The chances of Miami advancing out of pool play into the championship game are slim at this point, but they have to continue to press on and play as if they are right in the thick of things.
They have a good chance to do just that, as their second game of the ACC tournament is against the North Carolina Tar Heels, a team they have owned in the last two seasons.
That’s not to say it will be easy, though. UNC is ranked inside the top ten for a reason.
The biggest reason for the Heels’ success this season is their talented pitching staff.
As a team, they boast a 2.61 ERA. Leading the way are their top two starters, Kent Emanuel and Benton Moss. Emanuel has an 8-3 record with a sparkling 1.80 ERA. In 95 innings, he has struck out 90 and walked only 20. Moss’ numbers have been just about as good. He has a 6-2 record with a 2.13 ERA. Hitters have managed only a .219 batting average off of him.
Unfortunately for Miami, both of these guys are still available, as head coach Mike Fox felt comfortable starting someone else in their ACC tournament opener against Wake Forest.
As good as the starting rotation has been, the bullpen has been just as good and maybe better. Closer Michael Morin might be the most dominant reliever in the country. In 33 appearances (49.1 IP), Morin has a 0.91 ERA, a .192 batting average against and 17 saves.
R.C. Orlan has been even more of a workhorse even if his numbers aren’t quite as good. He sports a 2.16 ERA in 50 innings spread over 35 appearances. Chris McCue (2.22 ERA, .218 BAA) is another workhorse arm out of the bullpen and Tate Parrish (3.38 ERA) gives UNC a lefty specialist they can trust.
Hobbs Johnson (6-1, 1.40 ERA), Shane Taylor (5-0, 3.09 ERA), Chris O’Brien (1-2, 3.51 ERA) and Chris Munnelly (2-0, 3.61) are all pitchers that have split time between starting and relieving, giving Fox a ton of versatility on his staff. Taylor started the tournament opener against Wake, so we know he won’t be starting against UM. Beyond that, it could be any number of guys.
Offensively, the Tar Heels aren’t all that impressive, but they have a lot of veteran hitters that get the job done.
Even though he missed some time with an injury, Colin Moran is still by far the most dangerous hitter in the UNC order. He led the team with a .384 batting average and .457 on-base percentage and despite missing all that time, he still finished third on the team in RBI with 34.
Junior Chaz Frank is the guy that really gets this offense going at the top. The outfielder has a .307 batting average, .429 on-base percentage and a team-leading 14 stolen bases.
Catcher Jacob Stallings (.297, 4 HR, 36 RBI), shortstop Michael Russell (.285, 12 steals), outfielder Parks Jordan (.268, 27 RBI), first baseman Cody Stubbs (.266, 5 HR, 33 RBI) and second baseman Tommy Coyle (.245, 4 HR, 28 RBI) all contribute to the Tar Heel offense that doesn’t pound opposing pitching into submission, but does enough to get the job done.
This is a big game for Miami even though they are behind the eight ball in pool play. If they drop this one, they are at risk of laying an egg in this tournament. That wouldn’t be good for momentum heading into the regionals.
I’m looking for a close, competitive game here. UNC is going to have a lot to play for, as they are trying to make sure they are a top eight national seed, but Miami plays them well.