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OMAHA, Neb. – With their season on the line, the North Carolina Tar Heels looked to freshman left-handed pitcher Kent Emanuel for a strong start, hoping he’d save their season and keep alive their hopes to win the national title.
Emanuel, one of the nation’s best freshman pitchers, didn’t disappoint in arguably his best performance of the season.
In a 3-0 win over the Texas Longhorns, Emanuel tossed his second complete game of the season. He also struck out five, walked one and allowed just four hits in the shutout performance.
North Carolina coach Mike Fox discussed his talented freshman following his club’s thrilling win over the Longhorns.
Were you surprised at all by such a dominant performance like that on this stage at the College World Series?
Fox: We’ve seen Kent do that before. He did it against Miami, threw a complete game that is. We certainly didn’t expect it out here on this stage against a great team like Texas, but he’s a pretty special player. He throws a lot of strikes and forces teams to swing the bat. But we also must play defense behind a guy like Kent. He really does a tremendous job of holding runners in most situations.
What did you think he was doing very effectively against Texas?
Fox: He didn’t pitch inside very much today and his game against right-handed hitters is his best trait. His breaking ball and changeup were solid today. They were much better than they have been the past few weeks. He needed command of all three pitches in a game like this, and he did just that.
What were your primary expectations for a freshman like Emanuel entering the season?
Fox: You know, he started pitching in the middle of the week pretty early in the season, and we gave him that role more than anything else because we didn’t want him to get overwhelmed so early in the season. We didn’t want him to deal with a ton of pressure so young in his career. After getting a couple of midweek starts, we figured out real quick that we were going to have to change his role and put him in the weekend rotation. We saw glimpses of that in the fall with his ability to throw strikes. It didn’t take him long to get accustomed to the weekend.
Coaches always like to make comparisons with different pitchers. What comparison do you make with Emanuel?
Fox: That’s a good question. He’s certainly not completely like former pitcher Andrew Miller because he doesn’t throw as hard. He’s kind of a combination between Miller and right-handed pitcher Robert Woodard. He’s a good mixture of those two. He has better command than Andrew had as a freshman, he has that kind of command that Woodard took to the mound. Woodard has worked with him a lot, but we figured out in high school that he really had the ability to throw his fastball for strikes on both sides of the plate.
Much has been said about Kent Emanuel’s amazing maturity out there on the mound as just a freshman. What do you think is behind his quick maturation?
Fox: Well, I figured out he had that pretty early in his career. It’s kind of funny. On his recruiting trip, it was during the summer and I just happened to be there. I didn’t know a lot about him at the time and it ended up just being his dad, himself and me at the stadium on his visit. So, we spent about six hours together walking around campus, which is unusual because you usually have a lot of kids you’re taking care of. Not that day, it was just us three. The more time I spent around them the more I liked him. They really are a first-class family and the more I listened to him, the more I realized he was a pretty special young man. We had a tremendous visit and he was very mature for an 18-year-old. He asked all the right questions on his visit.
Players can always improve in some aspect of their game. Where do you see Emanuel in terms of things he needs to improve?
Fox: I think he has to come up with a harder breaking ball against left-handed hitters. If you look at his splits, righties are hitting a lot less, like 100 points lower than left-handed hitters. He needs that good out pitch against lefties. As he gets bigger, his velocity will continue to jump. It’d also be nice to see him come up with a pretty good slider.
Kendall Rogers is the college baseball editor for Perfect Game USA and has covered the sport for over 10 seasons. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org