Deatherage, a former Western Alamance standout. He batted .317 with six home runs, 39 RBI and a team-high 14 stolen bases last year as a starter in all 60 games. N.C. State was 38-22.
Junior third baseman Evan Mendoza and junior shortstop Joe Dunand are among other notable returning position players. Mendoza batted a team-best .362.
N.C. State's pitching rotation for the weekend begins with left-lander Sean Adler followed by Cody Beckman and Tommy DeJuneas.
The Demon Deacons start with two games today in Houston, playing Nicholls and Houston. They'll meet each of them once more during the weekend.
Wake Forest made its first NCAA Tournament appearance in nine years last season, finishing with a 35-27 record for the most victories since 2002.
Gone is infielder / pitcher Will Craig, who won various national honors and was a first-round draft pick of the Pittsburgh Pirates. However, the team has five starting pitchers back, including Parker Dunshee and Chris Farish, both opting to stay in school after they were drafted.
This article is written by Bob Sutton from Times-News, Burlington, N.C. and was legally licensed via the Tribune Content Agency through the NewsCred publisher network.