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The Daily Tar Heel

Tar Heels Adjust To Young Pitchers

Four freshmen took the mound against JMU and accounted for 8 2/3 innings in UNC's weekend sweep.

The Tar Heels lost eight of last year's 12 pitchers who saw time on the mound, and the four holdovers from the 2000 squad -- Joey Popovich, Jason King, Scott Autrey and Matt Tanner -- only accounted for 15.8 percent of UNC's innings pitched last season.

Those four also contributed just eight of the Tar Heels' 46 victories, seven of which were Autrey's, and had a combined 5.02 ERA, 0.72 points higher than UNC's average a season ago.

It's not a difficult leap in logic to assume that this year's pitching staff is made primarily of freshmen. Nine of the roster's 15 pitchers are rookies.

"We're all young, but we're real good," freshman righty Kevin Brower said.

Of the six pitchers who collected innings during the two-game sweep of James Madison over the weekend, four freshmen pitched 8 2/3 out of the 18 innings.

Scott Senatore, a 5-foot-10 lefty, started Sunday and pitched better in his collegiate debut than his four earned runs in three innings would indicate.

Had it not been for a tough-luck, nine-pitch walk to Steve Ballowe to start the second and Greg Miller's two-run scoring double off the glove of third baseman Chris Maples five batters later, Senatore's luck might have been a little different.

"Hopefully, I can have a better outing next time," Senatore said. "It was a great experience, and I just wanted to go out there and throw strikes and give my team an opportunity to win."

Brower held down the fort long enough for UNC to come back from four runs down by limiting the Dukes to two runs in 3 2/3 innings in his first collegiate appearance.

He gave up just three hits and walked two batters, while striking out three.

"I thought I did pretty good for the first time out there," Brower said, echoing the sentiment of UNC coach Mike Fox. "My fastball wasn't fast, but I think I was hitting my spots. I think I did all right."

Saturday's 23-9 win against JMU wasn't as kind to two of the Tar Heels' freshman arms, Michael Gross and Todd Boessen, both righthanders.

Gross was shelled for four hits and five runs while walking two in one inning of work; Boessen gave up two runs and two hits in his first inning of college ball.

But Fox is certain that Gross' and Boessen's ERAs will shrink from the respective 45.00 and 18.00 at which they currently sit.

"I'm not going to make judgments or decisions about them on their first time out," Fox said. "That would be very unfair.

"It's just a matter of consistency. Scott was a good example (Sunday). He'd throw one good pitch to a hitter, but you have to be able to throw two or three pitches to each hitter."

Catcher Ryan Blake, himself a new starter this season, taking over the gear from the departed Dan Moylan, said that breaking in the new hurlers isn't really a worry for the Tar Heels.

"If they weren't talented, then yeah, (we would be worried)," he said. "But all these guys out here are very talented. And their talent makes up for their inexperience."

But the only way for these new pitchers to get some experience, which will certainly be needed once the ACC season rolls around, is to keep throwing the young guys out there.

Fox will start two more freshmen this week before sophomore Scott Autrey

(1-0) starts his second game of the season Friday. Scott Manshack goes today against Coastal Carolina, and Daniel Moore gets the nod Wednesday versus William & Mary.

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"They work very hard, and we're going to pull for them and just run them out there," Fox said of his freshmen. "I think they'll just continue to work to get better as long as they don't get discouraged."

The Sports Editor can be reached at sports@unc.edu.