Coach Fox, what did you take away from the Xavier series this weekend?
“Well, we pitched obviously exceptionally well the whole weekend and of course all you have to do is to look at the scores to see that but to see how important that was for us to be able to win the series while only giving up 5 runs in 27 innings was spectacular. We got three really good starts and some good relief pitching. We needed every pitch and every out we got this weekend.”
What did Zac Gallen show you in the Fall World Series and in practice before the season to give you the confidence to put him into the weekend rotation as a freshman?
“We had a pretty good idea that Zac had an opportunity to be pretty special for us when we recruited him. He is just a strike thrower for one and has really great maturity for such a young player. He really fields his position well and he has been taught exceptionally well prior to getting to North Carolina. He didn’t have a really big learning curve when he got here. He holds runners and fields his position exceptionally well. He had a lot of those things and a great work ethic. The most important thing for young pitchers is command of the fastball right out of the gate and then they can start working on their secondary pitches. Zac had that and it was a pretty easy decision for us to put him into the rotation and so far obviously the two outings that he has had have been really, really good for us.”
This Sunday you returned to the third base coaches’ box and Coach Jackson went back to working with the hitters in the dugout. What led to this decision?
“I don’t want to make a whole lot of issue about that. It was Coach Jackson’s suggestion. I think he feels more comfortable in the dugout and occasionally at first. He works with our hitters primarily and I think that he feels that he is more of an asset working with them in the dugout before and in between at bats and certainly at first base at times. I think we both felt that we have to make decisions in the best interests in our team. It is not a real big issue. We will see what happens going further. It certainly didn’t have any impact on the game. We will see how it plays out moving forward.”
There were some moves that showed a lot of confidence in your team and the whole lineup where you had Skye Bolt sacrifice bunt to move the runners into scoring position with one out to set up the comeback victory.
“It is something that I have to think about and all coaches think about. Coaches play the ‘what if’ game all the time and we have to do that not only in coaching but decision making. I went to Coach Jackson and talked about 'if the first two guys get on we are going to have to bunt Skye so what are your thoughts.' So we talked about that scenario and I didn’t know that it would exactly play out like that but it did. Just the fact that we obviously had been struggling to score runs and had a chance to tie the game, but I couldn’t predict that they would take the bat out of Michael Russell’s hands but they did and fortunately it all worked out for us.”
What improvements would you like to see in your team defensively as the season progresses?
“We make some really good plays defensively but we also have not made some routine plays. I don’t know how many errors we made in the first six games but I don’t think we are fielding at a .975 clip. We have thrown a couple of balls away from the mound to first which we can’t do but we also have not made a couple of routine plays. Our outfielders have been really good for the most part and I think that everyone has seen just how good Skye can be in center field and for the most part we have played really well up the middle but we just need to get more comfortable. This weekend was a good indicator to our players and we talk about it all the time that the game boils down to pitching and defense. When we have pitching like we do and it gives us a chance to win every game our defense has to be there. We have a saying in our locker room that hitting is the most difficult skill in sports so therefore we are not going to rely on it to win. That was pretty evident this weekend [laughs].”
How does the continuity on your coaching staff with Scott Forbes in his 8th year and Scott Jackson in his 5th year and Bryant Gaines returning for his second campaign benefit the program in your opinion?
“That cannot be understated. It is one of the most important aspects of trying to continue maintaining some consistency in your coaching staff. The same people, the same personalities and you get used to each other, how each other thinks and reacts and I think when you have that comfort among your coaching staff that filters down to your players and all aspects of your program. I have said this before and you have asked me this question before and I am blessed to have guys around me who work incredibly hard and have such loyalty to me personally and more importantly to the program and remaining on this staff. They are the reason that we are having all of this success. There is no doubt about it.”
Can you discuss the philosophical balance that the Tar Heel baseball program utilizes between attempting to hit for power and having a high on-base percentage?
“Well, we still focus on on-base percentage. That is the most important thing is to get on base. That is something that we have not been very good at so far this year although we have not struck out a whole lot but we have not driven a lot of balls. Yesterday I put Tommy Zengel in there to DH because he can hit a double and I felt that we needed somebody to give us an extra base hit and get a person into scoring position. It is a tough balance because you have some guys in there and you need to have a guy to pop one out but so far it has not been the case for us. This weekend was a tough time to hit a ball out of Boshamer Stadium with the wind blowing but we didn’t hit many balls hard to even have the opportunity. Way too many fly balls so we are going to see if home runs and power are going to be a part of our offense. If not we obviously have to do a better job of hitting more line drives and more balls off the ground and use our speed throughout our lineup.”
This season there has been a lot of competition for playing time in right field and at designated hitter. How does this affect the team from a coaching perspective?
“Competition on your team is always what you want as a coach. It drives kids with their work ethic and they all want to play. Certainly yesterday you have to point out Alex Raburn and of course Adam Pate with their attitude and coming in and we tell kids all the time 'you can come into the ballpark at 1 o’clock and have an impact on the game five hours later. You just don’t know. What you do during those five hours when you are not playing and when you are going through your mind will impact whether I will call on you and being able to help our team will have a lot to say if you are going to be successful.' When you have a guy like Alex Raburn standing up there with a two-strike base hit to tie the game - that just emphasizes that point. We are a work in progress and we have had a number of guys in there that have stepped in. We will see if someone grabs it but if not we will keep giving guys opportunities.”