Monday with Mike Fox

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. --- The Diamond Heels concluded their regular season with a sweep of Virginia Tech and a 42-13 (22-8 ACC) record. Mike Fox's team heads into this week's ACC Tournament in great shape to be a national seed in the NCAA Tournament. Inside Carolina caught up with the head coach on Monday …

This Week:
ACC Tournament

at NewBridge Bank Park in Greensboro, N.C.
Wed. vs. Wake Forest
Thu. vs. Miami
Sat. vs. NC State
Sun. Championship Game
Coach Fox can you give your impressions of the final regular season series against the Hokies?
"What a great way for us to end the regular season with our fifth sweep in the ACC regular season. [SID] Dave Schmidt told me after the game that this is the first team in the history of Carolina baseball to sweep 5 ACC series in a single season. Great credit to our players for accomplishing that feat. We pitched exceptionally well over the weekend. We limited what I thought was a pretty good offensive team in Virginia Tech; hardly any runs at all and finishing on a great note on Saturday with Senior Day. It was just a great weekend for our players and for our seniors Jacob [Stallings] and Jimmy [Messer]."

Speaking of the pair of seniors, what have those two have meant to the Diamond Heels during their careers?
"There have been lot of favorite moments from both of them. With Jimmy [Messer] it is a favorite moment just about every day. He is the most outgoing, gregarious, never-has-a-bad-moment-of-a-day kid that I have been around. He seems like he always thoroughly enjoys every single moment of his life. That in itself is kind of fun to be around. It is infectious. Jimmy has not pitched a whole lot and his innings have diminished as his career has gone on but his enthusiasm, work ethic and desire to be around his teammates and winning never did. That in itself is probably my favorite thing about Jimmy Messer.

"It is funny with Jacob, I told him the other day it is the fastest four years that I have ever seen. I can remember his first practice at East Chapel Hill High School way back in the fall of his freshman year where we did not have a facility and how far he has come from there. I am not really great at remembering certain moments on the field but he obviously has had some huge swings of the bat for us and some big hits at the end of some games. I don't really have a defining moment with Jacob because I think that his journey has been one step at a time to get where he has been. It has just not happened for him overnight or one swing of the bat or one throw to second base but a culmination of a lot of hard work and one day layering on top of another then one day he is the player that he is. The best part of Jacob Stallings is off the field -- leading our chapel and just being around him on a daily basis as a person -- that is the best part of Jacob Stallings."

What are your thoughts on Hobbs Johnson's pitching performance with a perfect game going through seven innings on Saturday?
"He had a sensational week I thought. I think people thought, when he goes to Asheville and he gives up three hits to start the game, 'What is wrong with him?' But you saw him pitch out of that jam and what he did for the next two or three innings and then to come back on essentially three days rest and then do that. We had him on a 70- to 75-pitch count on Saturday but my word we could not take him out of the game with what he had going on. I think it is the competition amongst our pitching staff. It keeps all of our pitchers sharp. They were all in here yesterday working out in the weight room and it was optional for them and the stadium is open on their off day. They work. These kids work and Hobbs Johnson is no exception to that and he is benefiting from all of that hard work. He had it going on Saturday against Virginia Tech. I am disappointed that he could not get the no hitter or the perfect game but that shows you how hard that is to do. But he gave us a chance to win and in the end I think that is all he cared about."

The ACC Tournament is this weekend in Greensboro at NewBridge Bank Park - last time the ACC Tournament was held there in 2010 there were 51 home runs in 13 games. What is your opinion on how the park will affect play?
"I know one thing, none of those home runs have been hit by us. I don't know how it is going to play out. Obviously the bats are different and it is a small ballpark and I was over there for a Rams Club event and certainly noticed that. It is not going to be a factor for us, I don't think, since we don't hit a lot of home runs. So our goal obviously over there is not to let the other team hit too many. We will have to pitch very well. You have to think that teams that have a little power may benefit. Certainly home runs are still being hit. So it will be interesting. I did hear that was the biggest complaint -- or biggest plus of playing over there, I guess depending on how you want to look at it or who is doing the complaining -- about being in Greensboro. I know the fans probably love the home runs so we will see what happens."

With the ACC Tournament right before the NCAA regional competition, how has that affected how you and Coach Forbes have set up your pitching for the tournament?
"We are going to throw Shane Taylor on Wednesday against Wake Forest and Kent [Emanuel] will throw on Thursday against Miami. Saturday it will either be obviously Benton [Moss] or Hobbs [Johnson] and probably both of them if I had to guess. I think that will depend on where we stand after the first two games. That is our plan and obviously we will use our relievers as we have all year long and they will all be ready to go on Wednesday night."

One of the really interesting match-ups for the Saturday night game is in the fact that NC State has 26 percent of the stolen bases against North Carolina this season, with freshman third baseman Trae Turner doing the majority of the damage against Jacob Stallings (who opposing teams for the most part have not tested this season). Can you discuss this compelling primetime tilt against the rival Wolfpack?
"It is obviously State and Carolina and they have a great team and I am sure that the league matched us up on Saturday night for a reason. You are never sure how those kind of match-ups are going to play out. If Turner gets on it is a real challenge. There have not been too many guys that I have seen in the league since I have been here that are that advanced. Really, I don't even think that he has ever been thrown out at second base. I think his two caught stealings are at home from what someone told me but I am not sure. We will see how that plays out. It would be nice to keep him off bases but besides being such a great base runner or base stealer he is a pretty good darned hitter as well. I think he is a sensational player and I voted for him for ACC Rookie of the Year from what he has done from the first game to the last over the 55 plus games for them."

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Have you had the opportunity to see the video of Dustin Ackley's delayed steal of home against the Rockies on Sunday with Kyle Seager stealing second base? What's the risk versus reward ratio of trying to steal home?
"I have not. I watched the game where Alex [White] pitched against those two and texted him after the game. Was that yesterday's game? I missed that. I will have to go back and look at it. If we are talking about stealing home off the pitcher in the wind up you don't get presented with that opportunity very often. Most pitchers, if they are not in the stretch and they are in the wind up and if the windup is anywhere near 2.5 to 2.75 to 2.8, you don't have a chance no matter how fast you are. Especially if the pitcher checks you before he starts his windup. Every now and then you will find a pitcher who is so locked in on the hitter and generally there are two outs and he is trying to get that third out and he will be in the windup and not paying any attention to the runner. Usually for us it has been a spur of the moment thing -- just a verbal thing between me and the base runner. We don't really don't practice it a whole lot. Of course the reward obviously is kind of a free run. There is great risk because the pitcher can defend it if he speeds up his delivery and throws a pitch that's either not in the dirt or not away from a right handed hitter, which is generally when you want to do it with a right handed hitter up there and have the pitcher sort of panic and throw the ball away from the right handed hitter, which is obviously away from where the baserunner will be sliding in. It is a fun play and I like to do it occasionally. Generally I like to be ahead so if the guy does get thrown out it is not a rally killer or anything. But a lot of times it is good to do with two strikes when a pitcher is trying to bury a curveball and get a ball in the dirt."

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