CHAPEL HILL, N.C. – Colin Moran has grown from the top freshman in the country to one of the nation's most dangerous hitters and a top draft prospect for No. 1 North Carolina.
The junior has the chance to become the fourth player in NCAA history to lead the nation in runs scored and RBIs. He entered the week first in RBIs and tied for the lead in runs scored, while ranking among the leaders in most major hitting categories.
Moran has helped give UNC the nation's top-scoring offense and kept them on course to return to the College World Series for the sixth time in eight seasons. It's also solidified Moran's standing as one of the top talents in next month's draft.
"I've just felt comfortable and gotten into a groove," Moran said. "I think it's a lot of credit to the guys around me for getting on base a lot. I like to hit with guys on base. There's been a lot of situations where guys have to come at me with strikes because the bases are loaded and the guys ahead of me have such good on-base percentages."
Moran, a 6-foot-3, 215-pound third baseman from Rye, N.Y., entered the week leading the country with RBIs (74) and tied for first in runs scored (61). He added two more runs and an RBI during two midweek home wins against James Madison to secure his hold on both categories.
He's batting .386 and has shown the ability to hit for power (12 home runs) while remaining patient enough to earn 44 walks. With Moran rolling along, North Carolina (44-4) has been at No. 1 in every poll from Baseball America this season. The Tar Heels are averaging about 8.8 runs per game, tops in the nation and on pace to break the school's single-season mark.
"You've got to credit his teammates too because he's been up there with a lot of people on base and pitchers having to throw out of the stretch," UNC coach Mike Fox said. "And they've got to make pitches to him. Colin has the ability to foul a ball off and just stay in the box until he gets a walk ... or they give him a pitch to hit. And he doesn't miss it very much."
That much was on display in the first inning of Tuesday's win. After the first two UNC batters walked, Moran got behind in the count only to knock an RBI single through the left side for the game's first run. He scored two batters later.
It illustrated how Moran is on pace to break the program's single-season record for RBIs and runs scored. And if he keeps it up, he could join Robin Ventura of Oklahoma State (1986), Marshall McDougall of Florida State (1999) and Jake Lowery of James Madison (2011) as the only players in NCAA history to lead the country in both categories for a season.
That would also make him only the 13th Tar Heel to lead the team in both categories for a program that has fielded a team every year since 1891. That history includes his uncle, former UNC great and major leaguer B.J. Surhoff, and older brother Brian, an all-American and draftee in 2009.
Kent Emanuel, the team's top pitcher and Moran's roommate, said Moran has embraced the pressure that has followed the entire team all year.
"He's just a competitor," Emanuel said. "And I'm sure he wouldn't have it any other way. He'd want to face everyone's best shot. That's kind of how a lot of guys on this team are. I think it's a great trait to have."
Baseball America — which named Moran its national freshman of the year in 2011 — ranked him ninth among its April list of the top 50 prospects for the June draft. Moran knows the opportunity for a professional career is close, but he's focused now on helping the Tar Heels finally bring home a national championship after finishing second in Omaha in 2006 and 2007.
"It's been a blast," Moran said. "Coming into the season with the No. 1 ranking was fun too because obviously you're going to have a lot of eyes on you and a lot of teams stepping up their competition knowing you're the top team. It's been fun getting everybody's best shot — and winning a lot."