Can you give your impressions of the weekend sweep of Wright State?
“Good weekend for us certainly -- we pitched well and did not give up any earned runs on the weekend which is obviously a little different from the previous weekend, we were pleased with that part. It is always hard to beat a team three times. I feel that we were grinding it out on Sunday and got some big pitches from Chris [O’Brien] and R.C. [Orlan] and Michael Morin yesterday to get the win. All in all a good weekend for us.”
The Tar Heels ripped off a 20-inning scoreless streak during the series, while going errorless during the Saturday and Sunday tilts. How does this translate to the annual emphasis of pitching and defense?
“We talk about that all the time. The game really boils down to pitching and defense. That sometimes gets lost when you have scores like the first two days against Wright State. Ultimately your hitting will come and go so you have to rely on those two things in the game. We were not pleased with out defense the first weekend but we certainly played much better the past weekend. I thought Michael Russell was terrific in right field. He and Chaz Frank ran down some balls that were hit pretty well the last couple of days. The combination of us pitching better, making big pitches when we needed to and making some critical double plays. We got out of a jam there in the fourth inning with Chris [O’Brien] out there and we stuck with him for another hitter or two so we played good defense -- when they squared some balls up they either hit it at us or we made plays. I think that is why we were able to win yesterday.”
Sophomore designated hitter Tom Zengel is leading the team so far, batting .556. How different is that for him in his second campaign after a slow start his freshman year?
“I think what Tommy was lacking last year was confidence. He has always been a very reserved and quiet kid but worked really hard. You know when you are not getting hits and keep working at it it does wear on you a little bit. So we were hoping he would get off to a good start. A lot of these kids their confidence sort of parallels their performance, especially when they are young until they figure it out, that they have to have confidence every time they step into the box or on the mound no matter how they performed in the past. I think Tom is confident right now; he is going to struggle at the plate some, that is just part of the game. I hope that confidence will stay there when he cools off some.”
Chris O’Brien and Benton Moss both rebounded from their performances the first weekend. Can you discuss the importance of getting them both back out on the mound?
“Chris gave up some hits yesterday and some hard hit balls. That is part of it. I think when it came down to some crucial at bats, he made some good ones when he needed to. I think the pick off was very important in that one inning. He has worked on that pick off move. He had about one or two batters left and I think he probably knew it and came back from some two and three ball counts to make some big pitches. He is just a little bit too excited to start the game I think and he has to learn to calm down and pitch right out of the gate. I think he got better as the game went on certainly. It was important for us to get Benton back out there, which was one of our goals this weekend. Just get him back out on the mound if nothing else just for an inning to get him back out there after the weekend before for that confidence factor. I hope that helped Benton.”
Colin Moran hit a natural cycle on Saturday against Wright State, for the first cycle for the Diamond Heels since Tim Fedroff’s in 2008 against UNC-Greensboro - can you give your perspective on his performance at the plate?
“You don’t see that very often. I could not remember who hit the last one when someone asked me about the last one. Then someone told me that Timmy Fedroff did it at UNC-Greensboro. But that was four years ago. It does not happen very often and is really hard to do. It's really hard to do with Colin since he does not run very well. It has to be a perfect storm for him to hit a triple. That was the hardest one for him, I am sure, but then he hit the home run into the teeth of that wind. Of all the days that you wouldn’t think that the cycle would be possible then he does it. That made it even more exciting for me as it just kind of came out of the blue. I did not think any left hander would be able to hit the ball out of the park with that wind on Saturday.”
R.C. Orlan leads the team with 10 strikeouts and is tied for the lead with 2 wins without giving up a run while only allowing 4 hits and a walk in 9 innings. Can you discuss his improvement and development heading into his junior season?
“That confidence word. Hard work, very committed. R.C. has kind of figured it out. The knock on him early in his career was the ability to throw strikes and the ability to command his fastball and he has taken that instruction and gone down and worked. He throws a lot. He throws a lot flat ground and is in the training room with his arm care. He is very serious about what he does down here and so it does not surprise me that he is pitching at this high level. I think that last year helped him and he is just building off of last year and he will be a very valuable contributor to our pitching staff all year long I am sure.”
Can you discuss the coaching staff's plan for developing starting pitchers as the season builds momentum?
“We have these discussions all along and Coach [Scott] Forbes does a great job from the very beginning of the fall on into to the off-season to the pre-season. He sends me updates on his thoughts on every pitcher and what their strengths and weaknesses are and what their roles should be and how quickly they recover and those sort of things-- which are invaluable. We try to talk periodically of course about the upcoming week and he will give me his suggestions on the weekend starters. We have been together a long time and I trust him, and he is down there with the pitchers every day and unless I have a really, really strong opinion I let Scott make those decisions. This is our first mid-week game and we are throwing Benton out there against a really good team - a pre-season top 25 team - so it will be a great challenge for him and our team. The first couple of mid-week games are different for our young players -- managing getting out of class and getting down there and getting something to eat and all those things that go into a 3 p.m. game in the middle of the week.”
You mentioned freshman rightfielder Michael Russel's defensive play earlier, but can you speak further to his performances out there as well as the defensive work by another newcomer, junior Cody Stubbs at first base?
“We knew Michael was going to be a good player and a good outfielder. He runs well and you can see his athleticism out there in right field and you know he can recover on balls pretty quickly. He made a couple of plays on balls over his head yesterday. Cody is a former outfielder
and he just sticks his nose in front of the ball at first base. It is not always pretty down there with him but he gets the job done. We have been spoiled by the good first basemen the past few years in this program. We told Cody about that and how we think that first base is one of the most important positions for us on the field. I think he understands that and has worked hard at being a good first baseman over there.”