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The Daily Tar Heel

Baseball's Lone Senior Leads Pitchers

Senior pitcher Jason Howell transferred this year from Appalachian State to enjoy playing baseball again

You might notice something distinct in Howell's step each time he strolls to the plate at Boshamer Stadium.

He gets ready to bat to the beat of Britney Spears' "Hit Me Baby One More Time," which his teammates tease him about.

And UNC's opponents can attest to how diverse Howell is. The transfer from Appalachian State has seen action at first base, right field, and as the designated hitter for the Tar Heels in 2001.

The Millers Creek native is tied for third on the team with a .338 batting average, including 12 extra-base hits.

Oh yeah, he can pitch too.

The 6-foot-2 lefty leads the staff in wins (six), saves (four), and appearances (23). He's second on the team with a 3.67 ERA. He attributes his pitching success to his mental approach to the mound and the knowledge that comes from being both a pitcher and a hitter.

"(UNC pitching) coach (Roger) Williams preaches 'Be a bulldog,'" Howell said. "That is kind of the mentality I look at. Pitching-wise it helps being a hitter because you kind of know what (the batter) is thinking."

Howell's improvement this year is evident when compared to his past performances in a Mountaineer uniform.

During his past three seasons at ASU, Howell went 8-17 with a 7.72 ERA and surrendered 269 hits in 190 innings of work.

Not exactly Greg Maddux numbers.

Howell hit .287 with only 14 more hits (71) than strike outs (57) in his career at Appalachian State.

The Mountaineers encountered the improved Howell earlier this year in Chapel Hill. He recorded the final two outs against his former teammates to preserve North Carolina's 9-7 win.

"He has been a great addition to our program," Fox said.

But unlike many of his teammates, Howell's status on the team was unclear when he arrived on campus last August.

"He came to see me about a week before school started," UNC coach Mike Fox said. "I didn't make any promises because I hadn't seen him play but one time over the summer."

The past two summers Howell played for the Wilmington Sharks of the Coastal Plain League. UNC assistant coach Scott Forbes coached Howell and the Sharks to the Coastal Plain League championship in 1999.

Ask Howell why he transferred to UNC and he'll tell you in one word - baseball.

"I just wanted to start enjoying it again," Howell said.

Howell's arrival provided the youthful Tar Heels with some much needed leadership.

"My main thing has been trying to lead by example, coming to the field every day and working hard," Howell said.

Of course the senior wants to end his college career on a winning note, but he is keeping things in perspective.

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"My main personal goal is to have a good time and enjoy it," Howell said. "I hope to go on and continue playing, but I want to enjoy this year, win or lose."

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