Ask North Carolina baseball players how they felt about exam week, and one would get a variety of 34 negative, unhappy and unenthusiastic answers.
Ask coach Mike Fox, and he’ll say it might be just what his team needed.
There may not have been a better time for UNC players to put down the bats and gloves and pick up their books and binders. After being shut out for the first time all season with a 1-0 loss at home to East Carolina, the Tar Heels took nearly a week off from playing.
With Tuesday marking the end of the school year, the Tar Heels ended their six-day hiatus from play and returned to Boshamer Stadium for a matchup with the Campbell Fighting Camels.
Behind freshman right-hander Zac Gallen’s best start of the season, the Tar Heels (28-19) showed they were rested and ready for the final two weeks of the regular season, shutting out the Camels (31-16) for a 5-0 win.
Gallen threw six innings of scoreless ball, struck out six and surrendered just five hits to move to 5-3 on the season. Of his 87 pitches, 64 were strikes, something he said Fox stressed before the game.
“I felt really comfortable with my fastball. It feel like it had a lot of life,” Gallen said.
“He said just challenge these guys and make them put the ball in play. So I just tried to stay around the zone, limit my walks and give our defense a chance to field the ball.”
The other big story coming from Tuesday night’s win was the flip-flop of junior shortstop Michael Russell and junior center fielder Skye Bolt in the batting order. Russell, who has been a staple at the top of the Tar Heel lineup, dropped two spots to bat third. Bolt, a switch-hitter with tremendous speed, moved up two spots to the leadoff spot.
“I think I was retying my cleats, and I just looked up and saw I was hitting third when they announced it,” Russell said. “He never told me, I kind of just saw it on the board up there.”
For Fox, the switch made him look brilliant, with each player going 3-5 with an RBI and run scored, but he was reluctant to take the credit.
“That was really coach Forbes’ idea,” Fox said. “We kind of mentioned it earlier, but just hadn’t really done it. The most important thing is we have to win.”
So with a road game at Elon Wednesday, No. 4 Florida State coming to Chapel Hill for three games this weekend and the Tar Heels fighting for an NCAA tournament birth, will we see Russell at the top of the order for the last eight games?
“At least one,” Fox said. “He’ll be in there tomorrow I’m sure.”
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