This Week With Mike Fox

Inside Carolina caught up with head coach Mike Fox after the Diamond Heels (23-17, 10-11 ACC) took one of three games from top-ranked Virginia in Charlottesville. With less than a month to go In the regular season, UNC heads to East Carolina on Tuesday before hosting Liberty on Wednesday and then a weekend series against Virginia Tech.

Coach Fox, can you reflect back on the last week for the Tar Heels?
"Well, we have had an interesting week to say the least. We pulled out a dramatic win against Elon where we were fortunate to win in the bottom of the ninth ... we took advantage of some mistakes they made. Then we went to Virginia and I thought we really played well and competed hard. Looking at the statistics you can say that we outplayed them for the weekend but they are a great team and they pitched exceptionally well against us. We lost a couple of close games but I feel that the win on Sunday I think was one of the biggest wins that we have had this year and shows a lot and says a lot about our team."

Can you discuss the mindset of the team going into the third game after losing the first two in the Virginia series?
"I think it is a mentality that you have to build on throughout the whole course of the season. You can't all the sudden on Saturday say 'OK we are down two games to none so now we have to.' I think that the experience of the season and having gone through that before for a couple of weekends and not getting it done – say for example at Duke. It has to help you in future weekends. Our players have been confident; I think they all know that we have been right there and we have lost so many close games. I don't think anyone was shaken or deterred. I really believe that all of our kids thought that we could have easily have won one or both of the first two games. I think they went into the ballpark on Sunday with the right mentality and everybody stepped up and obviously our pitching was really good and Michael Russell was sensational. You want your leaders on your team and your better players to step up when it is on the line and we had a couple of guys do that."

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How emotional was the 9th inning rally to win the Elon game after the postponement of the highly anticipated matchup versus NC State the day before?
"You know I was a little concerned about that because we were waiting for 4-5 hours on Tuesday and we head over there then go back then go back over again. You could tell that our kids were excited to play and it was unfortunate with the weather like it was. There was a lot of emotion on the bus and excitement. Then all of a sudden we don't play and back to class the next day and another game. You have a tendency when you expend that much energy just in anticipation – not that we were not ready but we just kind of went through the motions it seemed like for a while during that game. I thought it was huge that we got a win mid-week before we headed to Virginia. I know our kids were excited and we were fortunate to pull that game out."

Officially the NC State vs UNC game has been postponed – what is the latest news on the possibility of getting that game onto the schedule?
"I don't think it is going to be rescheduled. The latest word that I have is that we were looking at a couple of dates but either they were in final exams or we were in final exams. The last word that I received was that we were not going to be able to reschedule the game. That is unfortunate."

Reilly Hovis slammed the door shut against the Cavaliers on Sunday with a 3 2/3 inning save where he did not allow a base runner. What enabled that performance?
"Riley certainly was very good yesterday. He was rested and of course I think that he was rested because Trent [Thornton] and Benton [Moss] pitched so well for us the first two days that we did not have to use Riley. So he hadn't pitched in three days and we had used him a lot this season so I think he was rested and loose. The key in that ballpark is to throw strikes. He just went right after them and we made plays behind him. A couple of really nice plays – especially the bunt in the 9th inning that Korey [Dunbar] fielded. It certainly was what we needed from Riley. He came in and got the last 11 outs for us in a big game."

Can you discuss your perspective on where the Diamond Heels are in their offensive running game on the bases this season? Michael Russell leads the team with 11 thefts in 12 attempts and Skye Bolt is a perfect 7-for-7 but has been picked off 5 times…
"I think we need to be better at it. Again, it is all relative depending upon what the other team is allowing you to do. I have said it before that as long as the umpires let these right handed pitchers use the balk move and go so quick to the plate as many of them do and have learned to do and all the Virginia pitchers did... The running game just pretty much makes it non-existent and giving a kid the green light to let him try to steal the base. Sometimes you have to try it and hope that they don't execute. But, again, in a close game depending on who is at the plate it is just a decision that I have to make. Probably just our instincts and we made a couple of bad reads I thought at Virginia - not moving up on a little bloop over the pitcher's mound and a deep fly ball that we didn't start running on the double by Landon Lassiter. Things of that nature – it is just instinctive that we need to continue to improve on. We point all these things out to the kids so they understand it but they have to do it when the time comes."

With a trip to East Carolina on Tuesday, hosting Liberty on Wednesday before inviting the Hokies into town for another crucial ACC series this weekend, can you preview the coming slate?
"It is the last stretch of five games during classes and certainly going on the road to East Carolina will be a lot of fun against a really good team in a great environment. Liberty is having a sensational season and obviously the home series against Virginia Tech. I think we have said it before – but this is a big week for us. But you know I think we are playing better and I think we are looser. I think we are giving ourselves a chance. And this is what we talked about on Saturday night – just control your own attitude and mindset so that you give yourself the best chance to be successful whether that is making a pitch or getting a bunt down or just moving the ball or whatever it is. I like where our team is and we look like we will have a good week weather wise. This is a big week for our players academically. It is good that we got back fairly early last evening. We have a lot of work to do both on and off the field."

This is the first year in my recollection that the Diamond Heels have had a pair of bullpen catchers in Will Norrell and Zach Fizpatrick on the roster. What impact do those two have on the program?
"When you asked me before about [head trainer] Terri Jo [Rucinski], I stated that you wouldn't have enough room in your article about her impact and it is the same case with Will and Zach. We just got lucky. These two young men just walked into our program and [said] 'I want to help. ' And help does not even come close to what those two young men have done with our program. Coming down at noon to catch a bullpen, and traveling with us and the whole game in the bullpen. Our players absolutely love the both of them. They are two really good kids and very bright. Will is getting ready to enter law school at UNC this fall and Zach is going on as well. They are just both great, great young men and done so much for our program and I would never be able to say enough about them or repay them in any way as they have done it all for free and because of a love for Carolina Baseball. It is greatly appreciated by all of us."

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