Monday with Mike Fox

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. --- The Tar Heels bounced back with a 4-1 week, including a series win at Maryland, to improve to 20-10 (4-8 ACC). Inside Carolina caught up with head coach Mike Fox on Monday for an exclusive interview ...

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Can you give your impressions of the series in College Park?
"We certainly were excited to win the last two games and come from behind on Sunday and win a very important game for us. Any time you win a series on the road in this league it is a good thing. So I was proud of my team for the way they responded after Friday - it was two good wins for us."

Colin Bates has a new swing role out of the bullpen. How do you feel about his performance this weekend?
"Nothing in stone in that regard. We like having Colin out of the bullpen, available on the weekends. It gave us a little bit of stability there. It did not work out on Friday but [Sunday] he pitched exceptionally well and kept us in the game and gave us a chance to come back and win. We will look at it and see how the weekend measures up. I would anticipate us for now leaving Colin in that role."

Jacob Stallings certainly has a knack for timely extra base hits ...
"Jacob was terrific for us this weekend - hitting aside, he was sensational behind the plate. I don't know how many balls he blocked in the dirt and saved us a couple of runs; a couple of times runners could have advanced. His base hit to lead off the eighth there [on Sunday] to get us started against a really good reliever for Maryland - kind of the submariner who was so tough against us on Friday - but it was a huge hit to get us going. His past three days were the best - playing back, to back to back - as a Tar Heel and we certainly needed it. He was very good this past weekend."

Ben Bunting stated after the game on Sunday that the team had to remove the pressure and just go out and have fun and play - what is your perspective on that outlook?
"Well, you know I think that is important. We talk about not looking at your record or not looking at the standings - you can not do anything about it while you are playing certainly. I think it is good that we have some good leadership within the team and you have to see how your team responds after a tough loss as far as the type of leadership you have. Every time we have had a tough loss so far this season - and we have had some really difficult ones late in the game as we all know - but the next day our kids have been ready to play. That was the case on Saturday and that was the case last weekend. I am proud of them for doing that and our players deserve that comeback win yesterday. We kept saying during the game that 'We deserve one of these and we are going to win this game.' They kept that attitude and got it done."

How difficult is making the decisions on the 27-man travel roster in the ACC each weekend?
"That is one of the most difficult things that I have to do is to to decide who is going to travel and leaving players at home. I don't like the rule - I am fine with only being able to have a certain number available, but I think that institutions should have their choice of how many players you leave campus with. So, it is Easter weekend and it was difficult and it was something I had to do - it is not easy sometimes."

Can you discuss the freshmen pitchers' learning curve - specifically Michael Morin and Chris Munnelly?
"There is a learning curve - there is a learning curve for every player in this league and certainly the freshmen have to learn every time they go out there. Consistency is what you want to see - making good pitches, making good two-strike pitches and making good 2-0 pitches. They have to learn from their mistakes and move on and try to get better each week. I thought Michael Morin was sensational at Maryland coming on in relief and gaining some confidence and making some big pitches. An 8-4 lead in the ninth inning is not a huge lead in that ballpark and those last three outs are always the toughest. Those two guys are going to have really good careers for us. They work extremely hard and they listen and we are going to count on them down the stretch for sure."

What was your reasoning behind the decision to head back out to coach third this weekend?
"I don't know - I just decided to make a change. There was not a specific reason. I think more than anything else it was to have Coach Jackson around our hitters - they rely on him a lot and he is very observant. I think it was the right thing for our hitters in the dugout. So it was really more than me - I did not really do anything out there [laughs]. Obviously on Saturday our guys swung the bat and my instincts are a little better out there at third because I don't have as many distractions out there."

What are the challenges the last month of the academic calendar for the players - especially the freshmen - while balancing their athletic obligations?
"This is a tough stretch for them - the last three or four weeks of classes while playing some big games and playing a lot of games and traveling and getting back late as we did last night. Being in class today and having practice this afternoon ... they have a lot on them - this is the hard part of being a college baseball athlete. We try to keep that in mind and on their day off they have to use that day off wisely and prepare and not get behind. If you get behind and panic usually it does not bode well academically. Fortunately we do not miss a lot of class at UNC and that helps them, but this is a tough stretch for those freshmen and they have to finish out the year well academically for sure."

What did the team do as a team for Easter Weekend?
"It seems like we have been on the road a lot of Easters the past few years - I know that have been at Maryland three times on Easter and Virginia once. But, we do have an Easter Sunday chapel and I actually led this one Sunday morning - other players have done it, Bryant Gaines has done it along with a few others. We have chapel every Sunday morning before we play. It was nice that the players had a lot of their families there and we let them spend a lot of time together on Saturday. It was good to having a 1 p.m. game on Saturday so that our players could spend a lot of time on Saturday in the late afternoon and early evening with their families - which I think was important."

There is a big ACC series this weekend against N.C. State - and there is a connection between you and Elliot Avent going back to your early days at N.C. Wesleyan. How is your relationship today with the head coach of the Wolfpack?
"I really have not looked at State specifically. They have a very good club and they beat Virginia two out of three this weekend - which tells you all you need to know about them. It really does not matter when us and N.C. State play what our records are - it is always a tight series and tense and you have to play exceptionally well because you get each others best shot. Elliot and I do go way back at Wesleyan many years ago when I first got started there. He was there at Wesleyan when I arrived. We were together just a short time and he was a big help in me making the transition to really being out of coaching to coaching - way back in 1982."

You've got a mid-week game at Elon - what is the connection between the Tar Heels and the Phoenix under coach Mike Kennedy?
"I have known Mike for a number of years - I actually recruited him, or tried to recruit him, to N.C. Wesleyan out of high school in Fayetteville. I think Mike Kennedy is one of the best coaches in the country and year in and year out does as good a job as anybody -- not only in this state but all around the country. I have great respect for him and his staff and I think they do a tremendous job; we are close to them and we enjoy going over there. It has just kind of worked out that we have been down a game or two and they are 30 miles away and we will have a Carolina crowd over there of some sort. It will be a great trip for us and they are playing exceptionally well and have had a great weekend."

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