Rice, Ramirez carve niche at UNC

Published 11:01 pm Thursday, May 8, 2014

Two local baseball players know what it takes to stand out in an NCAA Division I crowd, because they have been doing it on the University of North Carolina’s roster, which is jam-packed with young talent.

Freshman Suffolk talent Tyler Ramirez has distinguished himself as an asset in a crowded field at the University of North Carolina.

Freshman Suffolk talent Tyler Ramirez has distinguished himself as an asset in a crowded field at the University of North Carolina.

Freshmen Zach Rice and Tyler Ramirez have both established themselves on a 33-man team featuring 25 underclassmen. Despite the youth, the Tar Heels are currently 29-19 overall and 13-11 in the talented Atlantic Coast Conference.

Though Rice has only pitched a total of 16.2 innings, he is second on the team in game appearances, with 28.

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“Early in the season, I started as what you’d call a left-handed specialist,” Rice said.

He is a left-handed pitcher often brought in specifically to get left-handed batters out. Sometimes his stints on the mound last for only one or two batters.

But the coaches have seen his ability and gained more confidence in him.

“As the season has progressed, my role has increased, so I’ll come in and throw an inning, I’ll come in and throw two innings,” he said.

Rice, who has an earned run average of 3.24 and has thrown 23 strikeouts, is pleased with his performance thus far and credits his success with hard work and learning to trust his slider.

His former coach at Nansemond River High School, Mark Stuffel, said Rice has been so effective “because he’s a lefty throwing 90-plus. He can touch 94, but he probably sits 90, 91, and you don’t get that often. And he’s a hard worker.”

Freshman Suffolk talent Zach Rice has distinguished himself as an asset in a crowded field at the University of North Carolina.

Freshman Suffolk talent Zach Rice has distinguished himself as an asset in a crowded field at the University of North Carolina.

Noting Rice’s many appearances, Tar Heels head coach Mike Fox said, “He’s a great addition to our program. Good young man and good student, as well.”

Tyler Ramirez plays right field and currently holds the third-best batting average on the Tar Heels. He is batting .289 in 44 games played.

“So far, I think I’ve been very happy with how I’ve been playing,” he said, noting he is reaping the hard work he sowed in the fall and beginning of the spring at UNC before the season began.

Though he lives in Suffolk, Ramirez attended Cape Henry Collegiate School. There he was coached by Tim Hummel, a former Major League Baseball player, who is not surprised by how Ramirez is doing now.

“With his athleticism, his work ethic and all the things that he puts into being a complete player, I kind of did expect this success,” Hummel said. “He is what I would term a professional hitter that makes adjustments, and I think we’re starting to see that even as a freshman.”

UNC’s Coach Fox gave Ramirez high praise.

“Tyler’s been wonderful,” he said, adding he’s a terrific young man, great student and has earned consistent playing time. “We couldn’t be more pleased.”

Both Rice and Ramirez are currently aiming to help improve the Tar Heels’ post-season positioning as the regular season winds down. UNC hosts Florida State University in a three-game series starting tonight.