Monday with Mike Fox

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. --- The Tar Heels swept No. 16 Clemson over the weekend to improve to a program-best 26-4 (10-2 ACC) start, with a weekend showdown at Florida State coming up. Inside Carolina caught up with head coach Mike Fox on Monday for the exclusive weekly interview.

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Can you give your perspective on the last week and the series sweep against Clemson?
"Well, it is a good feeling on a Monday morning, certainly. We are very excited about the outcome this past weekend against a good Clemson team. We played just well enough and did just enough good things to get three wins and to get that one on Sunday was huge for us. It is such a difficult task in this league to win three games and to win that one on Sunday the way we did was pretty impressive. I was impressed with our club and how we pulled that one out."

Can you discuss the offensive execution this season with manufacturing runs with a patient approach at the plate?
"You have to give a great deal of credit to Coach Jackson in that regard just from a philosophy standpoint and how hard he has worked with our hitters and what we have emphasized from the very beginning since the fall. A lot of it is being unselfish and wanting to get a bunt down or move the ball to the right side or being able to take a walk. Take Tommy Coyle last night - I was sorry that his streak came to an end, but in the 9th inning I would take a walk any time in that situation. I am not sure last year that he would have laid off some of those pitches that were close from [Will] Lamb. To lay off those pitches that are just at the very top of the strike zone and take a walk, that obviously got the winning run in scoring position. He texted me to let me know that he would take a walk in that situation every time. I think that speaks to the unselfishness of our players that they are willing to do whatever they can offensively to help us win."

One of the other things that has propelled the offense this year is in the efficiency of Tommy Coyle, Levi Michael and Ben Bunting in picking the optimum opportunities to steal bases...
"That is something that we have worked on and talked about. Those are three of our fastest players and we were 11 for 11 in stolen bases this week with nine of them over the weekend. They were all at a good time. I think only one time was a missed hit and run but the other ones were either just the green light or the straight steal or the run and hit and those guys pick the right time to go and we just try to put pressure on their catcher to make a good throw. Again, I think it is just experience with those three guys learning when to run and when not to. All three of those guys did a great job this weekend. We have stolen more bags than I thought we would have at this time of year but that is something that we have needed to do."

Speaking of stealing, Clemson ran into a number of outs this weekend - one in particular on Saturday when they were unable to pull off a double steal and were cut down at the plate by Jacob Stallings and Levi Michael.
"We have a lot of confidence in Jacob [Stallings]. He had five assists this week and was one of the winners of our defensive awards from this past week. It is funny because on that particular play you mentioned we had a certain defense on and we were not supposed to throw that ball to second base. Of course it takes two good throws to defend the first and third and we made two good ones from Jacob to Levi and back to Jacob. Jacob comes in the dugout finally and I stated, 'You were not supposed to throw that ball there' ... and he just kind of rolled his eyes. It is one of those things you just have to kind of overlook. If our pitchers do their job I thought it was very important that Clemson not steal third base on us a couple of times because they have great team speed and they pretty much give their players the green light at second base. Our pitchers did a good job and they gave Jacob a chance to throw guys out. It was a big part of the weekend."

Can you discuss Patrick Johnson's first inning troubles again on Friday and how he bounced back from that to pitch seven innings in the opening game of the series?
"It's a couple times now that he has done that. I don't know whether it is that he is just too keyed up or excited and rushing to the plate early in the game. That happens sometimes with adrenaline and you are excited to get out there. We have to correct that, of course, but again the important thing is that we were able to stay with him and did not have to go to our bullpen too early as that would have hurt us certainly Saturday and Sunday. He put up some zeros after that first inning which certainly was very important. He left his fastball up some and missing arm side and that is just him rushing to the plate and he knows it and he comes in and is upset with himself but he goes out there and corrects it, which I think is the most important thing."

Can you discuss Andrew Smith's development as a pitcher during his freshman campaign?
"We saw Smitty in the fall and saw when we were recruiting him that he could be a good pitcher at this level. He is a very confident and tough kid and has a good breaking ball. That is the reason that I brought him into the game yesterday against some of their righties and you saw what he did when he first came in with those three pitches. We really like Smitty, he has some toughness, loves to compete and is not scared. He is typical of a young pitcher that he can make some good pitches then leave one up and that happened to him yesterday but he just keeps competing and that is all we can ask along with being around the strike zone and throwing strikes. He has a chance to be really good. He works and has all the intangibles that we look for."

What are the challenges the team faces this time of year with the grind of the season combined with the final month of the academic obligations heading down the stretch towards finals?
"April is always the toughest month. These kids have a lot on them as well as four tough ACC series -- two on the road. We actually talked about that yesterday after the win in the locker room about, ‘Okay, now it is time for you guys to manage the upcoming week.' We are going to practice today and use Wednesday as our day off. These guys had a lot of schoolwork to do last night I am sure and they have to be exhausted after a tough weekend. That is difficult to do. It is the biggest challenge being a student-athlete ... I hope they did their part and are managing their lifestyle; their time management is the most important thing. We talk about it all the time with these kids to use study hall and time on the bus and do whatever we can to keep them on track. This next month is important for a lot of them academically, especially our freshmen."

The Diamond Heels host Winthrop this Tuesday then head on the road to play Florida State in Tallahassee this weekend. What's your early scouting report on these opponents?
"I don't know that much about Winthrop except that they swept High Point this weekend. We will get a lot of information and I have some already on my computer this morning about them. I know they have a new coach [Tom Riginos] from Clemson last year and he is a really, really good coach and they will be very well prepared. Everybody knows about Florida State. They are one of the toughest venues in the country to play at and you have to play at a very high level down there. They never think they are out of a game in Tallahassee and they have great crowds and they are very confident. You have to play at a high level to have a chance to win. We will manage this week and be prepared to play Winthrop and do our best to be prepared for Florida State this weekend."

With the Tar Heels equaling their best record after 30 games with a 26-4 record and having the fourth-ranked RPI according to Warren Nolan, how do you feel that this team answered the questions about its hot start nationally?
"I emailed the kids last night and I told them that is was a great weekend for us but all college baseball teams will be judged on how they finish not how they started. At the end of May or in early June they won't be writing about our first 30 game but they will be writing about our last 30 games. It only gets harder and you don't want to get caught up on where you are now or you are going hurt yourself moving forward. You have to put these weekends behind you really quickly whether you win or lose them. You can't enjoy the wins a whole lot because here comes the next game. You can't get too deflated about a loss either. That is what I like about this team. I think that they understand that and they are going to get in here today in the weight room and working. We were not happy with our performance against Charlotte and so I addressed the team briefly about being prepared for Winthrop that is coming off of a series sweep against an ACC opponent at home and we are only thinking about our next game. I am not going to get caught up in all of that and I certainly don't think that our players will and I hope that they don't. But we are where we are at this point and we have to continue to get better and improve."

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