Matt Clements/Inside Carolina

This Week in UNC Baseball with Mike Fox

The No. 3-ranked Diamond Heels recorded a dramatic sweep of Clemson to increase their lead in the ACC Coastal Division. With final exams underway, the team has just one game this week: Richmond on Tuesday. Head coach Mike Fox reflects on a memorable weekend and more.

Coach Fox, for the series sweep against Clemson, the atmosphere, crowd and weather were off the charts - what was your perspective from the dugout and the third base coaching box?
“Oh gosh. It was a special weekend for sure in all those areas you just mentioned. I was just sitting here sending emails to all the folks responsible about how beautiful the stadium looked, our surface, our marketing people - Michael Beale. I just cannot recall three days where the stadium was full, the weather was great with a lot of energy and a terrific opponent with three come-from-behind wins. It was about as special three days as we could probably have in that stadium.”

… The environment seemed on par with a Super Regional kind of feel…
“It did in many ways. One of Clemson’s assistant coaches said that to me, ‘Man this seems like it is six weeks down the road.’ It was obviously warm with a great opponent and a packed stadium and it did have that kind of feel to it. That makes it even better so when we do get into an environment I told our kids last night after the game, ‘You have been through that atmosphere and those kind of tight games and you won them. Now you know that you can do it.”

The Diamond Heels had one of their best weeks on the mound, both in starting pitching and relief pitching with a five-game slate - do you feel that the pitching staff is peaking at the right time?
“Well, we have pitched pretty well all season but these past five games have just been pretty spectacular. I think our opponents hit .179 in five games which is almost unheard of. Our staff had 42 strikeouts and of course we couple that with only one error and one stolen base. That is pretty much how you win and how we won those five games. We had seven relievers that did not give up a run in 20 innings and our five starters were pretty darn good as well. So it was the reason we won when we only gave up seven runs to Clemson, which is hard for me to imagine as good as they are offensively, but we really got it done on the mound.”

UNC only committed one error in the field this week and made some outstanding plays, in particular on Saturday with the bases loaded with a tough bunt to Kyle Datres at third. How much work has gone into getting players comfortable with making plays in less traditional spots with the defensive shifting?
“That was a sensational play by Kyle. I don’t think I realized how terrific a play it was until I watched it on video and just kept watching it. Our kids have taken a lot of pride and really worked hard. Our whole team has, but in particular our infielders and we have practiced just relentlessly in all those different positions as soon as we bought in and decided we were going to do a lot of this shifting. Our first response was 'OK our third baseman is going to have to make this play and that play and our shortstop will have to make this play and that play.' We practice it. They have been working on those angles and those kind of throws, we have emphasized it greatly and they have executed it. The shift has really paid crazy dividends for us. We have tried to acknowledge that to this team that has helped us put all of this information together. Coach Wierzbicki, Coach Forbes and Coach Woodard have been mostly responsible for all of that.”

Which of the pitchers on the roster have the best pick-off move to first base?
“Gosh, let’s see. Josh [Hyatt] has a pretty good one because he is so little and so quick. Former shortstop Cole Aker has a really, really good one. Taylor Sugg has a good one. The best one is Zach Attianese, we just have not seen it much. He has a terrific move for a left hander. All of our pitchers have done a pretty good job. We don’t have to be concerned that much about having great pick off moves we just don’t want to be really slow to the plate. We don’t have to give Cody Roberts much of a chance and he has a chance to throw anyone out.”

Speaking of being slow to the plate, what kind of times to the plate get you to give the green light to base stealers?
“Well obviously it depends on the baserunner and how much confidence you have in them. If a kid is 1.3 [seconds] or higher from the time they start their movement to the time it hits the mitt … you have to figure most catchers are around a 2.0 on their throw and you have some that can be less and some more but generally that is the average. A 3.3 [together] means you have got a pretty good lead over there and you have a good jump and we have a few guys who can get there in that time. Obviously we would prefer to have a pitcher to be 1.35 to 1.4. The biggest factor is somewhat trying to guess what pitch is coming. My biggest thought over there is: is he going to be throwing a breaking ball or a changeup, which obviously will slow the time down and give the baserunner more opportunity - there is more opportunity for the ball to hit the dirt as well and keeping the catcher in his stance lower longer. That is pretty much my thought process when I give the kid a green light or the steal sign.”

What will the schedule be like for the playersand the coaching staff during the exam break?
“Well, for our players, two things - study and rest. Obviously we have a game tomorrow. Almost everyone on our team has a final today and a few of them tomorrow morning. We are fortunate to be able to play Tuesday so we don’t go such a long stretch. After that we will give them three days off and just let them come in on their own. We have optional practice on Saturday, Sunday, Monday around finals. Our coaches are going to take an opportunity to take off and go recruit, of course, and really go and see some incoming players in the 2017 class and talk to them and educate them about the draft which is what we did last year around this time.”

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