Published Wednesday, June 22, 2011 AT 11:53 AM / Updated at 12:01 PM
UNC’s Bunting no easy out lately
Jon Nyatawa Omaha World-Herald

Ben Bunting has to have heard all the jokes. And if he hasn’t, it’s likely because he’s been around people who’re too polite to say them to his face.

You know, a few like these…

“How can you swing when your last name’s Bunting?” … “You should only bat with a runner on first and no outs.” … “Is it too late for you to switch to pitching?”

Bunting’s getting the last laugh these days, though.

The North Carolina senior outfielder is on fire, maybe even the hottest hitter in the College World Series. The Tar Heels will need him to continue to hit well Wednesday night, when they face Vanderbilt in an elimination game.

Bunting’s gotten a hit in 11 of his last 18 at-bats, a streak that was highlighted by his 4-for-5 day in UNC’s 3-0 win over Texas Monday. He had a critical RBI double in the top of the ninth inning against the Longhorns.

“Right now, I’m just very fortunate to be seeing the ball good at the plate,” Bunting said. “(I’m) trying to hit the first strike I see, not trying to get myself into bad counts, and I’ve been fortunate to put good swings on the ball right now.”

Bunting had to battle through a dismal stretch in late April, where he hit just .083 in nine games to end the month. He even went 21 at-bats without a hit.

But he’s figured it out now. Bunting is hitting .452 in the NCAA tournament. In the CWS opener against Vanderbilt, he went 2-for-4 and reached base four times.

His work hasn’t gone unnoticed.

Coach Mike Fox moved him up to the 2-hole in the batting order (Bunting has been hitting seventh) during North Carolina’s game against Texas, hoping to take some pressure of struggling star Levi Michael.

We’ll see if Fox goes with the same lineup Wednesday. He joked that he flipped a coin the other day. Either way, Bunting’s been impressive recently.

“Ben’s really been playing well down the stretch for us,” Fox said.

About Jon Nyatawa

Jon Nyatawa has covered local sports, primarily Nebraska football, for The Omaha World-Herald since 2008. He and his laptop, cell phone, tape recorder, pen and notebook all live in Lincoln. Follow him on Twitter: @JonNyatawa. Email him here: jon.nyatawa@owh.com. He welcomes feedback.