The Daily Tar Heel

Serving the students and the University community since 1893

Friday December 2nd

Baseball Looks Back, Eyes No. 1 Tigers

After dropping two games to Wake Forest last weekend, the Tar Heels look to rebound in ACC play against Clemson.

It's back to the future for the North Carolina baseball team.

Three weeks ago, the No. 21 Tar Heels proved they could stand among the ACC's elite, rewriting history with their first ever sweep of Florida State.

"We feel we're one of the better teams in the country, and we know we can play with and compete against the best," said center fielder Adam Greenberg on Wednesday, referring to the March series.

But as No. 1 Clemson comes to town this weekend for a three-game set, it's all the Tar Heels can do to make like a tree and leave -- the FSU series in the past.

"As soon as those games were over, I tried to make the guys forget about them," said UNC coach Mike Fox. "But everybody keeps bringing it up, saying, 'Look what you did.' We have to put that behind us."

Any lingering memories of outscoring FSU 27-9 had best be behind UNC

(24-11, 9-3 in the ACC) by 7 p.m. Friday.

Shortly thereafter, righthander Steve Reba will take the mound for Clemson (28-3, 5-1) and attempt to extend his personal winning streak to 13 games.

"We think we can do well against (Reba)," Fox said. "We hit him well both times we faced him last year."

He'll be followed in the Tiger rotation by Matt Henrie (6-1, 2.08 ERA) and B.J. LaMura (3-0, 1.32), key contributors to Clemson's team ERA of 3.38, one far lower than UNC's (4.19).

The Tigers also hold a decisive hitting advantage, hitting .343 compared to the .316 average of the Tar Heels.

"I'd love to have a chance to face them," said UNC righty Scott Manshack. "But since I'm a long reliever, I shouldn't say that because I hope all our starters do well and pitch a lot of good innings."

The latter may be wishful thinking. While the Tar Heels pitching staff is much improved from a year ago, the Tigers feature a powerful lineup that Fox said can hit well "one through nine."

Of the nine, the big one is Khalil Greene, Baseball America's National Midseason Player of the Year, currently hitting .452 with 10 homers and 43 RBIs.

The shortstop has started 229 straight games for the Tigers since 1999. But after straining cartilage in his ribs against Georgia on April 9, he was relegated to a DH role a day later. His status for playing the field this weekend is uncertain.

If unable to play short, his fielding would be missed. His .963 fielding percentage is high -- only 11 points lower than Clemson's team average.

Despite the numerical inequalities, Fox said he feels confident that his team, which dropped two of three ACC games last weekend, matches up well.

"But feeling like you match up and then going out and playing like you do are two different things," Fox said. "You have to feel like you match up, and then you have to back it up with big play."

If the Tar Heels, which are 4-2 against ranked teams this season, defy the numbers again, they might find themselves in unfamiliar territory at the end of the weekend: the top of the ACC standings.

And to get there, you don't need roads.

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

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