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The Daily Tar Heel

Pitching Key to Postseason

But despite the noise in the outfield and the droning of electrical saws working to pin up the backstop, his players heard every word.

"All of us realize this part of the season is really the part that counts," said Russ Adams, a junior infielder who is leading North Carolina with a .374 batting average. "It's kind of like a new season; we're starting all over again."

And starting over might be the best thing for the UNC team after a disappointing performance in last week's ACC tournament. From that tournament, UNC earned a second seed in NCAA Regional Division I play.

North Carolina (40-19, 17-7) traveled to Columbia, S.C., on Wednesday to prepare for Friday's 2 p.m. bout with third-seeded James Madison University.

UNC never before has faced the Dukes (43-14) in post-season play. The tournament is double elimination, and the Tar Heels could face two other teams this weekend -- first-seeded South Carolina or fourth-seeded Virginia Commonwealth (38-25).

The Gamecocks (48-14) are hosting the tournament for the third consecutive year at Sarge Frye Field.

Fox cited pitching as the one area UNC needed to improve. During the last few weeks, North Carolina's pitchers haven't been producing at the same level they were during the regular season -- a fact that has caused concern.

"You've got to have a good team," he said. "You have to have very good pitching, and more importantly, you've got to know and expect that you can do it."

Right-handed pitcher Scott Autrey, who has appeared in 15 games, is slated to open the tournament for the Tar Heels. He is 4-3 on the season with a 4.98 earned run average.

But the Tar Heels don't expect to have any trouble competing in this weekend's tournament.

"We've played some of the best games in the country," Adams said.

"The competition in the ACC is so great that we're really prepared for the competition and the level of play we'll see throughout the regional and the whole way," he said.

In addition to the experience factor, several Tar Heels hope to use this weekend as a chance to further break school records. Outfielder Adam Greenberg needs to score four more runs to beat the single-season school record of 79.

Senior Chris Maples, who set single-season school records for extra-base hits (46) and total bases (181), is two shy of reaching the school record of 24 home runs, set in 1986.

Instead of solely pinpointing a strategy for Friday's opener, Fox articulated a vision for his players during Tuesday's post-practice speech.

He told them about his experience in 1978 when as a Tar Heel second baseman, he reached the College World Series in Omaha, Neb.

"It's really the first time I've ever mentioned it to them because I wanted to try and explain to them what a great feeling it is and how it makes everything worthwhile," he said.

"There's no team that can be more prepared to go into the tournament than ours."

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