Monday with Mike Fox

Inside Carolina caught up with head coach Mike Fox after UNC's series win over Maryland in College Park. The Diamond Heels -- 16-4 (5-1 ACC) and No. 4 in the Baseball America Top 25 -- host N.C. State this weekend, including a Monday night game on ESPNU.

This Week
Tue. vs. Princeton
Sat. vs. N.C. State
Sun. vs. N.C. State
Mon. vs. N.C. State
Coach Fox, can you give your impressions of the weekend series against the Terrapins?
"We were happy to win the series and win the first two games. Extremely disappointed that we were not able to scrap across a couple runs yesterday as we got an unbelievable pitching performance from a pair of freshmen in Benton Moss and Chris McCue. It really stinks to only give up four hits and not get a win. All in all, happy with the weekend. We went up there and played some sensational defense and pitched very, very well and came from behind obviously on Friday and Chris Munnelly gave us another really, really good start on Saturday. Maryland is a much improved team and the most pitching that they have had in a while up there. Looking back over the entire weekend we are happy to be where we are."

With the 27-person travel roster limit for road games, how do you and your staff determine the travel roster and what is your opinion on that rule?
"The travel roster is what it is. It is a huge challenge. It is one of the more difficult things that my coaching staff and myself have to deal with. Honestly, I can sit here and tell you how unfair it is. I know that other sports have challenges as well. When you have to leave players at home who deserve to go and could potentially play a part in a game whether it be another pitcher or position player, it is difficult. And the hardest part is that you are leaving players at home that have no access to the facilities because of liability [issues] and all our coaches, strength coach and trainers are all traveling with us. They are pretty much left on their own and they don't feel like they are part of the team for a four-day period. I struggle with it every time we travel. I don't like it and I would like for it to change. I mean it used to be 25, so we are fortunate now that the NCAA decided to move it to 27. For some reason the ACC still feels like they need to follow what the NCAA does. I don't agree with that at all. I think we should be able to take all the players that we can afford financially to take. There is a limit to that of course but not being able to take them over Spring Break or after classes are over in May is one of the most ridiculous rules we have. It makes absolutely no sense to me whatsoever that when there are no classes why can we only travel 27 when the semester is over? I don't know why we cannot get that passed in the ACC. But so far we - the coaches - have been unable to do that."

Can you discuss Colin Moran's continued improvement defensively at third this season and how quietly he is leading the team with a .366 average and 21 runs?
"We all thought Colin Moran was a really good third baseman for us last year and played exceptionally well. I think for some reason that is the knock on him because he generally moves slow but he has played terrific for us defensively this year and I think he did last year. I think he took a little bit of exception for people talking about 'well he is just a hitter and that is all he can do.' I have said before that he has the most accurate arm that we have had over there at third base since Chad Flack. If he gets his glove to the ball it goes in it. He has been working on the slow roller play and I think he has been exceptional for us over there. You are right about there being high expectations for him offensively. You look at the stat sheet and you know, gosh, he is on pace to do what he did last year. You would feel like that he has probably not swung it as well as he would like over stretches but I think at some point he is trying too hard and the more people we leave on base and struggle to score runs the more pressure he probably feels upon himself. That is unfair and I think Colin has had a sensational year so far for us in the first 20 games."

Have you and Coach Forbes decided who is going to start on Tuesday against the reigning Ivy League Champions in the Princeton Tigers? Also what is it like for you to see some Tar Heel alumni catchers returning to Chapel Hill on the Princeton coaching staff?
"We will throw Chris O'Brien against Princeton and it is always fun to see Scott [Bradley] and Lloyd [Brewer]. Two former Tar Heels bringing back some great memories and we have a lot of fun when we talk the day before, the day of the game or after the game about Carolina. Lloyd was one of my teammates and played on the 1978 College World Series team. He was our only catcher that year. He caught every game the whole season for us. That brings back some fond memories when we get a chance to see those guys."

With 20 games in the books, your team is 16-4, 5-1 in the ACC. Where do the Diamond Heels need to improve and what areas of concern do you have if they are going to fulfill their goals this season?
"We have to be better offensively with runners in scoring position. We left 50 men on base last week, which is an astounding number. I think we are going to continue to pitch well and some of those young guys have really been coming along. Obviously Benton [Moss] has been pitching well along with Kent [Emanuel] and Chris [Munnelly]. I think we will continue to play good defense. College baseball has changed with the new bats and a lot of games are low scoring with the pitching in our league. We have got to be better with runners in scoring position. I think we will. I think our players know that. We got a big two-out hit from Chaz Frank on Saturday to extend the lead from 7-4 to 9-4, which was huge. I think he played very well on Sunday as well. I think the one area of improvement is that we need to be a little better of moving the ball with people in scoring position. Advancing runners from second to third and being able to score from third with less than two outs. We have not been as efficient with that as we need to be a championship caliber team."

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Earlier you mentioned that the team played sensational defense in the series at Maryland - not committing an error. Can you discuss Tommy Coyle's comfort level at short and his continued improvement?
"First of all, they love the turf up there -- the Sport Turf up on the field in Maryland. So you don't get a bad bounce and the ball sort of checks up a little bit. It is an infielder's delight playing on that stuff and infielders enjoy playing on it. Tommy has got to continue to improve at short and over the weekend he really looked comfortable, played well and was aggressive; the ball to his right and his backhand play and he needs to be a little more aggressive and get used to that throw. The biggest thing from moving from second to short is making that throw on a daily basis, pre-game, during the game and having to make that long throw. We need to really keep an eye on Tommy's arm and know when to take some days off and some throws off so his arm will stay strong. We need him and Mike Zolk to play well up the middle. We made 18 errors I think so far this year and 12 of them are up the middle, which is not unusual. But, we have got to continue to play at a high level defensively up the middle and both those guys did against Maryland and it helped us win two games."

One of the most interesting things about the coming week is the series against N.C. State has a Monday night game televised nationally on ESPNU. Can you talk about the ACC's TV deal and how it changes the weekend series with a Saturday to Monday template?
"One of the things that it does is give our guys an extra day this week, which we really need. They are road weary and we were going to practice today to get ready for tomorrow but the weather may be a factor. We are going to give them Wednesday off and they have registration coming up and a lot of tests and things coming out of spring break. I think that will be a help for them just from a rest standpoint. We will be on the road recruiting and scouting from a coaching standpoint. It will be different not playing on a Friday night but it will allow us to go see a game or two -- not just a high school game but Florida State plays at Wake on Friday, so it will allow us to have a chance to go see them and scout them before we play them. We are all excited in our league to get more games on television. The ESPN3 thing has been terrific and our New Media team has done an incredible job. We are getting a new TV tower in center field to get a better view with some height up there. That is in the works. Anytime you get on television it is great exposure and the fact that it is us and NC State this weekend, two teams playing well and a big rivalry, you cannot ask for anything better than that."

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