Monday with Mike Fox

Inside Carolina caught up with head coach Mike Fox after the Tar Heels completed a weekend sweep of Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, improving their ACC record to 4-2 (18-3 overall). UNC hosts UNC-Wilmington and High Point in mid-week duels before Duke visits for a weekend series.

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Can you give your impression of the last week for the Diamond Heels?
"Obviously it was a good week for us winning all four games. We won a tight one against Princeton until the last inning when we broke the game open, but it is always good to see Scott Bradley from Princeton - he is a Carolina guy and we play them every year; one of my former teammates. It is always fun to play them and they gave us a tough battle. It was a good mid-week win for us. The weekend could not have gone any better from a win standpoint on the road. Any time you get a sweep on the road in this league no matter who or where it is a big deal and I was proud of our kids with the way we played and hung in there and got two wins in Saturday and Sunday which were close and went down to the last out."

Jesse Wierzbicki has shown significant offensive improvement thus far in his senior campaign, leading the Tar Heels with five home runs and a .361 batting average and playing consistently defensively at first base after splitting duties with Jacob Stallings last season behind the plate. What position do you expect to be his best opportunity to be successful in professional baseball?
"Jesse is certainly having a solid year for us so far. I think for the first time in his career at North Carolina he is healthy and I think that certainly has helped him. Last year he was banged up so much and I think that affected his performance. You can tell that he feels better, he has some life in his body and his knee is healthy. That plays a big factor when you are playing everyday. Right now he is leading our team in several different categories but he is also showing great leadership. He had a great catch yesterday against the wall in the ninth inning on a pop up that was the first out in that inning and it was huge. Jesse is just a warrior. He loves to play and loves to win -- tough kid. I am not really sure what his best position would be since he is not catching much for us at all obviously. I am not sure - he has been drafted once [in the 40th round of the 2008 draft by the Atlanta Braves]; I hope somebody will give him a shot after this year to extend his career and get into pro ball so he can show what he can do."

After 21 games in the books, one of the statistics that really stands out is the .477 on base percentage as compared to opponents' .345 on base percentage against. How do these statistics compare to the coaching staff's philosophies on offense, pitching and defense?
"From an offensive standpoint we are still on the positive side of walks to strikeouts. That is a big deal to us anytime you have a 1:1 ratio, and when you throw in hit by pitches we are even more on the plus side. That is huge and it helps your on base percentage when you are not striking out. As long as you are moving the ball you have a chance at getting on base. So far what has helped us offensively is that we are getting production from a lot of people so we are not relying on one person. We have had guys with bad weeks offensively and we have been able to overcome that -- somebody else has stepped up. On the other side we have tried to run pitchers out there that don't walk people. We have played really good defense -- and we probably played the worst defense of the year yesterday and I thought that might come back to hurt us -- but overall we have played really good defense and we are not walking people and we are not giving up a ton of hits as compared to innings pitched and that brings opponents' on base percentage down. Hopefully that will continue. We have some guys - Chaz Frank is a good example - he did not strike out one time this past week and led the team in on base percentage. He moves the ball and gets a chance to get on base."

Can you talk about Kent Emanuel's poise on the mound in his first weekend start for the Tar Heels?
"Very mature, I said that before. He is way ahead of himself right now in terms of his demeanor and maturity. He never shows any fear. If the gets in trouble he just keeps the same rhythm and same poise and attack mode and certainly has pitched very well for us. His first start in the league and he was terrific for us on Saturday. He has been a big plus for us to have a freshman that we can have in the weekend rotation who can go out and just throw strikes. He throws a lot of strikes, holds runners. He is the whole package."

Yesterday it sounded like Michael Morin might have suffered a significant injury coming off the mound - could you elaborate on the situation and prognosis moving forward?
"First and second and they bunt to the right side and Michael came off the mound and it was kind of awkward. His spike got caught right when he was going to pick the ball up and it was scary at first as he went down in pain and continued to try to make the play. It looks like, and hopefully the best case scenario is, a badly sprained ankle. He has a doctor's appointment today and we will find out more. Our trainers think that is all it is and we certainly hope that is all it is. It is kind of a freakish think to happen and we hope that Michael will not be out too long."

