UNC baseball looking to improve consistency
Coach Mike Fox doesn’t want to go berserk.
He knows his team — which featured four freshmen starters Wednesday — is young, but that doesn’t make watching their mistakes any less painful.
Fox has encountered unfamiliar territory in his 16th season at the helm of the North Carolina baseball program (19-14, 7-8 ACC). A six-game losing streak. Getting swept by Duke.
He said he’s opted to encourage his players after losses, rather than scolding them.
But as the North Carolina baseball team gears up for a weekend series with Wake Forest (22-13, 10-5 ACC), Fox told his players they need to shorten their learning curves.
“It’s painful to watch at times because they’re gonna fail,” Fox said. “This is our 30-something game, and some of the things we were doing early in the year we’re still doing. That’s really disappointing.”
In the 3-2 11-inning loss to Coastal Carolina on Wednesday, the Chanticleers’ three runs on two squeeze bunts and a sacrifice fly were enough to beat the sapped Tar Heels — once an offensive juggernaut that never lost back-to-back games in a 52-8 2013 regular season.
This is a different team than Fox is accustomed to coaching, and he acknowledged that his coaching staff has had to adjust to push the right buttons with this team.
“We have to be really careful with how we coach and how we manage them,” Fox said. “They’re trying and giving us effort and doing the best they can, so you really have to be careful in that regard and not let losing a few games get you so down in the dumps that you can’t move on.”
Center fielder Skye Bolt, who has worked his batting average up to .236 after a rough start to the season, said that a lack of execution at the plate with runners in scoring position has cost UNC in several losses.
“It’s been atrocious all year,” Bolt said. “I’m not going to reflect on last year or years past or even way back. You’ve got to execute.”
Ten of UNC’s 14 losses have been by two runs or fewer. In Wednesday’s loss, the Tar Heels left nine men on base.
At times Tar Heel batters didn’t even have a chance to make a difference. Bolt was picked off third base in the third inning, and freshman Adam Pate was caught stealing third in the fourth.
“Every play in this game’s important,” said sophomore catcher Korey Dunbar. “Obviously when we make small mistakes like that they can add up.”
UNC is currently eighth among the ACC’s 14 teams, and its schedule is about to ratchet up in intensity.
Games against No. 1 Virginia and No. 2 Florida State are on the horizon, but the Demon Deacons are the first obstacle, entering the weekend second in the ACC’s Atlantic Division.
“I still think we’re a work in progress,” Fox said. “That probably sounds kind of crazy after 30 games. We hope that we haven’t hit our stride yet. We have some really, really tough games down the stretch that are going to make or break our season.”
Omaha is familiar territory for Fox. He’s taken UNC to the final stage of the NCAA Tournament in six of the last eight years. To get there again, a lofty goal for this Tar Heel team, he’ll have to navigate the unfamiliar.