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Previewing the College World Series: North Carolina Tar Heels

This is the second in a series of looks at the eight teams in the College World Series.

Despite not being ranked in any of the preseason polls, the North Carolina Tar Heels (50-14) proved everyone wrong and contended in the ACC, one of the toughest conferences in the nation. The Tar Heels, the No. 3 national seed in the nation, were the only team to beat No. 1 national seed Virginia back-to-back times, and actually swept the Cavaliers in the final series of the season. North Carolina was the first team to punch its ticket to Omaha, returning to the College World Series for the first time since 2009 and for the ninth time overall. The closest UNC has gotten to winning a national championship is when it made it to the CWS championship series in 2006 and 2007, losing both times to Oregon State.

North Carolina's first NCAA Tournament task was hosting the Chapel Hill Regional that featured Maine (32-22), James Madison (40-17), and Florida International (40-18-1). The Heels beat Maine in the first game, then defeated James Madison twice to win the Regional. UNC then hosted the Chapel Hill Super Regional against Stanford and swept the best-of-three series.

Led by All-ACC second teamer Patrick Johnson (13-1, 2.27 ERA), the UNC pitching staff had a very successful season. Johnson led the Tar Heels with 120 strikeouts in only 107 innings pitched and held hitters to a paltry .208 average. Saturday starter Kent Emmanuel also had a good season, going 8-1 with a 2.55 ERA. Michael Morin leads North Carolina with 10 saves, but also has an alarmingly high (for a closer) 4.71 ERA. The Tar Heels as a whole, however, have a very respectable 3.26 ERA.

Offensively, NCBWA Freshman All-American and ACC Freshman of the Year Colin Moran leads the team with a .335 average, 9 home runs, and 69 RBIs. Tommy Coyle also paces the Tar Heels with a .318 average. Coyle led the team with 83 hits and 18 stolen bases. The Tar Heels don't have many players with eye-popping offensive numbers, but they come through with hits in the right spots.

Pitching, defense, and timely hitting have gotten North Carolina this far. For a program that will always play a distant third fiddle to one of the three college basketball programs with 2,000 wins and an improving football team, North Carolina baseball has earned its enthusiasm, reaching the CWS five out of the past six years. And now UNC's oldest sport (baseball's varsity squad was formed in 1867) is looking for its first national title in program history.

The quest begins Saturday at 2 p.m. versus the sixth seed Vanderbilt Commodores.