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Stallings delivers total package

Eddy Landreth

By Eddy Landreth
Staff Writer

Senior catcher Jacob Stallings assured Carolina baseball of a hefty bonus when he decided to return to college for his senior season instead of entering the Major League Baseball draft in 2011.

“I’ve been really good in the clutch, and I’ve had times when I didn’t get it done,” Stallings said. “The times when you don’t get it done are when you really learn. You go back and think, ‘What was I thinking? What was my mentality?’ You try to make adjustments.

“I just try to stay as calm as I can, especially in big situations. What I’ve learned is you can’t be on deck and say to yourself, ‘Oh, crap, I’m up with the bases loaded.’ Now I’ve been preparing myself one or two innings ahead of time, when I say I’m going to have a big at-bat coming up; I need to get ready for it.”

Much of the Tar Heels’ ultimate success rests on Stallings’ mature shoulders, coach Mike Fox said.

UNC baseball senior catcher Jacob Stallings has helped lead his team through adversity this season. Photo courtesy of Jeffrey Camarati, UNC Athletics

“He’s a warrior,” Fox said. “He loves to win. He loves to win so much. We would not be where we are if that boy had not come back to school. He’s a winner. There is probably nobody who I would want in the [batter’s] box in a crucial situation more than him.

“He gives you everything he’s got, and sometimes it ain’t real pretty. But he gets the job done. He’s our spiritual leader. He’s the emotional leader of our team. He’s most definitely the leader on our team. Everybody looks to him for some guidance when things aren’t going so well.”
All has not gone well.

All-American third baseman Colin Moran broke his right hand and underwent surgery. He is expected to miss as much as a month of the season, if not more.

There is simply no easy replacement for one of the best hitters in collegiate baseball. But Stallings said this team will not just roll over and die for anyone.

“As poorly as we may be playing, as many mistakes as we may be making, we haven’t lost a series the whole year,” Stallings said. “We lost the first game to N.C. State and we lost the first game to Wake [Forest], but we still managed to win the series. That is what it’s all about. The past couple of weeks without Colin, we’ve had some close games, and … we found a way to win.”

One way to win is through pitching.

The Tar Heels’ young pitchers benefit from Stallings’ experience.

“Our pitchers feel really comfortable throwing to him,” Fox said. “We just have to keep him healthy and keep him strong. Jacob is really smart. He knows the strengths and weaknesses of all those pitchers. We’re trying not to micromanage every single pitch.”

Stallings is a classic example of a genuine student-athlete: an intelligent, effective producer on the field and a leader on and off of it.

He could have entered the 2011 baseball draft. Major League Baseball still utilizes a huge number of rounds in its draft, while both the National Basketball Association and the National Football League have cut the number of rounds in their drafts to far fewer than in the past.

The NBA has dropped to two rounds, even as the league added more teams. The NFL has not cut its draft that much, but it still drafts far fewer players than it did for many years.

Stallings comes from a coach’s family (his father, Kevin, is head men’s basketball coach at Vanderbilt), which helps him understand the value of an education, even as so many of the game’s best athletes could care less given the amount of money they could make playing ball.

A coach’s son is more likely to see how short a career can be because of injuries and the odds against anyone earning a spot on a professional roster. This is especially true for baseball. The degree of difficulty in this game stalls many a career.

Then there is the pure enjoyment of being a collegiate athlete. Stallings enjoys being a Tar Heel.

“I love this school,” Stallings said. “I love our team. I love everything about Carolina and about Carolina baseball. I knew I wanted to come back for my senior year even before the draft last year. I’m going to graduate.

“I look forward to every single day. I look forward to coming down to the stadium and being around my teammates. I wouldn’t trade that for anything.”

But he would like to add a national championship to his resume, not just another trip to the College World Series.

“Last year we knew we were going to beat Stanford twice,” Stallings said. “We knew we were going to win the first two games of that series and go to Omaha. That is something you build over the course of a season, that kind of confidence.

“They were one of the most talented teams in the country last year,” Stallings said, “and we didn’t care. We were going to win no matter what. We knew that. We have a bunch of new guys in our program, and as leaders, Mike [Morin] and Jimmy [Messer] have really tried to instill the emphasis that we don’t want to just go to Omaha this year.

“We want to win the national championship. We felt it was important to emphasize that so early because we have so many young guys. To help them learn that is the goal, that is the expectation and that is the intensity they need to play with every day.”

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