(Part 5 of an 8-part College World Series preview)
Having survived a bumpy road to Omaha, top-seeded North Carolina (57-10) arrives at the College World Series battle-tested.
In a hard-fought Chapel Hill Super Regional, the Tar Heels prevailed over South Carolina 5-4 in Game 3.
North Carolina was also pushed to the limit in the Chapel Hill Regional, squeaking by Florida Atlantic 12-11 in 13 innings in a winner-take-all championship game.
The Tar Heels are in the CWS for the 10th time in school history and the sixth time in eight years. North Carolina coach Mike Fox is one of six men to have participated in the CWS as a player and a coach. Fox earned CWS All-Tournament honors as the Tar Heels' second baseman in 1978. He returned to UNC as head coach in 1999.
North Carolina ranks No. 1 nationally in runs (529) and hits (728) and its .319 batting average is tops among the eight-team field in Omaha.
Dick Howser Trophy and Golden Spikes Award finalist Colin Moran, the sixth overall pick in last week's Major League draft by the Miami Marlins, is the Tar Heels' ring leader. A junior third baseman, Moran (.343-13-88) leads the nation in RBI.
Among the Tar Heels' other offensive threats are senior first baseman Cody Stubbs (.366-8-76) and freshman designated hitter Landon Lassister (.361-1-27). Stubbs leads the team in batting average, slugging (.585), total bases (155) and doubles (26). Lassiter's .502 on base percentage and 74 runs are tops on the squad.
Junior catcher Matt Roberts, who missed the Super Regional after taking a foul ball off his right (throwing) thumb in the Chapel Hill Regional, is expected to remain out for at least a portion of the CWS. Roberts has started 44 of the Tar Heels' 57 games behind the plate.
Moving from left field, junior Brian Holberton (.309-11-56) has taken over the catching duties during Roberts' absence.
Junior lefty Kent Emanuel (11-3, 2.93), the Houston Astros' third-round draft choice, has been an innings-eater, logging 123 innings. He has allowed 110 hits, while striking out 89 and walking only 28.
Freshman righthander Trent Thornton (11-1, 1.28, 5 saves), who drew five mid-week starts during the regular season, has been entrusted with the closer's role.