Monday with Mike Fox

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. --- The Diamond Heels salvaged their series finale against Miami to improve to 32-10 (13-8 ACC) and head into final exams with one game this week, which is at East Carolina. Head coach Mike Fox talked to Inside Carolina in this exclusive weekly interview.

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Coach Fox can you give your impressions of the last week, with a win over Coastal Carolina and a 1-2 record against Miami?
"It was a challenging week for us coming off of last weekend. I thought our kids were really ready to play against Coastal and we had a good start from Andrew Smith in his first college start. I thought he did very well and was aggressive, which gave us a chance and then we had a big inning which helped us again. It was a big win for us. The weekend was challenging with the weather and we would have preferred to have played Friday, Saturday and Sunday but it was not meant to be and obviously Saturday's doubleheader was a tough day for us - not winning the first game then not getting it done in the second game but I was proud of our team for getting the win on Sunday. That was an important win for us. The kids responded great in both games."

Is there an emotional and physical drain in playing, and losing, a doubleheader in ACC competition? And, if so, what does Sunday's bounce-back win say about this team?
"I think it showed a lot of character on the part of our team. I told them after the game that I knew that they would be tested throughout the course of the season. In college baseball anything can happen as far as the weather and having to play 18 innings all in one day. We have been through that before. You can be at the ballpark for 12 to 14 hours. It can be grueling in that way and when things don't go your way you have to pick yourself back up and hopefully get some rest. I think our kids knew that Sunday might be the most important game to date of our season based on the week and the character of the result. You have to give our kids a lot of credit, they pull together, and we got off to a good start. I am more proud of our team because we talk about that a lot -- being a team that weathers the storm and that nothing will break our spirit and we have to keep moving and plugging and keep playing the game -- and we typified that on Sunday and I was proud of them."

Ben Bunting has been struggling of late at the plate and he was moved him down in the order on Sunday against Miami. Was this a move designed to keep him from pressing at the plate?
"A little bit. He had a bad week and that happens in baseball. When you start pressing as a hitter -- and it just happens and not everybody has great weeks -- you just try to move guys around a little bit and maybe get them out of the leadoff spot and get them down there a little bit. Ben played good defense for us this weekend and did some good things for us; he just did not have a good week offensively at all."

We've seen Greg Holt's versatility on display this season. How carefully do you have to manage to keep him available with his dual roles and do you expect to change his pitching role moving forward to keep him more available?
"Well, his role has changed a little bit and we put him in there to hit against left handed pitching because we have not had some production from some other guys and Greg has stepped in there and done well. He is a big part of our pitching staff certainly as everybody saw on Saturday keeping us in the game for six innings and gave us a chance. When you have a position player and you bring him out of right field to pitch you lose the designated hitter. So there are all sorts of things you have to think about and of course we had to pinch run for him in the ninth inning in game one on Saturday. So when you take him out of the game then he is not available to pitch. Certainly if I had known that Levi [Michael] was going to hit a big double I would not have pinch run for him but you don't know that and you have to give your team the best chance to tie up the game. But we did have him for game two fortunately, but we just did not score enough runs."

What did Kent Emanuel have working on Sunday that enabled his complete game against the Hurricanes?
"Kent is mostly a fastball, curve and change guy and he had all three pitches that he was surrounding the strike zone. He got ahead a lot, especially late in the game once we got a lead, and he was a lot more aggressive and threw a lot of first pitch strikes. He got himself into a lot of good pitcher's counts, which we had not done the day before. Kent has been mostly a strike thrower for us and I think that in two appearances in 12 innings he only walked one batter - that is certainly key - and he induced some ground balls and threw some balls down in the zone that guys cannot do a whole lot with. He had a little tail on his fastball, I think, that was helping against righties. But Kent has the ability to pitch inside, too, and I think that was the key to his performance. Miami likes to get on top of the plate and sort of dive in a little bit and you have to keep them honest being able to pitch in and I think he did that just enough to stay effective."

Can you give an update on Cody Stiles' availability?
"He is healthy. Looking for the right situation to use him; we had him in the bullpen yesterday and he would have been one of those guys we would have gone to if we had needed him."

What kind of coaching philosophy do you have about when and how to slide? On Sunday your team was much more active sliding, with Chaz Frank's great foot-first slide around the catcher at home and then Levi Michael flying headfirst into home?
"For one thing our team does not slide enough. So it was nice to see some kids getting on the ground yesterday. It showed a little bit more of the sense of urgency perhaps yesterday. During the course of the season our guys don't understand that you slide to stop, so if you are running from first to second on a bunt and a play is being made on the guy at first you are still supposed to slide into second base - that is how you can prevent injury. In 99 percent of the time you should probably slide feet first, especially at home. It is always dangerous to slide head first into home plate. If there is a play made on you the catcher can do some damage to you if you are not careful. But, Levi played most of the weekend with a slightly pulled groin and that might have had something to do with why he felt like he needed to go head first. You go head first into first base to avoid a tag or go head first into second base to steal to get your left hand to come around around the bag. The majority of the time you should go feet first so you can pop up and advance to the next base. Obviously the easiest way to stop is the easiest way to get going again. A lot of guys have their preference to go head first as it became a fad there for a while. But there are certain times you should and shouldn't use it."

What kind of an impact has Robert Woodard had since joining the coaching staff in his return to North Carolina?
"He has a really good perspective. He is so young and he has the pulse really of our team and some of our individual players. He has brought some good ideas to our program, giving insight on what he thinks our players might be thinking. Obviously he works a lot with our pitchers and talks with Coach Forbes a lot. He will talk to the pitchers or make comments during the game like, ‘That is how you pitch with a lead.' or, ‘These guys have to continue to get in these counts or those counts and be aggressive.' He has a keen eye for the game and he is relying on his experience and how aggressive he was and not to back down. I think it was important yesterday that we all talked about being really aggressive; even though it was a must win, if we played tentative and played like it was a must win we would have hurt ourselves. Woody really helped with that mentality yesterday talking amongst our players."

The Diamond Heels have one game this week at East Carolina during exams. What is the schedule going to be like during finals?
"We have a game in the middle of exams. So we have to work around their exam schedules as far as practice - we will give them a couple of days off after East Carolina game, reading day and the first day of exams. We will sort of have skeleton practices over the weekend around their exam schedule to keep them sharp and keep our pitchers going. We will try to have one team practice on reading day before our game on Thursday against Gardner-Webb. Then of course they will really be slammed with exams before the Maryland series. It is kind of tricky but we know exactly when their exams are and when they are free and when they are not. Of course the coaches will do a lot of preparation like we normally do in scouting reports and watch a lot of video -- and get on the road recruiting seeing as many local games and kids as we can while we have a little additional time, especially over the weekend."


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