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UNC Baseball: Trent Thornton Filling Ace Role Nicely

Photo Credit Jeffrey A. Camarati, UNC Athletics

Photo Credit Jeffrey A. Camarati, UNC Athletics

North Carolina had high expectations for sophomore hurler Trent Thornton after a fantastic freshman season where he was named a freshman All-American. In helping the Tarheels reach the College World Series, Thornton appeared in 23 games, making six starts. He threw 69.2 innings, racking up 60 strikeouts and walking just 12 on his way to a team-best 1.29 ERA.

Heading into the 2014 season, Thornton and the Tarheels had big shoes to fill as weekend starters Kent Emanuel and Hobbs Johnson were both lost to the MLB Draft. Thornton has done an excellent job as the Tarheels ace. The right-hander has made nine starts, throwing 66 innings, the most in the ACC.

In those 66 frames, he’s recorded 62 strikeouts, which is the third-highest tally in the conference, while walking only 16. His 1.50 ERA is the third best mark in the ACC, behind Gage Smith of Florida State and the Virginia Cavaliers sophomore hurler Nathan Kirby.

On the whole, UNC has felt the losses of players such as Emanuel, Johnson, Colin Moran, and others from last year’s team that finished with a 52-8 record. At this point, they are 22-15, and 9-9 in ACC play, which puts them in a tie with the Duke Blue Devils for fourth place in the Coastal Division.

Still, their pitchers have held opponents to a .226/.316/.266 line, and they’ve allowed only 35 extra-base hits in 37 games. While their record is nothing to write home about, their talent and run differential suggest they could go on a big run.

Trent Thornton and the Tarheels will face a big challenge this weekend as they take on No. 1 UVA, who sits at 14-4 in the Coastal Divison, and 30-6 overall. Friday night will feature Kirby and Thornton going at it in a matchup of two of the best pitchers in the conference. It promises to be an exciting game in Charlottesville, and no doubt these two sophomore hurlers are eager to show who is better.

Chris Moran is a second-year law student and assistant baseball coach at Washington University in St. Louis. He played baseball at Wheaton College where he donned the tools of ignorance. Contact him via our contact page or follow him on Twitter @hangingslurves