Cody Penny had an uncharacteristic performance on Sunday. Was he fatigued from his use on Friday for two innings then another inning on Saturday?
"Not real sure. We are trying to learn from these guys who can go out and throw two or three days in a row and the number of pitches and that sort of thing. We knew we had Chris Munnelly available on Saturday and Sunday and once we did not use him on Saturday we knew that we had him to close out the game on Sunday. We were not too sure but had him on the travel roster thinking that he might be fine by Saturday or Sunday but we hoped we did not have to use him until Sunday. It worked out fortunately. Cody was facing the meat of their order and got some pitches up and, again, it is nice to be able to use some other guys to close out games on the weekend -- that is exactly what we are going to do. It is a grind to close or pitch in three games in a row. We know that and will deal with it accordingly."

The Diamond Heels have a big week with UNC-W and High Point before a home series with Duke - can you give a preview of this coming week?
"They are all big [laughs], every week is big. It is a very important week for us from the standpoint of recovering from the weekend and getting back on the hill. Now we are getting into night games and so our guys have to learn how to manage the day as we start playing 6 p.m. games. Our in-state opponents are coming in here and they always play well against us. Certainly we know the staff in Wilmington very well and High Point certainly as well and they are well coached. We have to focus on these two mid-week games and hopefully continue to build on the momentum from the weekend and not have it serve as a negative. We can not look towards the weekend. It's an important game for us tomorrow night -- mid-week, in-state opponent. We are not certain yet of the pitching as Coach Forbes and I have not talked today yet."

Now that the high school baseball season has gotten under way, how does the coaching staff balance recruiting and following up with signed players during their senior campaigns while the Tar Heels are competing in season as well? And on a related note, can you comment on signee Benton Moss earning a prestigious Morehead-Cain Scholarship to the University of North Carolina?
"As of March 1st we can get on the road and Coach Jackson has already been out. He was gone all week and did not sleep in his bed one night after we returned from Wake Forest - he took off and was gone all week. He came back in town right before we left for Blacksburg. He has been out recruiting and we are following all of our guys and we had one of our (committed recruits) at the game yesterday to watch us play. We are staying in close contact with all of those guys and we have at least half of our incoming class coming in for summer school and being able to work out with (S&C) Coach (Greg) Gatz this summer. I think it is already out there about Benton Moss. We could not be more happy for Benton and his family. What an unbelievable accomplishment to be a Morehead Scholar at the University of North Carolina. We knew that Benton would be in the running for that after looking over that young man's transcripts and community service and everything he has been involved with in his high school career and it is just terrific that he was selected as a recipient of that prestigious scholarship. Great accomplishment for him."

Major League Baseball is getting ready to come out of Spring Training into the regular season. Have you been following the progress of the Diamond Heel alumni in the professional ranks?
"Oh, yes, we stay in touch with those guys constantly. If they are on the MLB Network we will text one another and say that so and so is pitching to (Tim) Federowicz or (Andrew) Miller is pitching to Federowicz or (Daniel) Bard is pitching to Federowicz. We text them all the time and we just spent some time on the bus communicating with Reid Fronk, Josh Horton, [Andrew] Carignan and those guys fighting their way through it through Spring Training and how it is going. I heard from Matt Harvey the other day. The great thing about technology is that you can follow these guys and you can know minute to minute what they are doing and when they are pitching or hitting. It is a big part of what we do because it is fun. We saw the Morans in Blacksburg and talked with Mr. Moran about Brian and heard great things about how well he has been throwing and [Kyle] Seager and [Dustin] Ackley and all of them. It is a blast following those guys and we send our best wishes to them and let them know we are watching and pulling for them."


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