Monday with Mike Fox

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. --- The Diamond Heels (38-13, 19-8) swept Duke over the weekend to clinch the Coastal Division crown. The final week of the regular season includes playing at UNC-Asheville on Tuesday followed by a home series against Virginia Tech. Inside Carolina caught up with head coach Mike Fox on Monday ...

This Week
Tues. at UNC-Asheville
Thu. vs. Virginia Tech
Fri. vs. Virginia Tech
Sat. vs. Virginia Tech
Can you give your impressions of the weekend sweep of Duke at the Durham Bulls Athletic Park?
"My word, we only gave up two runs in 27 innings. That is hard to do. It was just an incredible pitching performance by our staff. I had the statistics sent to me last night from [SID] Dave [Schmidt] and I cannot remember a weekend where we pitched so incredibly well. Duke hit .152 against us and only got 14 hits in three games. That is pretty spectacular. It started with Kent [Emanuel] on Friday and then of course Benton [Moss] and our relievers on Saturday then followed with a sensational performance by Shane Taylor on Sunday. We needed every one of those pitches and of course you know two of the games were really close. They were all three really close except at the end of the Saturday one. It was a really good weekend for our team and for our pitching staff. Our defense was sensational as well with no errors in three games."

Shane Taylor took advantage of his opportunity to start on the weekend with Hobbs Johnson being under the weather. How did he prepare for that opportunity and what made him so effective during his one-hit outing over eight innings?
"I think Coach Forbes probably told Shane after the game on Saturday when we saw that Hobbs was not feeling well and had a sore throat and talked with the trainer. I'm sure Coach Forbes said something to Shane to be ready that we did not know what was going to happen on Sunday. I think that Shane went to bed on Saturday night probably with an idea that he might start the game, which certainly would be important for his preparation. He went out there right from the very beginning and was very aggressive. I think that in the past couple of outings that Shane has had that he has taken it to another level just from a confidence standpoint. His velocity, his breaking ball has gotten a lot better and really his confidence level was the most important thing. He is around the plate. I thought early he had a lot of three-ball and three-two counts so I was worried a little bit about how long he would last. Then he had two or three really short innings and it was just a dominating performance from beginning to end."

With a trip up to Asheville on Tuesday before having a Thursday through Saturday series at the Bosh against Virginia Tech, do you expect to throw Johnson if he is feeling better on Tuesday?
"I am not quite sure. I have not spoken with Coach Forbes. I drove separately to the game and missed chatting there briefly on the bus and then wanted everybody to spend the rest of the day with family. That is a possibility. Hobbs had a pretty high fever yesterday so I am not sure physically if he will be ready - one, to make the trip and, two, to be able to pitch tomorrow. I will have to find that out later in the day. That certainly is a possibility as we have done that before, have him on a pitch count. We have Chris Munnelly and Chris O'Brien and some other options. We did not tax our relievers very much at all. Chris McCue, Tate Parrish and I mentioned Chris O'Brien and Mason [McCullough]. We have to get those guys out there Tuesday if we can. We have a lot of options on Tuesday and of course we turn around Thursday, Friday, Saturday. That is an issue of being careful with Hobbs because we have a day less to work with this weekend with a Thursday through Saturday series."

How important is chemistry on a baseball team in your opinion and what lessons have you learned from the past that have made recruiting the right type of student-athletes to become members of the roster?
"It is extremely important that your team gets along. That is a pretty general term because it is impossible for everyone to like everyone and I'll say that carefully as there are so many personalities. The biggest trait is that they have respect and they understand that everybody is different and has a different personality and different traits, and respect for our program first and our team and what we are trying to accomplish and then you have to have leaders. You have to have guys in there that are mature and can talk to the younger guys who may not be doing everything exactly right and may not bringing the work ethic into the stadium every single day. Mike Zolk is a perfect example. Very well liked by his teammates. Always ready. Great attitude. I'm sure that it was extremely disappointing to be a starter from the first game all the way to the 35-40 games into the season then all the sudden going to the bench and watch us keep winning and he's not playing and he stayed ready and of course he had a big hit for us yesterday. It is something that we put a lot of stock into in the recruiting process but we really don't truly know until we have everybody here. We try to do our homework and we are going to make every effort we can to keep that good culture in our locker room and we know what it is and we know how to massage it a little bit and get our seniors and juniors on board. They police themselves so that is the best thing that can happen that your players take a hold of your team and they make it their team and not ours."

Can you discuss the play of the defense - only committing one error on an errant pick off attempt in the mid-week game against UNC-W before going error free this weekend?
"We have played better defense and that has been key. I told our team yesterday: ‘When you pitch like that and you don't make any errors you are going to win and you are going to win a high percentage of the time no matter what you do offensively because you have put yourself into a position to win.' Then a couple of hits or a clutch hit like we got yesterday and you just keep plugging. We knew we had to play better defense down the stretch or we were going to be in trouble. So we put a little bit more emphasis on it and obviously Michael Russell has been a big part of that and I thought Tommy Coyle was sensational over the weekend with the slow roller play. We have kind of settled in and we really like our three outfielders. They play aggressive and Chaz Frank is our leader out there and then Jacob [Stallings] behind the plate. We have become a little bit better of a defensive team and that has been a big help for us."

The team had two graduates in seniors Jacob Stallings and Jimmy Messer. With the game time on Sunday being pushed back, were they able to celebrate commencement this weekend? And how emotional of a weekend was it for the pair of seniors combining their graduation with a sweep of the Duke Blue Devils?
"First and foremost we were glad that we were playing so close. We have had weekends in the past where we have been on the road and our seniors have not been even able to be on campus for commencement. So we got a little lucky in that regard. If we are not at home we certainly want to be close. I have to give Coach [Sean] McNally at Duke a shout out because I got a call back probably several months ago and just told him our situation and they moved the game back for us which they certainly did not have to do. That really helped us so that Jimmy and Jacob could experience commencement at Kenan and it is one of our special days in their life that they can remember forever with having all their family with pictures and then being able to play a baseball game on top of that. It is a special day for them and certainly emotional but a fun day and a lot of satisfaction that they graduated in four years and so it was a great day for both of those young men. I am happy for them and we got some wins and extremely happy that they have their diplomas certainly."

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Has the fact that your team has clinched the Coastal Division already change your outlook on the remaining series against Virginia Tech in preparing for the ACC Tournament or the post-season?
"As far as we are concerned we have not clinched the Coastal Division. We are not going to play the mathematics game. Our philosophy - it is one you hear all the time - is our approach is the next game. We have to get better offensively and get back in the weight room and we have a whole lot of baseball to play. I don't want to back into anything and I know how the mathematics work. I know that Virginia Tech will come in this weekend and they will have their backs against the wall fighting for an ACC and a NCAA berth. So we will worry about them after we get through this game on Tuesday. We have a chance to finish strong and we have been playing well and pitching well so that is what is important for us at this particular time. I just want to focus on UNC-Asheville and some of our guys start summer school tomorrow and we have to negotiate that and some logistics of housing and such and get back in the routine this week."

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