The Daily Tar Heel

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Monday November 28th

Power Surge Coming At Right Time for UNC

Entering a series against Florida State this weekend, UNC already has more homers than it did in 2001.

During the 2001 season, the Tar Heels were 31-26, failing to win at least 40 games and earn an NCAA tournament bid for the first time since 1997.

The young pitching staff shouldered much of the blame for the disappointments, but the fact that the Tar Heels totalled their lowest home-run output since 1978 couldn't have helped.

"I think a little bit has to do with the fact that we were in a little funk last year and weren't playing with a lot of confidence," said infielder Russ Adams.

The drought carried over to the first month of the 2002 season, during which the team went 7-8, losing seven games by three runs or less.

"We've lost so many close games," said left fielder Sean Farrell. "It's hard to maintain your confidence level when personnel-wise, you think you can play with anybody in the country, and you have a real tough start."

The tough start has gotten easier, in more ways than one.

All of UNC's eight losses in the first month of the season came against Seton Hall, Georgia, California and Auburn - 2001 NCAA Tournament teams.

The victories that make up the team's current six-game win streak have come against somewhat lesser opponents: High Point, 21-33 overall in 2001; Maryland, 4-19 in the ACC a year ago; and Princeton, which, despite its 23-25 record last year, snuck into the NCAA tournament by winning the Ivy League.

Still, North Carolina has helped its own cause of late. The Tar Heels (12-8, 3-0 in the ACC) have averaged 17 runs during the past three games, smacking 14 home runs.

In just 20 games this season, UNC has hit 34 longballs, four more than its total all of last season.

"We've got a lot of guys in our lineup that can swing the bat and have a little bit of power," Adams said. "And we definitely have a little bit more than we had last year."

Part of the increase comes from freshmen Chris Iannetta and Mickey Burgess, who have combined for five round-trippers this season. The other part has come from a shift in the team's fall training regimen.

"We really tried a whole new approach, doing a little more lifting, a little less running," said Farrell, who is tied with teammate Chris Maples for the team lead in homers with six. "And I think that's really starting to pay off for us right now.

"Our confidence level is spiked."

It better be tomahawked. This weekend, No. 3 Florida State (26-5, 2-1) comes to Chapel Hill for a three-game set.

The Seminoles were 47-19 overall, and 20-4 in the ACC last year. They also made the NCAA Super Regional before losing two of three to Georgia.

And the Tar Heels, against which the Seminoles hold a 44-13 series lead, must make a conscious effort not to be intimidated by the ACC's best team.

"Their tradition helps them because they believe they're going to win from the first pitch of the game," said UNC coach Mike Fox. "But we can't be psyched out, we can't be intimidated, and we have to step up to play."

UNC hasn't stepped up and played better than Florida State, for a whole game at least, since May 13, 2000, its last victory in the series. The Tar Heels were swept by the Seminoles last year.

In a 3-0 loss on March 23, 2001, North Carolina out-hit FSU, but still lost because of a mixture of walks, wild pitches and timely Florida State hitting.

"You have to beat Florida State," Fox said. "They don't beat themselves. They know how to win at the end."

Winning in the end against the Seminoles one time this weekend would be an accomplishment. In spite of history, the Tar Heels are looking for more than moral victories.

Said Farrell: "We're just waiting for Florida State to come in here.

"We owe them big-time."

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