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Thursday January 21st

UNC opens season with shutout victory

Online exclusive

North Carolina pitcher Andrew Miller is commonly touted as one of the top baseball prospects in the nation. In the team’s season debut Wednesday, he showed why.

In 6 2/3 innings, Miller walked two batters, struck out four, gave up only seven hits and allowed no runs in his team’s 5-0 victory against Appalachian State.

“I was just trying to get the season off to a good start,” Miller said.

The preseason All-American was aided in his efforts by a three-run homer from designated hitter Ross Cook in the first, setting the triumphant pace from the outset for the No. 7 Tar Heels.

With two men on, Cook ripped the first pitch he got from Mountaineer starter Taylor Craig over the 355-foot mark in right-center field. The pitch was exactly what he had expected.

“Early in the game he was throwing a lot of righties fastballs away, so I was looking for a fastball away,” Cook said.

In the bottom of the second, the Tar Heels’ good fortune continued when catcher Justin Webb sent a grounder through ASU third baseman Luis Arce’s legs in a play that would have made Bill Buckner blush. The error added two more runs to UNC’s total, bringing the score to 5-0.

Time and again the Mountaineers tried to get a run across the plate but were stopped short of their goal by UNC (1-0), most notably in the top of the seventh when Tar Heel reliever Bryan Phillips took the mound with runners on first and third.

After loading the bases with a walk, Phillips was able to get the second batter he faced to pop out, ending the last real chance for the Mountaineers (1-3) to get on the board.

“It’s always tough to come in with runners in scoring position,” Miller said. “Phillips did an awesome job.”

North Carolina coach Mike Fox said he was pleased with his team’s performance in its first game of the season, especially because it gave him the opportunity to get some of his younger players acclimated to college ball.

“We got some young guys out there, got them on the field, got their first game in a Tar Heel uniform and hopefully got some of those butterflies out,” Fox said.

Cook also addressed the issue of the team’s youth in reference to the Tar Heels’ hitting in the game’s later innings.

“We could have hit the ball a little better,” Cook said. “But it’ll just take time to get used to everything especially with the amount of young guys we have.”

Overall, though, the team was happy to start the season off on the right foot.

“A win is a win,” Fox said. “There’s no such thing as a bad win.”

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