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Sock grad Datres in no rush to go pro

Professional baseball can wait.

The Colorado Rockies selected Loyalsock graduate Kyle Datres last week in the 12th round of last year’s Major League Draft, but the North Carolina third baseman is in no rush to start working his way up the Minor League ladder. One last collegiate goal remains unfulfilled. Datres and North Carolina are playing in the College World Series in Omaha, Nebraska and open at 2 p.m. today when they play Oregon State.

The hope now is that Datres can prolong his college career as long as possible.

“Most people are excited to get their professional career started but I want mine to take its time because I still have work to do in the college season,” Datres said from Omaha. “It’s definitely a fulfillment of a life-long dream. From the time you enter college baseball, Omaha is always the goal and to think we’ve got here is awesome. We want to make history and be the first Carolina team to bring it back to Chapel Hill.”

Ironically, it was Oregon State that denied North Carolina twice at winning a national championship, beating it in the 2006 and ’07 finals. The Beavers (49-10-1) are one of the tournament favorites after making a quick exit a year ago when they entered as the NCAA Tournament’s overall No. 1 seed.

North Carolina, however, has traveled a long road to reach Omaha and has shown how dangerous it can be, breezing through regionals and the super regionals without a loss. The Tar Heels (43-18) opened the season 3-5 and looked lost at times early. Now they have the look of a serious national championship contender.

“After we got off to a rough start this year no one really gave us a shot,” Datres said. “Everyone counted us out, but we just kept working and stayed with the process and it worked out for us. When we won (the super regional) and dog piled on the field there is no better feeling. To know all of your hard work paid off, it’s a great feeling.”

Datres is a big reason why. The three-year starting third baseman is hitting a team-best .344, the fourth highest average among Atlantic Coast Conference players. He also has an on-base percentage of .440 and averages more than a run scored per game, leading North Carolina with 65. Datres has added six home runs, 15 doubles, 34 RBIs and 12 stolen bases. The junior has become the ideal lead-off hitter for a powerful offense and has hit .400 this postseason with nine runs and four RBIs.

North Carolina has done a complete 180-degree turn after being stunned in last year’s regionals. The Tar Heels were one of the favorites to reach the 2017 College World Series, entering with a 47-12 record, but were bounced from regionals on their home field, losing twice to Davidson. It was a painful experience, but one that might have served as a catalyst for this year’s Series run.

“Last year was a learning experience for us. We only had one guy on that entire roster that had ever played in a regional before,” Datres said. “This year we knew what to expect coming in and it was a huge advantage for us.”

Datres believes North Carolina has given him an advantage as he moves forward on the field and in life. He became one of the most decorated high school players in area history from 2011-15, earning all-state honors nine times in three sports and helping Loyalsock capture the 2013 and ’14 Class AA baseball state championships. Datres was a highly sought-after prospect but he felt like North Carolina was home early on.

Four years later the decision ranks as one of the best he’s ever made.

“North Carolina has made me such a better person on and off of the field,” Datres said. “We put in so much time and effort at the field, but we pride ourselves just as much on being good people away from the stadium and trying to always do the right thing. UNC was 100 percent the perfect fit for me. I grew up watching them play in the College World Series and now I’m here doing it myself for other little kids to watch and look up to.”

If North Carolina wins today it would advance to Monday’s winners’ bracket final and play either Mississippi State or Washington at 6 p.m. If the Tar Heels lose today, they would play an elimination game Monday at 1 p.m. against the Mississippi State/Washington loser. Both those games also will be televised on ESPN.

The Tar Heels are trying to reverse their history with Oregon State at the Series. And Datres is hoping he can hold off on booking an airplane reservation to Denver for another 11 days.

“UNC and Oregon State have a long history at the College World Series which is pretty cool,” Datres said. “We know Oregon State is going to be a tough matchup. They had a bunch of guys that were just high draft picks, but we know we can play with anyone in the country. We are excited to get going.”

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