Preseason No. 2 North Carolina opens its season on the road for the first time since 2000 this weekend when it travels to Florida Atlantic for a three-game series beginning Friday. The Tar Heels and Owls will square off at 6:30 p.m. Friday, 4 p.m. Saturday and noon Sunday at FAU Stadium. All three games can be followed live via GameTracker at TarHeelBlue.com.
NATIONAL RANKINGS: North Carolina is ranked in the top five of all four major polls, including the No. 2 spot in the coaches' and writer's polls. Florida Atlantic is unranked.
FLORIDA ATLANTIC SERIES: This weekend marks the first-ever meeting between North Carolina and Florida Atlantic. The Tar Heels are frequent visitors to the state of Florida but have not played a non-conference regular season series there since travelling to Miami in 2004 before the Hurricanes joined the ACC.
SCOUTING THE OWLS: FAU was 36-22 last year and 15-15 in the Sun Belt Conference. The Owls hit .341 as a team and posted a 4.89 staff ERA on the mound. Preseason All-America right fielder Mike McKenna (.413-16-60) and second baseman William Block (.344-18-59) return to lead the offense, while Mickey Storey (3-0, 3.07 ERA) returns as the top starter after missing much of last season due to injury. Mike Obradovich (9-5, 5.40 ERA) moves to the closer role after making 13 starts a year ago.
SEASON OPENERS UNDER FOX: Carolina is 9-0 on opening day under head coach Mike Fox, including 2-0 in season openers on the road. The Tar Heels have won 10 straight openers and last lost their first game of the season at Coastal Carolina in 1997.
ROAD WARRIORS: This season is a break from the ordinary for the Tar Heels, who will play 10 of their first 12 games on the road. In 2007, Carolina played just one of its first 23 contests away from Boshamer Stadium. The last time UNC opened a season with a similar stretch was 1985 when it played 14 of its first 15 games outside of Chapel Hill.
PICKING UP WHERE THEY LEFT OFF: After back-to-back national runner-up finishes, the Tar Heels ended the 2007 season ranked No. 2 in the national polls for the second year in a row. This season, Carolina opens the year ranked No. 2 in the USA Today/ESPN Coaches' Poll and the National Collegiate Baseball Writers Poll. UNC is ranked No. 5 by Baseball America and Collegiate Baseball for a consensus top-five preseason ranking.
HEELS PICKED TO REPEAT: Defending Atlantic Coast Conference champion North Carolina is favored to repeat as the league champion in 2008, as determined by a vote of the league's 12 head coaches. The back-to-back national runner-up Tar Heels were also picked to win the Coastal Division for the third-straight year, while Florida State was predicted to capture its second Atlantic title.
VETERAN LINEUP RETURNS: The Tar Heels opening day starting lineup will feature seven position starters back in the fold from 2007. All eight position starters have made at last 41 career starts and they have each been very productive players. The lowest career average among the eight players is .291.
Career Starts For UNC's Projected Starters
Player Starts Career Avg.
Chad Flack 195 .321
Seth Williams 153 .291
Tim Federowicz 139 .327
Dustin Ackley 73 .402
Garrett Gore 67 .294
Tim Fedroff 56 .344
Kyle Seager 48 .308
Kyle Shelton 41 .298
FOX CLOSING IN ON 400: Tenth-year head coach Mike Fox can reach the 400-win mark at Carolina with two victories at FAU this weekend. Only two other UNC coaches have reached this plateau - Mike Roberts (780) and Walter Rabb (540). Fox owns a 938-317-5 record in 24 years at Carolina and North Carolina Wesleyan and is 398-176-1 at UNC.
WHITE, WARREN LEAD ROTATION: Right-handers Alex White and Adam Warren give the Tar Heels a talented and experienced 1-2 punch at the top of their weekend rotation. The duo combined for 18 wins a year ago and has started a combined 33 games. White was UNC's Saturday starter a year ago and struggled in the postseason before getting back on track with the Chatham A's of the Cape Cod League last summer.
Warren went 12-0 primarily as a midweek ace but he did add a pair of victories in the College World Series.
FIRST START FOR CATAPANO: Sophomore left-hander Rob Catapano will make his first career start Sunday at FAU. The Knoxville, Tenn., native moves into the weekend rotation after working as a situational lefty a year ago. He struck out 23 and walked just four in 20 1/3 innings in the fall after a strong summer in the Cape Cod League. Catapano is the first lefty to start for UNC since Florida Marlins starter Andrew Miller was the staff ace in 2006.
ALL-AMERICA QUINTET: Five Tar Heels have earned preseason All-America honors from at least one media outlet heading into the 2008 campaign: OF/1B Dustin Ackley, C Tim Federowicz, RHP Adam Warren, RHP Alex White and RHP Rob Wooten. Ackley is a consensus preseason All-America pick, while Federowicz was honored by three outlets.
