Diamond Heels Have a Lot In Common With UNC's Men's Basketball Team

Todd CallahanContributor IJune 3, 2009

OMAHA, NE - JUNE 21:  First baseman Dustin Ackley #13 of the North Carolina Tar Heels celebrates with teammates after hitting a solo homer in the second inning to the give the Tar Heels a 1-0 lead over the Rice Owls in Game 13 of the NCAA College World Series at Rosenblatt Stadium on June 21, 2007 in Omaha, Nebraska. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

When the North Carolina men's basketball team rolled past Michigan State on April 6 to win the NCAA national championship, it was a fitting end for key players like Ty Lawson, Wayne Ellington, Danny Green and senior standout Tyler Hansbrough.

It also ended years of frustration, such as the 2008 final four loss to Kansas or the overtime setback to Georgetown in 2007.

While all of Chapel Hill were celebrating the championship brought home by Tyler and the boys, the baseball team was all business.

The No. 2 Tar Heels, who opened the season at No. 1 just like their basketball mates, had taken two of three at Georgia Tech over the weekend and were playing host to East Carolina the next day.

It's those same Pirates who Carolina will play host to in the best-of-three Super Regional, that begins Saturday at noon at Boshamer Stadium. The winner of the series punches a ticket to the College World Series in Omaha, Neb.

The Tar Heels are two wins away from their fourth straight trip to Rosenblatt Stadium for the eight-team, double-elimination tournament.

Much like their basketball brothers, the diamond Heels have suffered heartbreak over the years. A favorite to win in 2006, Carolina won its first four games only to lose consecutive games in the best-of-three championship to Oregon State.

A year later, the Heels once again reached the finals at Rosenblatt Stadium where they once again were defeated by the Beavers, who went undefeated in winning their second straight College World Series.

Last year the Heels came up short again, as Fresno State eliminated Carolina en route to becoming the lowest-seeded club to win the College World Series.

Much like Hansbrough and his teammates, baseball senior pitcher Adam Warren, junior standouts Dustin Ackley, Kyle Seager and Alex White are looking to close their careers in much the same way—a win to end the season and a celebration on Franklin Street in Chapel Hill.

The diamond Heels not only have a similar history as the basketball team, they also have similar personnel.

Head basketball coach Roy Williams had a four-time All-American in Hansbrough, who averaged averaged 20.3 points and 8.6 rebounds during his college career. He also was expected to be an early NBA draft pick, but he elected to come back for his senior season. Hansbrough also was named a player of the year.

Baseball coach Mike Fox has Ackley, a three-time All-American, who is a finalist this year for the Golden Spikes Award, given to the top college baseball player. Ackley, the first three-time All-American in Carolina baseball history, leads the Atlantic Coast Conference with 101 hits and 21 home runs. He also set a North Carolina career hits mark with 329. Ackley is expected to go in the top five in this year's amateur draft.

Another slugger in Fox's lineup is Seager, who has had a stellar season for the Heels, following an All-American performance as a sophomore. He is much like Ellington. Both are offensive threats, who puts up strong numbers but are overshadowed by other players in the lineup like Hansbrough or Ackley.

The success of any basketball team depends on a point guard. The Heels had one in Lawson, who is expected to be a first-round draft pick in the NBA.

A baseball team's success depends on its pitching, and the Heels have an ace in Warren, a senior who has developed into one of the top pitchers in the ACC. Warren, much like Lawson, has been a leader for the pitching rotation. The senior leads the Heels with an 8-2 record and has a 3.19 ERA.

Another pitcher for Fox is White, who has gotten a great deal of publicity and is expected to be highly drafted. White leads the team in strikeouts, but he also has struggled recently, including the ACC tournament.

White is 7-4 with a 4.42 ERA with 97 strikeouts, but he had lost three straight before getting a no-decision against Coastal Carolina in last weekend's regional in a game Carolina won, 14-5.

White's struggles are similar to those of Green on the basketball court at the ACC tournament. Green struggled offensive, however; he provided strong defense and had some big games down the stretch for the Heels.

Williams also never lost faith in Green, continuing to put him in the starting lineup.

It is much like Fox, who announced Tuesday that White would be the starter for Game 1 of the Super Regional.

Another key for a championship team is solid role players. The basketball team had Bobby Frasor, who had battled injuries during his college career. He lost his starting job but instead of being a malcontent, Frasor proved to be a consummate team player. He came off the bench and cracked the starting lineup when Lawson went down with the toe injury during the ACC tournament.

He also was considered the team comedian, always making jokes and keeping the team loose.

Frasor has the same characteristics as fellow senior Garrett Gore. Gore was a starter for Fox since cracking the lineup in the '06 NCAA tournament. He had started at shortstop and second base, but this year lost his starting spot at second base to freshman Levi Michael.

Instead of sulking on the bench, Gore volunteered to play anywhere he was needed. The Carolina senior moved to right field and has batted .298 with five home runs and 40 RBI. He also has developed into a solid defensive outfielder. He even has been known to dance to the music over the loud speaker in between innings to help entertain the crowd.

Not only do the two teams have similar players, the coaches also are similar. Williams and Fox are both Carolina men. Williams graduated from Carolina in '72. He also is a North Carolina native, who played basketball and baseball in high school. Williams also is a regular in the stands at Rosenblatt Stadium.

Fox, like Williams is a native of Asheville, N.C., and graduated from UNC in '78. Fox also played on the Heels' JV basketball team as well as on the baseball team.

Fox now tries to duplicate what his colleague and fellow North Carolinian Williams did two months ago—win a national championship.