This Week With Mike Fox

The top-ranked Diamond Heels continued their perfect start (10-0) to the 2013 season by defeating St. John's in a mid-week tilt and then sweeping through the field in Houston at the Astros Classic.

This Week
Tues. vs. Davidson
Fri. at Wake Forest
Sat. at Wake Forest
Sun. at Wake Forest
Coach Fox, can you look back on the last week?
"A really good week. Starting with St. John's, then our trip to Houston went real well. Four good wins for us this week."

What would you say that you have learned about your team in the early part of this season?
"Oh, gosh, I don't know if I have learned anything that I didn't already know. You are always going to question when you play at home then when you go away from home, even though that was a neutral site and I was just curious to see how we would play. Not questioning things but I knew they would be excited to play in a Major League stadium and obviously against some really good opponents. I did not learn anything new. We got some experience and I knew we would hang in there against Rice and hopefully keep the game close. Just starting our season and getting guys out there and getting them reps and getting them used to new environments. All of that was good and experience that we needed to get at this time."

You referenced the Rice game - that game was a barn burner where your team scored both of its runs on wild pitches while Kent Emanuel did his part on the mound - earning All-Tourney team honors in the process. Can you discuss that game and what Emanuel did to keep the team in the game?
"It was a game that went like we thought it would. (Austin) Kubitza, he's one of the best pitchers certainly that we have faced this year and may be the best that we will face all year long. He is really, really good. Of course when you face a kid like that you try to keep the game close and give yourself a chance at the end. Again all the strikeouts [against him] there is a positive to when you are striking out. [Laughs] You are getting the opposing pitcher's pitch count up. We were just trying to keep the score close, that is what Kent does. He made big pitches when he needed to and he got himself into a little bit of trouble and he got a big out for us. Like I have said before, it is typical Kent Emanuel. He gives us a chance to win every time. Somehow we eked it out. Great baserunning by Chaz Frank to score on a wild pitch that really didn't kick very far from home plate at all. Very aggressive baserunning on his part. We were lucky to win."

Michael Russell and Landon Lassiter also earned honors on the All-Tournament team …
"They played very well. I have not seen the All Tournament team. Landon played well and got a lot of base hits for us. He had a four-hit game which is not easy to do. Michael is so versatile for us and played short yesterday and played very well against a very fast team. Again, experienced players relish playing in that environment against good competition and they played at a high level."

Your team has had a patient approach at the plate with a high on-base percentage since you have been coaching at North Carolina (.454 OB% through 10 games this season). How do you coach and reinforce those habits?
"We start right out of the gate with ball/strike recognition and that starts in batting practice and just in simple front toss work in the cages and in BP off the coaches. We really try to reinforce swinging at strikes and when we have our catchers sitting back there catching BP or in live BP he is sort of the umpire saying, 'ball, strike or close.' Just to give our hitters another view point. They may think a pitch is a strike but if the catcher thinks it was a ball it is just good feedback for them. Then it is all about your kids having good plate approaches and good plate discipline with themselves with two strikes and being willing to take some pitches and go deep in the count, which is what we are trying to do and get the starting pitcher's pitch count up. Make it a battle of the bullpens and if that happens we feel like our chances are pretty good."

Cody Stubbs has gotten off quietly to a good start batting .294 with a team leading 11 runs batted in. Can you talk about his play on the field, leadership and work ethic in his two years as a Tar Heel?
"I am really happy for Cody. You always want your seniors to really relish their last year and to get off to a good start. Cody is always ready. He is the first one every single day on the field for practice and the first one in the weight room. He leads by example, I know that is a cliché but this kid really does do that. He is always locked in and really played well for us so far and made a couple sensational plays for us at first and worked hard at being a good defensive first baseman, swinging the bat very well for us and cut down on his strikeouts and been very balanced at the plate and taking some good swings."

What was the team able to do in Houston with its free time? Were there any interesting team outings while on the road?
"Not anything special as a team because of the way the games played out. Having a late afternoon then a 12:00 game. After the noon game against Cal the guys had the rest of the afternoon. So we let them go out with their parents if they were in town and the rodeo was in town. Some of them went back to the ballpark to watch more games but we didn't have much time on this trip to do anything as a group. But I try to balance that time between being with the team and doing things with each other which is important and doing things with their family as time allows."

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With this being Coach Gaines' first regular season on the field as an assistant coach, how are you and Coach Forbes handling his professional development? Will he coach first base this season?
"I don't expect him to coach first right now. He has been so valuable for us in the bullpen. He starts in the dugout for us and helps us with the charts and charting the opposing hitters and then sometimes the opposing starting pitcher. Once we send guys to the bullpen he is Coach Forbes' eyes and ears down there. He spent his career, honestly, as a pitcher in the bullpen. The communication between him and the bullpen has been really good. Bryant has a good feel and he watches kids down there get loose and if we get a couple of them up I hear him talking on the phone or on the walkie talkie. Right now we are settled in on where we want to be; things could always change but I think Bryant is just learning like we all did - just kind of watching, observing and listening. He has a great feel, not just for the game but for people. That is going to serve him well as he continues to grow as a coach."

With such a big weekend it sometimes is tough not to overshadow a mid-week game earlier, but could you discuss what freshman Trent Thornton showed you on the mound against St. John's?
"I'm glad you asked that question. We throw a freshman out there in a big game for us and Trent showed us in the fall that he has some ability and some command of all his pitches and can throw strikes. That is important and those are the guys who get an opportunity to pitch - the ones that are strike throwers. He is not scared, he is not intimidated and I think he has a good inner confidence and our players have it in him as well. So he gave us exactly what we wanted in that start and I was happy to see that for him."

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