Matt Clements/Inside Carolina

This Week in UNC Baseball with Mike Fox

Inside Carolina caught up with head coach Mike Fox following UNC's weekend series victory against Notre Dame. The Tar Heels (33-19, 12-15 ACC) close their regular season with a crucial Thursday-Friday-Saturday series at N.C. State to determine their postseason outlook.

The Tar Heels committed two errors in each game over the weekend and are currently fielding .966 (.964 in ACC play) - how would you assess the state of the defense heading into the last regular season series?
“You know we think our defense has been better as of late. The ball hit last night - that ball was hit pretty hard to Kyle Datres that could have gone either way and it would have been a tough play to make. We also made some great plays - two or three last night that saved us runs. Our defense has not been quite what we wanted but we have to be careful just looking at errors and fielding percentage now. It is all relative based on if you are winning and how you are playing at the time. We think our defense has been better, obviously it needs to continue being good down the stretch.”

Speaking of defense, Datres has gotten more playing time recently at third with Zach Gahagan moving over to first while Brian Miller heads out to left field - what was the thinking behind changing up the defensive alignment?
“We think Kyle Datres has improved at third and that kind of precipitated the move. Kyle made that great play on the bunt last night as well and Zach has always been good over there at first - he just has not been over there very much. We always felt that Zach could play first base for us. We made that move a week or so ago and we also think it improves us in the outfield. You saw Brian Miller run down some balls in left field lately so I think it has helped us with our overall team defense with those three guys in those spots.”

Zac Gallen was honored again as the ACC Pitcher of the Week - where would you think his performance with the added pressure of needing every win due to postseason implications? Also can you discuss the dugout hijinks during his live TV interview yesterday?
“You know somebody asked me about Zac Gallen’s best performance and obviously he has been in our program for three years and started a number of games and he has had a lot of good ones, but I think based on the circumstances of where we are as a team and fighting for every win we can get that might have been his best one. But again that is just me not having the greatest memory in the world and not remembering some of his really, really good ones in the past couple years. He has just been so consistent for us throughout his career and we have not given him much run support. That is always tough for a pitcher to have to go out there having to feel like he has got to basically keep the other team from scoring. Just an incredible performance by him, I thought, and if it is his last one it will be a great memory for him to be sure. I got home late last night and all that TV stuff and all the antics in the dugout I did not see until I got up this morning and I turned on my phone. That is Taylor Sugg - he is by far the best dancer on our team and now the whole world knows that it seems [laughs].”

You have described this team as being fun to coach and being very positive. How do you monitor how the team handles the pressure of needing to win and wanting to win as baseball can be a cruel game when players try to do too much or get overwhelmed by the stress?
“They are very unselfish - my bench. The kids that are not playing deserve so much credit. It is so hard to do to come down to the stadium every day and invest time and commitment and not get rewarded for it. It is part of it. It is part of being an athlete. There is just no pouting on this team. There is no griping and no complaining. They come down to the stadium and they are the same every day. That is all you can ask for as a coach. I have been on the other side of those and it makes it miserable so when you are on this side of it, it does the exact opposite. There is pressure certainly when kids come to every sport at Carolina as there is pressure because there are such high expectations at Carolina to win in every sport at UNC. They are still kids - these kids care, they really do care. Sometimes if you care too much it affects performance. I really do think that they want to do well and win. All of the coaches - not just me - our coaching staff talk about what a great bunch of kids this is. I really hope they are rewarded for their high character and unselfishness here down the stretch.”

The team has been successful in 77 percent of its stolen base attempts with 82 steals this season - but only 22 of them have come in ACC play. Can you discuss the state of the running game?
“What is interesting against Notre Dame, we played them three games and their pitchers did not throw over to first base one time with a runner on first. Their pitchers were so fast going to the plate. A couple of their guys were 1.1 or 1.2 to the plate basically set and go. You cannot run when pitchers are that fast to the plate. It does sometimes affect their pitches but it also shuts down the running game. The pitcher on the mound can control the running game if he has a good move to first or if he is ultra quick to the plate. You would be running into outs. We did try to hit and run some and get some runners started but we felt that we had to protect the runner by making our guys swing and tried a couple of times. I think we did that with Tyler in the first inning yesterday. That is a big part of it. You get stolen bases if the other team allows you the opportunity to run at times. Pitchers in our league are very well coached.”

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