CHAPEL HILL, N.C.—Coach Mike Fox wasn’t in the dugout, but it didn’t matter for North Carolina.
With associate head coach Scott Forbes filling in for Fox, the Tar Heels rode freshman lefthander Kent Emanuel to a 4-0 victory Friday night against Maine.
Fox was attending to a personal matter, according to North Carolina. But with Emanuel throwing zeroes up on the scoreboard, Forbes didn’t have much to worry about. He did, however, say he could envision an easier game to manage.
“We scored four runs in the first, I’m thinking we’ll score four in the second and four more,” Forbes said. “If you get a big lead it’s a little easier to manage because you don’t necessarily have to make a decision to use your closer or not with a four-run lead.”
Emanuel kept the Black Bears off balance for eight innings, mixing his fastball and curveball effectively. Maine often had a runner on base, collecting seven hits off Emanuel, but was unable to advance a runner past second. The Black Bears went 0-for-4 against Emanuel with a runner in scoring position.
“He was able to get some big pitches, especially early, and get out of some jams,” catcher Jacob Stallings said. “In the seventh and eighth inning I felt like his fastball was popping more than it did the first six. I think that’s a testament to him really buckling down in those tough situations.”
The Tar Heels scored four runs with two outs in the first inning, giving Emanuel all the support he would need. Left fielder Chaz Frank worked a leadoff walk and moved up to second on a balk by righthander Keith Bilodeau. That set the stage for first baseman Jesse Wierzbicki’s RBI single. After a single by second
baseman Tommy Coyle, Stallings launched a three-run home run over the left-field wall.
“I told Chaz yesterday, ‘We should just score 100 runs in the first inning and just be done with it,’ ” Stallings said. “But I guess we’ll take four.”
The Tar Heels will play James Madison in a winner's bracket game on Saturday evening. Forbes said he didn’t know if Fox would be back with the team by then, but he is prepared to manage the team as long as necessary.
Fox’s only advice to Forbes before the game came in an e-mail, telling him to go with his gut. It was the first time Forbes could remember being in charge of a team at this level, but he said the adjustment was easy.
“The program is so well run by coach Fox and the guys know what it’s about,” Forbes said. “I think if we didn’t show up, they would be all right.”
Wierzbicki said Fox’s absence gave the Tar Heels some added motivation Friday.
“We all want him to be here,” Wierzbicki said. “We all know how bad he wants to be here. I know it pushed me a little bit. We definitely wanted to get that win for him.”