ACKLEY ADDS HONORS: Sophomore Dustin Ackley, the national freshman of the year in 2007, has accumulated quite a list of preseason honors entering the 2008 campaign. The Walnut Cove, N.C., native is a consensus preseason All-America pick and is on the watch list for the Brooks Wallace Award and Golden Spikes Award, which are both national player of the year awards. Additionally, he was named the ACC's best pure hitter by Baseball America and the preseason hitter of the year in the league by SoutheasternBaseball.com.
WOOTEN TO CLOSE: Senior Rob Wooten, who led the NCAA and set an ACC record with 47 appearances a year ago, will move to the closer role this season. He will replace All-America Andrew Carignan, who saved a school-record 18 games in 2007. Wooten pitched in only 19 games over his first two seasons but dropped his arm slot with great success a year ago. He went 6-1 with a 2.35 ERA and 58 strikeouts in 53 2/3 innings a year ago.
FEDEX A TOP PROSPECT: Starting catcher Tim Federowicz, nicknamed FedEx, is rated as the No. 3 backstop and No. 42 overall prospect for the 2008 Major League Baseball Draft by Baseball America. The Apex native was also ranked as the No. 8 prospect in the ACC for June's draft. He is a career .327 hitter with 127 career RBI.
SHIFT ON THE INFIELD: Junior Garrett Gore and sophomore Kyle Seager split time at second base last season, but in 2008 this duo will serve as the Tar Heels' starting middle infield. Gore shifts over to short to replace All-America Josh Horton, while Seager takes over the everyday job at second. Both players hit better than .308 a year ago and combined for 57 RBI.
FLACK RECORD WATCH: Senior Chad Flack enters his final campaign with a shot at several UNC career records. The Forest City, N.C., is on pace to break Carolina records for career games played, hits and at-bats and has a chance at several other marks.
Chad Flack On UNC's Career Lists
Category Rank Total Needed for Record
Hits 9th 252 40
HR 9th 35 23
RBI 8th 163 52
XB Hits 8th 82 42
At-Bats 8th 784 151
Tot. Bases 7th 409 106
ROOKIE HONORS: Freshman pitchers and 2007 MLB Draft Picks Matt Harvey and Nate Striz are expected to play big roles for the Tar Heels this season, and they are rated among the top rookies in college baseball. Harvey has been recognized by CSTV and Rivals.com as one of the nation's top freshmen, and both Harvey and Striz were listed among the ACC's top five newcomers by Baseball America. Harvey is expected to be one of UNC?s starters, while Striz figures to be one of the top options out of the bullpen.
GAME TIME CHANGES: Carolina has changed the start time of its first two home games - Feb. 26 versus Old Dominion and March 4 versus William & Mary. Originally scheduled to start at 3 p.m., first pitch is now slated for 3:30 p.m.
BATES IS BACK: Redshirt freshman right-hander Colin Bates should be a fixture in the bullpen this season after missing all of last year. The Naperville, Ill., native had thoracic outlet decompression surgery due to a blood clot in his right shoulder in November 2006 and spent last season rehabbing.
APR HONOR: The Carolina baseball program received the NCAA's Public Recognition Award for having an Academic Progress Rate that ranks among the nation's top 10 percent for its respective sport. In addition to baseball, UNC was also recognized in men's basketball, women's basketball, women's golf, volleyball and men's and women's fencing.
INJURY REPORT: The Tar Heels will be without the services of junior outfielder Mike Cavasinni and freshman first baseman Michael Knox for the season due to knee injuries. Cavasinni was slated to see significant time in left field but will have two years of eligibility remaining beginning in 2009.
BUILDING A BETTER BOSH: Carolina will play its 32 home games in 2008 at Cary's USA Baseball National Training Complex while Boshamer Stadium undergoes an estimated $25.5 million renovation. The Tar Heels will be back on campus in time for the 2009 season. In the meantime, they will make the roughly 25-minute commute to the Cary facility for games and practice.
TAR HEELS SIGN 10: Carolina has continued its success on the recruiting trail by signing a 10-man class last November that will join the program next fall in time for the 2009 season. This group features five of Baseball America's top 100 prospects for next June's draft:
* Seth Baldwin (OF, Forest City, N.C.)
* Derrik Gibson (SS/OF, Seaford, Del.)
* Matt Harrison (SS, Henderson, Nev.)
* L.J. Hoes (OF, Washington, D.C.)
* Jason Knapp (RHP, Annandale, N.J.)
* Garrison Lassiter (SS, Clemmons, N.C.);
* Tim Melville (RHP/3B, Wentzville, Mo.)
* Jimmy Messer (RHP, Hudson, N.C.)
* Quinton Miller (RHP, Medford, N.J.)
* Jacob Stallings (C, Nashville, Tenn.)