This Week With Mike Fox

Russell

Inside Carolina caught up with UNC head coach Mike Fox after the Diamond Heels (27-18, 13-11 ACC) swept Virginia Tech over the weekend. UNC has one game this week – hosting East Carolina before going on break for final exams.

Can you reflect back on the last week for the Tar Heel baseball team?
"Well, of course it started with a game at East Carolina – another close loss for us and another game that we felt like we had the opportunity to win and just didn't do enough early in the game and made a little noise in the 9th inning but could not get the big hit. We came back from there and we had one of the most important wins certainly in our mid-week against a good Liberty team. Then the weekend was extremely important for us to get some wins. You don't even want to talk about sweeping but that's what we needed to try to accomplish. We had some tough games and we were extremely fortunate to have won all three."

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At the time of the game against the Tar Heels – Liberty had 30 wins with a strong RPI. How important are quality wins heading down the stretch to the ACC Tournament and the post-season?
"Down the stretch here they are all extremely important to us in the position that we are in. The losses that we have accumulated during the course of the season, they make games down the stretch that much more critical. That Liberty game was a good one and I was proud of our guys as we got off the bus late [on Tuesday night] after Greenville and with the last week of class and a big series coming up - I thought that our guys responded and I thought it was one of the better games of the year for us and we pitched well. For a mid-week win it was a big game for us."

Michael Russell has a 17 game hitting streak working and leads the ACC in hits and is second in average. What's behind his hot streak at the plate?
"We needed somebody to get hot offensively to up our offensive level of play. I don't know if all the sudden him hitting in the leadoff spot had anything to do with that or not, but his timing was a little thing and he got it going. Then his confidence thing continues to snowball and obviously he is a good player. It is a good thing to see and I don't know where we would be without him offensively and defensively."

Friday night starter Trent Thornton is tied for second place in the ACC with seven wins and the weekend rotation has kept the team in close games all season...
"Our pitching has been the key for us. I don't think there is any question about that. If we had not been pitching at the high level that we have been we probably would not be in the position that we have been at - consistently time after time giving us a chance and obviously Trent has been the leader for us on Friday night. He gutted it out (last) Friday night and the rest this week with this week with final exams. Trent and Reilly [Hovis] out of the pen have been sensational for us."

The Tar Heels lost freshman second baseman Wood Myers to a broken hand on Friday night. Can you give an update on his injury and speak to how sophomore Alex Raburn took advantage of the opportunity - going 6-for-11 at the plate in Myers's absence?
"It was unfortunate with Wood. It just happened and the pitch ran in on him. It is a non-displaced fracture and so no surgery was involved. They say anywhere from 2-4 weeks and people heal at different rates. But again it opened the door for Alex and he was ready, really ready. Played sensational since he got in there with some big hits and some big defensive plays as well as base-running – he's a savvy player and he was ready for his opportunity. It was a great story."

Your team has one game this week as final exams begin. How difficult is it to balance the stress level of their academic work finishing up for the semester as the regular season is wrapping up as well?
"Well, it has been a long time since I took final exams. [Laughs] Those days are not fun when you start thinking about them. They don't bring up very good memories or feelings because they are stressful and they pile us as a culmination of the whole semester - you have papers due and a lot on them. Their time is so precious for them. We are going to squeeze in a game on Tuesday against East Carolina then give them a break for a while. Hopefully they all are doing well or will all do well on finals."

With Chris McCue out of the pen because of injury, how do you think the bullpen has fared in getting used to their roles and balancing their usage and availabilities?
"Coach Forbes has done a great job again working with our pitching staff and managing all of that with the injuries, workload and having those guys ready or not ready from a health standpoint. I thought this week in particular was very, very good for us. Spencer Trayner getting out of a bases loaded with no outs or one out and that gave our team a shot in the arm with that. The bullpen has been pretty young with freshman and sophomores so that is even better."

The Tar Heels are currently in 5th place in the ACC Tournament standings with two very tough series left - hosting Florida State and visiting Miami - remaining on the schedule. How does the new format impact where your team stands?
"It is a different format that will be new to all of us. I have to go back and really take a look at it. With 10 teams with 7, 8, 9, 10 playing first [to enter the round robin format]. It is a format I didn't vote for, but it is the format that we have. We will see and right now we are just fighting down the stretch. We will see how it all plays out. We have an opportunity to control our seeding and all that stuff as we still have some big games left. We will see what happens."

Coach Woodard returned to Chapel Hill in his first year coaching the pitching staff at Virginia Tech – what was it like to catch back up with your former player and assistant coach?
"It was not quite as cordial as it normally would be since he's at an ACC school. I'm sure he is frustrated after the weekend but I thought his pitchers really threw the ball well against us."

Your coaching staff was able to make it to Yankee Stadium to catch Adam Warren's relief victory over the Angels where Michael Morin received the call to join the big league roster. What was that whirlwind trip to New York like after the series was clinched on Sunday afternoon?
"That might have been the best 24 hours of my life. Get a win, get on a plane and get to Yankee Stadium and the Steinbrenner family takes care of the Tar Heels. We got to see four Tar Heels on the field or in the bullpen after the game. Got to see Michael Morin and his family. Seeing the first encounter with a parent and their child in a first Major League game is indescribable. We go downstairs underneath and run into Chris Iannetta and we get to talk with him for a while. Then Adam Warren and his wife Kristin come meet us and we talk to them for a while. Then once we get our way to the hotel at 1 a.m. – Matt Harvey shows up and we spend most of the rest of the night with Matt Harvey. So it was an unbelievable 24 hours and I'm still here and working on my way back home. It was special and I'm still excited about it even thought I have not slept very much."

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