North Carolina ace Kent Emanuel had the chance Friday to do what many players can only dream of — start a game on a big-league mound.
The junior lefty took the hill at Minute Maid Park, home of the Houston Astros, for No. 1 UNC’s first game of three in the Astros Foundation College Classic.
It was a game that Emanuel had circled on his calendar for quite awhile, but that wasn’t simply because it was at a major league venue.
“To be honest with you, I was more excited about playing Rice than I was playing in a big-league ballpark,” Emanuel said in a telephone interview. “Rice is one of the better teams, and I knew we were facing another great pitcher, so I was excited to match up with them.”
As the first top-25 opponent UNC has faced this season, No. 12 Rice presented both a challenge and an early season test for the highly touted Tar Heels. UNC (10-0) ultimately prevailed — edging Rice 2-1, then toppling California and Texas A&M 11-5 and 14-2, respectively, on Saturday and Sunday.