Coach Fox, can you give your impressions of the weekend series?
Tues. vs. High Point
Wed. vs. Liberty
Fri. vs. Georgia Tech
Sat. vs. Georgia Tech
Sun. vs. Georgia Tech
“It was a very good one. It is great for our kids to go up there and get three wins. Incredible performance by our kids. To win on Friday put all the pressure on Virginia and Kent [Emanuel] was sensational for us Friday night. He needed to be because [Branden] Kline pitched well for them and Jacob [Stallings] comes up and gets the big hit - the big home run for us. I really think our kids thought that after winning on Friday that we could not only win the series but win the next two games. Big weekend for us without question and we have to be careful moving forward that we understand that it is just one weekend. So you have to flush the bad weekends and you have to flush the good ones and move on. That is just part of it but we are certainly very, very excited to have swept Virginia at their place.”
Jacob Stallings struck out the four previous at bats before hitting that game-winning home run on Friday. Can you discuss his mental toughness to be prepared for the opportunity?
“It is the most difficult part of baseball. It is a game of failure. He struck out four times and had been his worst performance offensively from a consecutive at bat stand point that I have seen from him. None of his at bats were very good. We talk with our players all the time, especially our hitters, that your last at bat could be your most important one. It was no more true than that one but it is true no matter what. If the game is close, you are coming up there again at some point late in the game in a close game and you might have to get a big hit, put a bunt down or get a walk. It turned out that he worked the count to 3-1 and the kid came in there and put a strike out over the plate. Without really trying to overstate it that might have been one of the most important swings of the bat for us so far this season because it took us out of that mindset that - OK we have been in this situation before... 'the score is tied, extra innings, and we are going to have to score to win' ... to all the sudden - boom! - we have a run and Michael [Morin coming in]. It completely changed I think the whole mindset of really not just that game but it changed the whole weekend. You have to give credit to Jacob. He is tough on himself and sometimes his body language is not the best but he cares so deeply and I am proud of him for hanging in there and certainly getting it done. It is hard to do, very difficult and the most difficult thing to do in baseball.”
Michael Russell got his first action of the season at third base this week with eight assists and one error in the field...
“The error we did not think was on him. It was one of those throws up the line and if the play is not made they go back to the throw. Very comfortable, Michael is such a good athlete and so adaptable. He could be any of our best outfielders. We hesitated to take him out of right field because he played so well for us there. But we felt like we needed to make this move - we had him at third base some and he played shortstop in high school. You want players who can play all over the field. I wish I had a whole team of them. He did look comfortable there and the line drive play he made that [Stephen] Bruno hit was a terrific play for a kid that had not been there at all and seen many balls off the bat live to snare that line drive and double the guy off second was huge in that tight Friday game. I thought that it was important to stabilize our infield at third and Michael is a special player. He is only going to get better.”
How is your pitching depth helping prime the stretch run for the team?
“It has been our strength all year long. Having Kent [Emanuel] pitch into the 8th inning and his pitch count was down and it allowed us to not use an arm or two for an extended period so we could bring R.C. [Orlan] back on Saturday and have a fresh arm in Mason [McCullough] on Sunday and we could have used Chris McCue yesterday. We didn’t even use Cody Penny for the weekend. It is important that we don’t tax these guys too much so we do want them fresh down the stretch and we get an exam break to recover. I don’t think we are extending them too much. I think they all know their roles. I think that is the most important thing. We could have depth in our pitching staff but if our pitchers don’t have the right attitude and don’t understand that this is your job and this is what we are asking you to do this particular game to help us win, it does affect their performance. I have to give a lot of credit to Coach Woodard and Coach Forbes and our pitchers because they all bought into exactly what their role is and how they can help us win. They understand it and attempt to go out and do it. They get one guy out and they come in the dugout and you can see it on their face. 'Hey, I did my job. I did my job. Next guy.' That is helping us win some games.”
We have talked before about Tommy Coyle’s mental toughness. How is he handling the pressure of being the starting shortstop?
“Tommy is a tough kid. Everybody gets fragile a little bit and Tommy has to get back that aggressiveness and obviously he made the big 6-4-3 double play yesterday so he is making the plays that he needs to and the important ones. Certainly that is important. They knew that they gave him [an error] on Saturday’s game where Michael Russell cut in front of him. I thought that was a base hit. That is almost an impossible play to make as a shortstop when the third baseman cuts in front of you and impacts your vision. That was their call to make. I think you have to look at these and not look at the numbers on the stat sheet. I do think that Tommy does need to continue to stay aggressive and improve down the stretch for us to continue to be a good defensive team. He is making the plays when he needs to and staying strong with it. That is all we can ask of him at this point.”
Adam Griffin has gotten back in the swing of things after starting off the season with his ankle injury. What were your thoughts on his play this past weekend?
“It is difficult when you get hurt right before the season starts and you can’t do anything and you miss all this time watching your teammates play. But really, I tell you it might have helped Adam. I really think that it might have helped him to sit and watch. I don’t think that he had an idea when he got to UNC what it took and what it required to play at this high level, about how good everyone is and how good our league is. I could not take him on the road obviously. So this is only like his second road series. It was kind of a baptism by fire. We had to throw him in there since we don’t have a lot of practices once the season starts. I think his skill and athletic ability is coming out a little bit. Yesterday he did everything or more out of a hitter that you want. He worked the count and didn’t swing at balls. He got the two strike hit. He got the two out hit. He hit the ball the other way. He drove a ball in the gap in right center and hit a couple of balls up the middle. His base running was good and he played a great right field for us. He was a great story for us this weekend. He will continue to improve and progress and work. He has a good feel and is very calm out there. He could be a good player for us.”
Not to sound like a broken record each week, but closer Michael Morin is continuing to play at an extremely high level - a 0.75 ERA with 10 saves in 36 innings. Where would the Tar Heels be without the performance of Michael Morin this season?
“I don’t even want to think about that. I don’t even want to think about not having Michael Morin. That kid is a stud. You hear coaches say that and it is kind of a word we use with a player who brings it. He brings it every day. Resilient, tough, confident, wants the ball. Has a lot of attributes you want as a closer. He gives us great peace of mind when we know we have him at the end of the game. We know if we get a lead and get Michael in there for a 3-, 4- or 5-out save he will give us all he has and the other team will have to get some hits off of him. He has had an incredible year so far and I hope it will continue and I don’t see any reason why it wouldn’t. Michael is just a warrior. We had no idea what we were getting with him since we signed him five weeks before school started in the summer of 2009. He is a great story of why you should wait in this recruiting process. We never stop recruiting. He fell in love with UNC and we recruited him over a two-week span. I knew he was good pitcher but I had no idea he was this tough. He is the ultimate definition of a competitor.”