Tar Heels' perseverance pays off
Posted May 28
For the University of North Carolina baseball team, just getting into the NCAA tournament isn't normally the goal. Generally, the Tar Heels are in contention to host a regional or be a national seed.
However, this year the team did not perform as well as expected, and had to wait just to hear their name called when the field was announced.
Perseverance was the key for this ball club said head coach Mike Fox, whose team lost many close games throughout the season but continued to fight down the stretch.
“We’re in, and that is the most important thing right now,” said Fox on 620AM The Buzz Wednesday. “But we just kind of persevered, you know. Up and down, we lost so many close games, and they take so much out of a team… I’ve got to give our kids credit. They just kept on playing.”
UNC will join Long Beach State and College of Charleston as part of the Gainesville regional hosted by the University of Florida and many people are looking at this as the toughest regional in the field..
“We can’t be picky. When you wait to the very end for your name to be called, it doesn’t matter,” said Fox. “College of Charleston is the number four seed in our region. We played them in the beginning of the year and they beat us two out of three, so that tells you what you need to know about this regional.”
By recent standards the ACC had a down year as a whole, even though the league received seven bids, just one fewer than in 2013.
In 2013, five schools hosted regionals, as opposed to three this season, and four went on to host super regionals.
“If you look at the conference, we were a little top heavy with Miami, Florida State, and Virginia at the top,” said Fox. “I think the rest of us were fighting for hopefully fourth, fifth, sixth, seventh bids. That’s probably the reason this year. I think we’re pretty fortunate to get seven teams in this year.”
Shortstop Michael Russell, suffering with a back injury should have no problem playing, but Fox will be cautious as he looks out for his star’s future health.
“Michael’s ok. He’s day-to-day. We certainly need him to play for us and playing healthy,” said Fox. “The whole injury thing is something you kind of have to walk a thin line in that regards, from a personal standpoint. But it’s nothing serious. It’s just aggravating.”
The Tar Heels went on a slide to end the regular season, dropping four of their last six conference games to Miami and Florida State.
Fox said he is thankful for how the schedule ended in UNC’s favor, giving them experience against two top teams.
“I think we’re playing with confidence,” said Fox. “We really thought we played well at Miami. As it turned out, the back end of our schedule I think helped us. Had we been in that same situation, and not had Florida State and Miami down at the end, we might have won more games and not gotten in.”
Defense wins championships as the saying goes and Fox agrees whole heartedly.
“We’ve just got to play defense. That’s just the whole key for us. There’s a small margin of error for us. Our games are going to be really close; most of them are, in the regional because there’s really good pitching in the tournament. That’s why teams are there. You can’t make any mistakes or the other team will capitalize. One or two runs could win the game,” said Fox.
UNC returns several players who have previous NCAA tournament experience but has a host of freshman that will be gaining their first exposure to the tournament.
With the mix, Fox believes the Tar Heels will have an advantage this year and for years to come.
“We do have a nucleus of guys that are back, but we do have some young ones. That’s the great thing about going to the tournament. That not only helps you this year, but it also helps you down the road,” said Fox “I think our experience is going to help us on the mound especially.”
Fox believes with the perseverance his team has showed throughout the season, anything can happen.
“Now everyone is 0-0, so it’s kind of a new life force,” said Fox.