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The Daily Tar Heel

Early Strikes Help UNC Pitchers

North Carolina's weekend series against Seton Hall showed that the best pitch in baseball is strike one.

The Tar Heel hurlers enjoyed success when they got ahead of the Pirate hitters.

Just ask freshman Daniel Moore.

Moore (2-0), Saturday's starter and winner, got ahead in the count against 17 of 27 batters while tossing seven shutout innings in UNC's 3-0 win.

"First-pitch strikes - we talked about that to our staff (Saturday) about how important it is against good hitters," UNC coach Mike Fox said.

Friday, sophomore Scott Autrey fell behind several batters, and Seton Hall sent him to the showers after a four-inning stint.

"I couldn't get my breaking pitch over, and when you fall behind hitters, then it just makes it easier for them to hit," Autrey said.

Freshman Scott Manshack (1-0) walked the first batter of the game Sunday and fell behind Seton Hall's Kevin Leighton, who belted a 3-1 offering over the right field wall.

Although Autry and Manshack clearly did not have their best stuff, each limited the damage enough to keep their team in the ball games.

A pitcher's mental approach on the hill is equal to -- if not more important than -- the arsenal of pitches he takes to the mound.

"It is more just having that bulldog mentality of I am in charge here," Fox said. "And be aggressive and get beat with your best stuff."

Jason Howell (2-0, two saves) took this approach to the mound against Seton Hall, challenging the Pirate hitters with a steady diet of fastballs and sliders. The senior lefty picked up the win Friday and recorded the save Sunday.

"(Pitching) coach (Roger) Williams preaches be a bulldog, and that is kind of the mentality," Howell said.

Howell and freshman righthander Whitley Benson (1-0, one save) have settled in as North Carolina's closers, but that mental toughness was essential to handling the pressure of late-inning relief.

In addition to having the right mindset, the Tar Heels and the Pirates learned the importance of retiring the lead-off batter each inning.

During the series, Seton Hall pitchers allowed eight of the 12 leadoff batters that reached base to score, and North Carolina allowed six out of 12 Pirate leadoff men to cross home.

North Carolina's win Saturday in the bottom of the ninth was set up by Adam Greenberg drawing a lead-off walk from Seton Hall's Mike Wren. Two batters later, Greenberg scored the winning run.

The key for the North Carolina's young pitching staff will be using the defense behind them. Moore let the infield do the work in his win, inducing 14 ground-ball outs.

"We have to use our defense," Fox said. "It is the strength of our team."

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