Matt Clements/Inside Carolina

This Week in UNC Baseball with Mike Fox

The Diamond Heels (41-10, 21-6 ACC) head into the last week of the regular season following a series victory at Virginia Tech. They’ll host UNC-Wilmington on Tuesday before Duke comes to town for a Thursday-Friday-Saturday series.

Coach Fox, first of all congratulations on winning the Coastal Division for the 6th time in 12 years that division play has been set up in the Atlantic Coast Conference…
“Well, thank you. Quite an accomplishment by all of those players the last 12 years. [UNC Baseball Communications Director] Bobby Hundley let me know that as I knew we had won our share but half of them over the last 12 years is quite an accomplishment by a great group of players over that time period.”

With one series left there are more records possibly to be broken. This team has tied its record with nine series wins and has the Duke series remaining. How significant of an accomplishment would that be in your perspective?
“That would be pretty cool to do obviously. It is hard to do. It is hard to go through 10 series in this league and win all of them. We have an opportunity to do that - it is a credit for our players. When I looked at our schedule this year with the 10 series and the five road series - I thought 'boy this is a pretty big gauntlet to go through.' I think most impressive of all of is our road record in the league. We have really played well in some of the toughest places [in the ACC].”

Taylor Sugg has been pitching well in relief and was selected to start on Sunday. What has made him so successful in his development during his freshman campaign?
“All credit to Coach [Robert] Woodard on all that you mentioned and recommending Taylor start the game yesterday. That was all Coach Woodard - of course he and I discussed it. He wanted to do it and had great faith in Taylor and of course the way he pitched the one inning the day before certainly helped make our decision - and he really looked good and was comfortable. He gave us exactly what we wanted yesterday which was a good clean start so we could get a lead and play our game. Taylor always has had really, really good stuff - it was just a matter of him getting on the mound and getting some experience and getting consistent. He has had a good year for us and had a good week also.”

J.B. Bukauskas and Luca Dalatri had atypical starts in Blacksburg, giving up home runs. How significant was the stadium setup with the wind blowing out often there?
“Yeah the wind always blows out there. That is nothing new. There are a lot of home runs hit there. It is what it is. The ball gets up in the air and it blows over the fence. That is something you absolutely have no control over. It benefitted us yesterday. But, J.B. and Luca, not that they were due for a start like that, but they are human. I think probably the summary on both of them was lack of fastball command. Virginia Tech has some guys that can hit and that is why they have so many home runs. If you leave the ball out over the plate, you are going to get hurt. I think that was probably the downfall of both of them, if you will, in their starts. In hindsight, it will help them both in their next start. Neither one of them got extended too far and obviously we still won the series, so all credit to our relievers.”

This season Kyle Datres has been hit by a pitch 17 times, which leads the team. Does it take some skill to be hit that often? Is it how the batter sets up on the plate or just being fearless?
“Well, there is not a skill to it because a skill implies that it is something you work on - which we do not. The rule has been more emphasized this year that you have to make an attempt to get out of the way of a pitch and is a very subjective and difficult one to enforce by umpires. Kyle stands on the plate a little bit. He is tough. So, he just kind of hangs in there and I think teams try to pitch him in and of course when you miss in that is the result. We have been hit by pitches - gosh, let’s see - 52 times this year which I think is a lot compared to the past. For the coaching staff we will equate that to having some tough kids [laughs].”

The Diamond Heel program had some players return this weekend to graduate in Andrew Carignan and Tim Fedroff, while Adam Pate, Tyler Lynn and John Stott had to celebrate on the road. What does it mean to the program to have former players return to finish their academic slate after the conclusion of their professional careers?
“Those three current players you mentioned along with Andrew and Timmy both graduated and were in their gowns. I got some great pictures while I was in Blacksburg from Gary Carignan - AC’s dad with both him, his mom and dad standing in front of Boshamer Stadium. Luke Putkonen also graduated. It is just great examples of these young men just following through on their commitment to get that UNC diploma. It is a great message to all our current players as well.”

As a coach how do you handle streaky players offensively? For instance - Zack Gahagan has been swinging a hot bat recently while showcasing his versatility in playing both first and second and providing some power at the plate...
“That is a good point - I will address the defensive side of that first. We are going to give Zack our defensive player of the week award this week along with Kyle Datres, who I thought was just sensational at third base this weekend. Zack’s versatility and being able to play really both second and first, which is where he has been primarily, has been huge for us and allows us to get some other guys in the lineup and he has played very well at both positions and made a couple of terrific plays yesterday - diving plays starting a big double play. That is all about your character and just wanting to win and to help the team. That is what it boils down to in our minds - tell a young man that we want you to be able to do this and that and they embrace it and want to be good at it. That was huge for us. You have to be careful with hot hitters/cold hitters and looking too much at it, especially a week at a time and moving guys around in the lineup because it is too small of a sample size. Zack has been going good lately - that is good to see but we are going to leave him right where he is in the batting order so hopefully he will continue to do well.”

What will the schedule be with a game on Tuesday and then going a day earlier as a Thursday-Saturday series before the ACC Tournament begins next week? Do you expect any changes for the team or the rotation or are the student-athletes just thrilled that classes are done for the season?
“[Laughs] Well they are happy that exams are over. This is a side note as we are just getting our grades and most of our team did exceptionally well academically this spring. It will be one of the best semesters we have had as a team. So really proud of that. We will stay on schedule with practice and we’ve had some Tuesday games with a good Wilmington team coming in. This series is a little different. If I had to guess right now we will not throw J.B. [Bukauskas] until Friday and Luca [Dalatri] Saturday. We need to give those guys as much rest as we can between starts. Thursday, not entirely sure right now but Coach Woodard has given me his thoughts already but we will talk this morning. We plan to leave for Louisville on Monday.”

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