Current Date: Sat, 15 Mar 2014 22:23:42 -0400
Coming into No. 12 North Carolina’s 2014 baseball season, defense was one of the biggest worries that coach Mike Fox had.
“That’s the one area of our team I’m concerned about, more than anything else,” he said at the team’s media day Jan. 31. “I think that’s going to be something to watch for our team early in the season is how well we play defense especially in the infield.”
Throughout UNC’s three-game series with College of Charleston this weekend, errors and misplayed balls led to scoring for Charleston. The Tar Heels made at least one error in each game of the series, many of them from younger players adjusting to the college game.
With so many young players getting playing time, the pressure on the veteran players was amplified.
Trent Thornton and Michael Russell are two of those veterans who proved their value to the team in the second game of the series.
Thornton threw six innings and struck out a career-high 10 batters, while Russell lived up to Fox’s billing as the team’s heart and soul, driving in four runs on four hits, including the team’s first homerun of the season.
“This year, especially after losing all those guys I’ve gotta be relied on to drive in a lot more runs,” Russell said. “My first two years I really haven’t had to have any RBIs for our team to win, I was more of a ‘set the table’ kind of guy.
“This year definitely I’ve gotta do a little more than what I’m used to doing.”
Throughout the series, Russell was 4-10 with three walks, hitting behind Landon Lassiter and Skye Bolt in the lineup. Those three players are all expected to do more this year in the heart of the batting order.
In addition to helping his team out offensively, Russell needs to be the glue that holds the infield together — an infield made up entirely of new faces. Although the first series was plagued with errors, Russell is confident in the team’s defense moving forward.
“Our defense is definitely going to improve,” he said.
“We didn’t get off to the best start but we have the ability for it to be strong.”
The same could be said for the UNC team. It didn’t get off to the best start, but it still has talented young players who will improve as the season goes on.
Thornton said he and the rest of the pitching staff — including freshman Zac Gallen, who threw 6.2 innings of two-run ball in his first regular season game — were confident in the players behind them making plays.
“You have some freshman that are stepping in and filling those roles,” he said. “But it’s important to stay confident in what you’re doing. They’re going to make the plays.
“It’s the very first weekend so they’re shaking off the rust, but we’ll be fine.”