Coach Fox can you give your impressions of the weekend series?
Wed. vs. Elon
Fri. at Miami
Sat. at Miami
Sun. at Miami
“Unbelievable credit goes to our players for coming back after Friday. A really tough loss and winning Saturday and Sunday in a very hard fought series. I can not say enough about our kids and our leadership and the character of our team to flush that loss late Friday in a four-and-a-half-hour game and come back to the stadium Saturday morning and compete the next two days as hard as we did and get a big series win for us. It says a lot about our team and our seniors and the leadership of our team and I think the character of our team, which I could not be prouder of because it is something we talk about all the time and we think that it is very important to have a successful program.”
The Tar Heels won their fourth straight series to open ACC play for the first time since 1990. One of the things that seems important for this start is that the squad appears to realize that they have little margin for error - every pitch, at bat and play in the field is critical for success. What is your opinion on their mental toughness?
“I was not aware of that. I don’t think our players are aware of that as far as the past here. You have to be careful looking ahead and certainly don’t want to look behind either. I think our players realize that home series are crucial if you want to have a good season and put yourself in a position at the end of the year to be considered for an NCAA bid because winning on the road in the ACC is difficult to do. I hope our players are not putting too much pressure on themselves. There is always a fine line between winning and losing and there always has been in the ACC because the teams are all good. There is not a lot of separation between the teams. So you are right that every play is important and every pitch is important and you just still have to play the game. I think our players know we have to play at a higher level and play a little better to be able to continue to compete down the road because the games do get more difficult and more meaningful as you go.”
Last week you mentioned that you thought the team was going to need to have reliever Tate Parrish get some more work out of the pen. He did just that and it was an impressive weekend performance. Can you discuss his use this weekend?
“We have known that and kept telling Tate to be ready and I told him several times this weekend. You want to see them to make sure they are in the right frame of mind mentally. I told him that I thought that he would be out there facing two or three of these lefties in a critical situation. And the response was, ‘I’m ready.’ Tate has kept working and kept a good attitude and he goes in and has three appearances for us and strikes out three guys in critical situations, which he did a lot for us last year. It is nice for us that we have some lefties coming out of the bullpen that pitch well and match up. We needed that against Wake because they had those lefties spread throughout their lineup and we were able to match our lefties against their and more times than not our pitchers were successful.”
Freshman Benton Moss had another strong performance this weekend. Can you discuss his development as a starting pitcher?
“I thought Benton was sensational. I tell you if the public could have heard him in chapel at 10:15 that morning there would not be any talk about his pitching performance. That young man is pretty special. He has such a good head on his shoulders and he is such a competitor and he has been blessed with a great arm. And Coach Forbes and Woodard have done a great job with him. He was ready and pitched exceptionally well. If we had made the first inning a little bit easier on him yesterday he would have pitched deeper into the game. Right out of the gate we put him in a tough spot. I thought that it was critical that that we were only down 1 to nothing in the first inning and Benton settled in and gave us a chance to win. I think that he is going to be a really good pitcher for us.”
The Tar Heels have a mid-week game against perennial post-season opponent Elon on Wednesday then head to Coral Gables to face Coastal Division rival Miami this weekend. Can you discuss the week ahead?
“Elon has been playing better and winning games and I think their offense has improved since we played them last. We will have to be ready certainly and then we will get on a plane on Thursday and head to Miami -- obviously a great program and we will have to play well down there in another road series. You know they are coming and I think our players will be ready and we will certainly have to be.”
This week two of the younger players on the squad had walk-off hits with freshman Grayson Atwood plating the winning run against Coastal Carolina and Parks Jordan replicating the feat scoring Michael Russell from second on Sunday. How does that correlate to their increased confidence heading into the heart of the regular season?
“It is fun. It is fun watching players have success. It is the most enjoyable part of coaching. Normal people out there don’t see the work going on behind the scenes on a daily basis. The hard work they are putting in and Coach Jackson is putting in with them trying to teach and continue to build confidence and keep them going. For freshmen that are not playing very much it is a new experience for them. It is difficult for freshman to come in and sit on the bench and not play. They have never done it before. So it can wear on them mentally and their confidence level. Their light can dim a little and they can lose that fire. We continually have to remind them that you could be in a situation were you don’t expect to be in at any point in time. Coach Woodard is really really good at reminding our players to be prepared for that moment. Be prepared for that moment but you don’t know when that moment is. When that moment stepped up for Grayson he had a big hit to win the game for us and then Parks yesterday. It reinforces those things so it was fun to watch and I’m really happy for those kids and for our team. Those are fun ways to win but stressful ways to win.”
How difficult is this time of year for the student-athletes with the season progressing while their academic semester is ramping up heading towards finals in early May?
“I sent a long email to them last night when I got home to remind them that this is a tough stretch for college baseball players. Here we go on the road and the league did not do us any favors going back to back in April. It is tough and it is what it is and other teams have to do it and our guys have to study when we are on the road. We will have a lot of down time at Miami playing two night games and we need to make sure that they take advantage of that time. They have a lot on them in these last three weeks. They are registering for classes and doing all those other things now and finishing up some other things as well. It is a tough stretch and they have to manage it. Their time management is important and their taking care of themselves is important as well.”
Do you have an update on Matt Roberts’s status after his knee injury?
“Matt’s knee is coming along. There is no structural damage and he just has a little fluid build up in there which will take a little time. He will be back for us, which we are excited about. It is kind of a freak accident. It is more of just a sprain than anything else so it is good news. It is good news that we will have Matt Roberts back with us sooner rather than later.”