Monday with Mike Fox

Inside Carolina
Posted Apr 26, 2010


CHAPEL HILL, N.C. --- The Tar Heels took two out of three at Clemson over the weekend to improve to 25-17 (8-13 ACC). Inside Carolina caught up with head coach Mike Fox on Monday for an exclusive interview ...

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Coach Fox, what were your impressions of the weekend series against the Tigers?
"Well, it was a much-needed series win for us certainly. To do it on the road was even more special for our kids. I am so proud of them for getting it done in game three and winning a close game on the road, which is difficult to do in the ACC. Matt Harvey on Friday was just sensational for us -- one of the best pitching performances I have ever seen as a coach; a dominating performance by him kind of set the tone for the weekend and we finished it off with a win in game three. So it was a very important series win for us."

Can you go into further detail of what made Harvey's performance so special - and recall what he told you when you went out to the mound in the ninth inning?
"Matt was just around the plate with every pitch that he threw from the first inning on. His fastball had a lot of life on it and he was throwing his breaking ball for a strike. He did not have many three-ball counts and his changeup was good - all around the plate. I thought he kept Clemson's hitters just off balance all night. If he needed to throw a fastball in, he threw it in for a strike. If he needed to drop a curve ball in for strike two or three, he was able to do that. He was just kind of on cruise control after he gave up the two runs in the fourth inning. He did not feel good to start the game - he had some stomach issues and felt a little queasy - but I think he settled in and got stronger as the game went on. Certainly your heart wants him to finish the game. I just went out and asked him and obviously he is a competitor and he wanted to finish the game and felt good. His last pitch I think was 94 and that tells you how strong he was in the ninth inning. Pitch counts can be a little overrated at times - I think that it is the rest in between starts that is important in terms of arm issues. I struggled with it a little bit of course and I hope that my track record is good in that regard. But I thought that this was a special case where Matt felt strong and felt good and had not labored all game and deserved to finish the game - he just felt good."

Not to be outdone, Patrick Johnson had one of his best starts on the mound - what made him so effective?
"Patrick's performance was clearly the key to our win yesterday. Again, a little bit of a shaky start. He had a knot kind of under his shoulder blade to start the game - I don't know if he slept on it wrong, but the trainers tried to work it out. We were not sure and we were watching him very closely as the game started. As you get going, and you get the adrenaline going and your arm gets loose, you get in the rhythm and you start feeling good. He just gave us a terrific performance. We did not expect it when the game started that he would pitch into the ninth inning but again he had some good key strikeouts early and a couple of errors that we made behind him hurt him obviously. He only gave up one earned run and scattered the seven hits and only walked three and it was a terrific performance by Patrick and came at a great time for us - a time where we really needed it obviously."

Can you discuss the defensive lineup changes in the Sunday game and how Ryan Graepel made the most of his pinch hitting opportunity to score the winning run?
"We felt like before the game started that we were going to need to score some runs to win game three and that was kind of the history of what has been the case for us this season. I felt like I needed to get some more left handed bats in there and Ryan had been struggling a little bit and it was a tough decision for me. Before the game I went over to him and asked him to handle it the right way and to be ready to help us and to his credit he certainly did that. As the game went on we saw it was going to be a close game and we might need to play defensively down the stretch - we made the move to put Jacob [Stallings] behind the plate in the middle part of the game - and of course we knew that they had Lamb coming out of the bullpen. He was the only left handed pitcher that they had and we knew at some point if the game was close they would bring him in to face all the lefties and I had Ryan Graepel and Brett Knief to come off the bench to counter it. To their tremendous credit they came up with two of the biggest swings of the bat for us that we could have had so far. You have to give those kids an awful lot of credit - especially Ryan Graepel. It was the first time that he had not started in probably two and a half years and to stay ready and to come in and give us a great at bat and to get a base hit with two strikes on him was obviously the key to us winning."

Your team has a pair of mid-week games and then is on break for exams - what will this weekend be like for the student athletes?
"We have all the exam schedules and we will map out the next week - we play and are on the road on Wednesday and reading day is Thursday, so we have to give them a lot of time off for exams. We will have some voluntary practices on Friday, they can come in and get in their lift, and we will set up practice on Saturday and Sunday around their exam schedule and being prepared to play on Monday night - which is a little unusual, but we are fortunate to be able to play a game during exams in order to stay sharp."

You have discussed confidence in baseball in the past - how do you think the team is doing in that regard at this point in the season heading down the stretch run to the ACC Tournament?
"I think it was important for us to win a close game late - I think that was very important for our team for that confidence after having let some slip away from us late. To win one was huge for us and it was a great bus ride home. I hope it carries over. We have been talking to our kids all year long that we have a good team and we have been very close and we are going to win some of these close games and fortunately we were able to do that, so it just helps you believe. When you do it it helps you believe that you can do it and I hope that helps us in the future."

Ben Bunting has been swinging the bat well recently - what's behind his recent hot streak?
"Ben puts the ball in play. I love having him up there with people on base and when you get in a certain count I can start the runner at first base and feel pretty comfortable that Ben will move the ball. He does not swing and miss very much and he found some holes. He could not seem to buy a hit on Friday but he hit some balls hard and then Saturday and Sunday he got some big hits for us. We hit and ran with him one time and he just found some holes and he was on base a lot for us. I think he got six hits the last two days and he only scored two runs - that is the downside. If he gets on base like that we have to drive him in. He had a good series for us and played well defensively as well."

It must feel like a long season for freshmen Tommy Coyle and Brian Goodwin. How are they handling the rigors of starting as freshmen while balancing their academics and athletics?
"I will know in about a week how well they are balancing their academics [laughs]. Although I do get their grade reports every week and they seem to be doing OK. It is a tough part and this is the difficult point right now. We will have to have a very light practice today because a lot of them have a lot of schoolwork on them this last week and obviously with finals coming up on Friday. They had to do it in the fall but not quite as time consuming - I am sure our veterans have helped them a little bit trying to manage it. They are two pretty smart kids and they understand that their time management is important and is something that we talk about a lot so I feel like they can handle it well at this point."

Can you discuss the state of showcase baseball in the state of North Carolina with the different programs - the Canes, Cubs, Dirtbags, Heat, On Deck O's, Panthers, etc. - from your perspective?
"There is a lot of great programs out there in the summer. There is just good baseball out there in this state - it starts in high school and in summer ball. There are games being played all over the state all summer long and it gives us an opportunity to go out and see a lot of kids play and a lot of times they are at the same venue playing against one another and obviously that is good for us for a time and travel standpoint as well as the budget standpoint. There are a lot of those great programs out there that give kids an opportunity to play a lot of games at a high level against good competition and that is only good for us certainly."


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