Monday with Mike Fox

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. --- With a series win against NC State over the weekend, the Tar Heels improved to 22-12 (6-9 ACC). Inside Carolina caught up with head coach Mike Fox on Monday for an exclusive interview ...

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Coach Fox can you give your impressions of the weekend series against NC State?
"It was a great series win for us obviously. We got some help from them on Friday - and I thought we did what we needed to do to win - and Saturday was a complete reversal of Friday. Just two kind of mirrored games Friday to Saturday. I was just so proud of my team coming back on Sunday after a four-hour marathon on Saturday night and having to turn right back around on Sunday getting it done especially with a big inning with two outs. It was very important for our team and for our season to win yesterday for sure."

Can you discuss the decision to have freshman Chris Munnelly start on Sunday after pitching on Saturday and his performance in that start on Sunday?
"I have always had the coaching philosophy that I think when players have a rough outing and things don't go their way, and depending upon who they are, I think that it is very important to get them back on the field as soon as you can. Baseball is such a confidence thing. Coach Forbes and I talked after the game and I told the team that I did not know who was going to pitch and I will make the decision when I get home. I told Coach Forbes before I left that I thought we should start Chris Munnelly and give it some thought and let me know what you think. He sent me a text message at about 1 a.m. and he agreed and I like to have his input and I thought that Chris was just sensational for us. It was important for us to start that game off on a good note and Chris has been really good for us - he is a strike thrower and he gave us exactly what we needed to keep us in the game. I was very proud of him. It shows a lot about him after giving up the grand slam on Saturday and walking a couple of guys to come back on Sunday and as a freshman in that game pitch as well as he did - that says a lot about him."

In the Sunday game, Dillon Hazlett got caught in a run down but was able to stay alive long enough for Brian Goodwin to score - what as your take on that play?
"It was important for us to get every run that we got yesterday obviously. We have talked about that situation before about if there are two outs and the runner at first gets caught that if we do make the last out in that inning we want to make it at home plate. Brian just picked the right time to run, when the first baseman had the ball running toward second. That is where our speed and our athleticism help us. Dillon was able to stay in the rundown long enough to allow Brian to score so we have not had too many of those but it worked out. And it was not a set play - Dillon was just running on the pitch and got picked off. It turned out to be a good thing for us."

Can you discuss the defensive improvement from Friday to Sunday in the series?
"We did not have much choice - we have not been a good defensive team the last couple of weeks. It is something that we have put a great deal of emphasis on and talked to our team about; wow it has put our team and our pitching staff in particular in a hole and having to make our pitchers make some really, really tough pitches. I challenged them on Saturday after the game that if we just play better defense and we would have a chance to win the game. Of course we did until the last inning - we made almost every play. That is so important for our team; we just cannot give the other team a big inning and extra runs when they don't deserve them. We have got to be better defensively the rest of the year."

Your team held NC State to two stolen bases this weekend - both in the defeat on Saturday - while swiping eight bags ...
"Our speed, I thought, played a factor some this weekend - not just on stolen bases but being able to score from first on doubles. Going into it I though we had more team speed than NC State and that they had more power than we did. They historically did not run a whole lot. Jacob (Stallings) is good back there and I think he feels very comfortable obviously throwing now and he has gotten a rhythm catching so many games for us in a row and our pitchers did a good job on holding their runners. We probably should have stolen a few more bags than we did and obviously we got behind and that kind of hurts our running game a little bit. But we have got to keep running and try to create opportunities for us to score because generally we are not a big inning team and have not hit many home runs. Our speed has got to continue to be a factor for us."

You have a tough opponent this mid-week in No. 13 Coastal Carolina - what are your thoughts on this frequent opponent?
"Their coach and the (team) have been good for a very long time and they have always had a good program. They have hosted a regional and been to a super regional, so they will not be a surprise to us. Unless I am mistaken they have only lost five games on the year and I think every one of those or at least four of those have been one-run losses. They have a great team this year and two kids at the top of their order that I think between the two of them have almost stolen 50 bases. They can really run. It will be a great challenge for our team - this whole week is a great challenge for us. They will be one of the better teams that we play for certain - they will be as good as any team in the ACC in my opinion. It will be a big game for us on Wednesday night."

Virginia Tech defeated Miami and Duke defeated Clemson this weekend. Can you discuss the state of parity in the ACC and how the race for the ACC Tournament is shaping up?
"Our league is a dogfight. It is just a dogfight this year - you don't know what is going to happen from weekend to weekend. I think it is a credit to all the programs. Everybody puts an emphasis on it obviously. You look at our start - everybody says that Duke beat us two out of three - well, it is a pretty good team. We know it and I think that everybody else in our league knows it. Now the fans are seeing that there are teams that historically have been at the bottom of our league who have some really great players and their coaches get after it and everybody recruits. There are just no gimmes in our league anymore - that is why it is fun in a lot of ways, because you just don't know from weekend to weekend. You have to play all 30 games, that is why we try not to look at the standings or anything early. It can change so drastically in a weekend. Our league is just really good this year from top to bottom."

Can you discuss the team's level of confidence and experience at the midway point of the schedule?
"I think right now we are a pretty confident team. Our players know that we have a good team - but we have to play well. I think early on the tough losses that we have had -- to Florida State on Friday night and Sunday, and then the losses to Georgia Tech on Friday night where we were so close to having a chance to win, and obviously the Sunday loss you know was devastating for us. I do think it shook our team's confidence a little bit - we told them that we try to persevere through that. You are going to have some of these ups and downs throughout the year and you are going to lose some heartbreaking games but generally they all even out and you just have to keep playing. You have to have such a short memory in baseball. I think that the last two weekends certainly will help us. I think that a few of our players have been struggling a little bit with their confidence - either the way that they have been playing, hitting or pitching. Again that is the biggest challenge in baseball - the confidence factor. If you hit a little lull in the season or a little slump you have to keep playing; just work your way through it and find some other way to help our team win and kind of take the focus off of you and put it on our team, which is what we emphasized yesterday. I think some guys are trying to figure that out and it is all about our team winning. If you go 0-4 and we beat NC State on Sunday we are all going to be happy no matter what."

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