Monday with Mike Fox

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. --- Following a weekend sweep of Boston College, Mike Fox's Tar Heels (34-13, 16-8) have a two-game lead in the Coastal Division with two weeks remaining before the ACC Tournament. Up next are two mid-week games (vs. UNCW, at ECU) and a series against Duke.

This Week
Tues. vs. UNC Wilmington
Wed. at East Carolina
Fri. at Duke
Sat. at Duke
Sun. at Duke
This past weekend, the Diamond Heels swept Boston College. The series included sitting through a long weather delay on Saturday after trailing in the game. Can you give your impressions of the weekend series?
"It was an unusual weekend in that regard with the weather delay. It is one of those variables we don't have any control over. We talk about that and anything can happen in the course of the weekend. The sweep is what we needed and what we were hoping for. Of course we got off to a great start on Friday and then the long, long day on Saturday. The rain delay helped us I think because they had the momentum before the rain came. Our guys were able to manage their down time for a while. Fortunately we have a great place here where they can hang out and enjoy themselves with TV's, computers and food and all that good stuff and they came out with some energy to re-start the game and I felt good about it. We were able to hit their best lefty and get right back in the game which was important. That was a huge win for us and then Sunday we got great pitching from all four of those guys in the game. We did just enough offensively to win; I thought we could have scored some more runs. We will certainly take the sweep and move on."

Which aspect of Colin Moran's return will be bigger - stabilizing the defense with his return to the hot corner or his presence in the lineup allowing the other batters to not press at the plate to score runs?
"We have not been too good defensively at third since he has been back and I thought that might be the part that was the toughest for him. The timing part of getting to the ball quicker. It is hard to simulate that in practice off of a fungo [bat]. It is nice to have him out there as I think that he is a really, really good defensive third baseman. He has not played like it in his return yet but I think that he will down the stretch. It has allowed us to kind of stabilize our infield some. I do think having him back in the lineup -- besides the fact of what he can do individually -- it is a good presence for us and our guys know that he is in there and he is coming up and we want him to come up with people in scoring position and people on base because he usually moves the ball. That was our hope that he was going to help our team offensively in two ways. One, having him back in there, but mentally you are right, taking a little pressure of the other guys."

What has freshman Michael Russell shown you at shortstop?
"I think Michael Russell has played exceptionally well since we moved him there. For us to not really have had him there at all then all the sudden just throwing and practicing two days there and then going into a big game for us, I think that he has played remarkable there. You should see some of the instinctive plays he has made to his left and his arm is accurate. We want him to make the routine plays. He has saved us a couple runs. Coach Jackson deserves some credit -- against their four-hole guy with two strikes on him, we knew what pitch we were going to throw and he moved him to his left about two steps with runners on second and third with two outs and he was able to get to a hard hit ball and throw him out. That was a huge play for us. I have liked the way Michael has played at short so far."

One of the interesting statistics to see this far into the season is that opposing teams have only attempted 24 stolen bases against the Diamond Heels. How much of that is the respect that Jacob Stallings has earned with his catch and throw skills and then how much credit have to go to the pitchers for keeping the runners off balance?
"We work every day -- from the very first day in the fall -- on the running game and controlling the running game. Our pitchers work on that every day. When they get good at it and they have good moves to first and can go fairly quick to the plate when necessary and they vary their moves that helps. When you have a catcher behind the plate in Jacob who can really throw and he has that reputation there, a lot of teams don't run. Every now and again we have to tell our pitchers that you don't have to worry too much about this guy running, especially the guys on the other team that don't run. So it is mutually beneficial -- our pitchers do a good job and we have a great catch and throw guy and that is why other teams have not run much on us and that certainly helps."

With a pair of mid week games this week against UNC-Wilmington and East Carolina, have you and Coach Forbes decided who is going to start on the mound in those games?
"Benton Moss is going to start on Tuesday against Wilmington. He did not get a lot of pitches in on Saturday so we want to get him back out there for 50 or 60 [pitches] to get him ready for his start. It would be his bullpen day anyway. We have not named the starter for East Carolina as we want to see how the game goes on Tuesday."

How do you and Coach Forbes feel about the depth of potential starting pitching heading down the stretch towards tournament play and the post-season?
"We have a lot of options. We have options for every week and that is good for us -- between Chris O'Brien and Chris Munnelly and of course we could throw our starters mid-week if they did not go too long on the weekend. We have got all sorts of options. That is what we said from the beginning and that is what we want. We want competition amongst our players, especially on our pitching staff, and we want options and guys to pitch in different roles and do different things for us. We might throw the entire staff against East Carolina because this weekend is huge for us and we want to have everybody ready for the weekend. It is nice that we have some depth. We have some guys that have not pitched in a while. I mean. Benton [Moss] had not pitched in 12 days before his start and that is a long layoff for him. That might have had a little to do with him being rusty and now we have to get back in the routine some and go from there."

What has enabled Parks Jordan to be such a clutch hitter this season?
"Parks has been a really, really good player for us this year. Very steady and calm. I think he has been one of our guys that has maximized his opportunities with people in scoring position. Look at his RBI to hits. That is how you can tell if guys are driving in runs and how many RBI they have, then you look over to the column to see -- well, they might have driven in five or six in one game with a home run or triple or double but he does not have many extra base hits? He hits singles and two out singles and is hitting against righties and lefties and has played exceptionally well against the ACC. We have needed that from Parks. He has been a good surprise for us this year and I am very happy for him because he is a great kid and works really hard. He got an opportunity to play and he has made the most of it."

Heading down the stretch what is your main area of concern with your ball club?
"Defense. Playing consistent defense and making plays. Not opening the door for the other team. Giving up the big inning which we have done a great job of. I really think we need to play consistent defense down the stretch. I think we are going to pitch well enough. We are not a great offensive team but we are capable of scoring enough runs to win if we pitch and play defense. That is what we are going to have to do down the stretch to move forward and win the games that we need to win."

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Each week the National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association updates the top 40 attendance leaders in Division I baseball and so far North Carolina has not cracked the list. As the head coach of the baseball program, what else can you do to help improve the attendance at the Bosh and what concerns do you have to increase fan interest in the sport?
"Well, you struck a nerve with that question. We are extremely disappointed that we do not draw. Our coaches, our players and everybody involved in our program - we are not sure what else we are supposed to do quite honestly. We built the new stadium. We have a parking deck right beside it. We have 4,100 seats with beautiful sight lines and a pretty good product on the field. We have some players now in the Major Leagues. We try to play an exciting brand of baseball and so when we look up on a beautiful Friday night or a Saturday and only half the stadium is full it is extremely disappointing. I will be honest with you. We are brainstorming now and we know that it is important when the fans come to have a good experience not just watching the game but everything else that goes along. From marketing, promotions, music to concessions to parking. Parking is something that people bring up but I don't understand with the parking deck right there maybe 200 yards away -- I don't quite understand that part of it. We would like to draw better. We really would. I think our kids deserve it. Quite honestly we play better on the road this year because we go in and there are huge crowds pulling against us. It motivates our players kind of the same way that a big crowd here would motivate us to win at home. We will keep plugging and keep trying to do what we can. We are in a tough environment with a lot of things going on in the Triangle. We get it, but we don't understand why more people don't come to our games and we will keep working on it. That is all we can do."

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