Q&A with Mike Fox

The No. 1-ranked Tar Heels opened their 2009 season with a three-game sweep of VMI over the weekend. Inside Carolina caught up with head coach Mike Fox on Monday for an exclusive interview ...

Weekend Recap
Fri. (2/20) - UNC 13, VMI 3
Sat. (2/21) - UNC 6, VMI 0
Sun. (2/22) - UNC 11, VMI 3

The Tar Heels started off their season in style in the new Boshamer Stadium with a three game sweep of the Keydets from VMI.

The UNC weekend rotation all earned a win in their first starts and combined for 26 strikeouts. Adam Warren led the way, limiting the Keydets to two hits in five scoreless frames. The bullpen was perfect all weekend with 12 scoreless innings from nine Tar Heel relievers.

The Tar Heel offense did its part as well, paced by Dustin Ackley batting .692 while slugging .923 over the three-game stretch. Mark Fleury had a team-high 6 RBI and batted .500.

Defensively, UNC only had one error on the weekend, which came on a pickoff play on Sunday. Ryan Graepel was outstanding at short and senior Garrett Gore showed his skills from his new spot in right field with an assist at home plate and some highlight reel catches.

This Week's Schedule
Tues. (2/24) - #22 Coastal Carolina - 3pm
Wed. (2/25 - Liberty - 3pm
Fri. 2/26 - Seton Hall - 3 pm
Sat. 2/27 - Seton Hall - 2 pm
Sun. 2/28 - Seton Hall - 1 pm

What were your impressions of the first weekend?
It was just nice to open our season and to open our stadium was exciting. Friday was an emotional day for everybody just seeing it all kind of come together. To get three wins was great as well - I think the weekend went very well.

What was your take on the fan support last weekend, especially from the students?
I think our players certainly really noticed the crowd and of course I did as well. The students over there along the first base line and all dressed in Carolina Blue - we have not seen that here before certainly with that number. It was exciting for us to have 2,800 to 3,000 fans out on opening game in February with the weather as chilly as it was.

Tell me about the decision to set the rotation up with Adam Warren pitching on Saturday...
Those [surprised by that] are the people who are not seeing us practice everyday and are basing that on projections. We make our decisions based on what we see in practice. We could run our three starters out there in any combination and they will give us the same start. We just like Adam in that spot right now - it could change and it could change with Alex White on Friday. You saw the kind of response that Matt Harvey gave us yesterday after giving up a three-run homer. He was pretty unhittable after that. We like the way it went and I am sure for at least the next weekend we will stay in that order.

You've got a rematch with last year's Cary Super Regional opponent in Coastal Carolina on Tuesday...
I think at this point everybody is good. Liberty coming in right after them has a good team - they had a big win over the weekend. Coastal is just another very, very good team. Obviously we have a history with them in the regionals and they had some great wins over an SEC opponent this last weekend. They will be a great challenge for us - we will have to play well for sure.

How would you assess Ben Bunting's play to start the season?
Ben has played with a lot more confidence than we had seen in the past. He looked comfortable in the box and he has played solid defense for us. He has been the toughest player to strike out on our team in the preseason as far as our pitchers are concerned. Hhe was able to put the ball in play and I thought certainly he did that well this weekend.

With all of the activity leading up to opening day with the stadium and practice, how did you minimize the distractions for the team?
I think it was more of a distraction for me and maybe a few other people than it was for the players and my assistant coaches. I wanted them to focus on getting the team ready. We wanted to shield the players from all the construction stuff and just make sure they were ready for the first pitch - and I certainly think they were. It is always good to get off to a good start. It gives your team confidence the ways that we won the games - with good offense on Friday and we really pitched well and played good defense on Saturday and we came from behind on Sunday. We got most of our relievers, if not all of them, in the game. So I think it scripted out pretty well for us to start the season.

Did Dustin Ackley's fast start surprise you after he was sidelined during the offseason recovering from elbow surgery?
Nothing surprises me with Dustin Ackley - he is just a phenomenal baseball player. It is funny because out of our ten preseason games he hit under .200. I think everybody just knew to wait until the season starts and he dials it up a little bit. He had a little tough luck in the preseason hitting balls at people. Everybody saw how good he is and the layoff certainly did not hurt him.

When is everything scheduled to be completed with the Boshamer project, such as the players moving into the locker rooms?
I think it is going to be a long time before we actually get this facility exactly like we want it. It may be up to a year before we get every sign, every banner, every trophy case filled and every lot just like we want it. Maybe not that long, but I plan on moving the players in on Thursday this week and even then our plunge pools may not be ready and a few other things. But for the most part what they are going to need to function as far as an equipment room and laundry and that sort of thing we are going to try to get that all over here in the next two or three days and move the team and the coaches on Thursday. Nobody is in as of yet.

Talk with UNC baseball fans on Inside Carolina's Diamond Heels Message Board
With the condensed schedule for NCAA Baseball this season - ACC play is just two weekends away - does this affect your lineups, your use of substitutions and the bullpen?
A little bit - you don't have as much time. You have two weekends and here you go. Most of us have ten games so you try to get all your starters one start and you do try to get your top players as many at bats as they can get. Especially with the ACC - and us in particular with Clemson coming to town - you do not have much time to experiment. You get these guys out there and let them play. I think that is pretty much what everyone is doing.

How would you evaluate the team's defensive play thus far?
I thought that defense would be the strength of our team and so far that was the case. I thought from an infield standpoint especially. We make plays at second, short, third and first, which is very important for us to do certainly with our pitching staff. We do not want to open the door for other teams to have a big inning and we were able to play great defense and I think that will continue for us.

Inside Carolina Top Stories