Last week, North Carolina baseball coach Mike Fox announced that he was retiring after 22 year as head coach in Chapel Hill. In his tenure, UNC made seven College World Series appearances, averaged nearly 45 wins per season, and had numerous players selected very highly in the MLB Draft.
In honor of his great career and keeping in line with our historical firsts series, let’s look back at some of Fox’s notable firsts in his time as Diamond Heels coach.
First Game/First Win
The Mike Fox era began with a game against East Carolina in Charleston, SC on February 12, 1999, and it couldn’t have gotten off to a better start. The Tar Heels beat the Pirates 8-3 thanks to an eight-run fourth inning. The star in Fox’s Carolina debut was shortstop Clay Hooper, who hit a grand slam to cap off that inning, after he had initially walked to lead it off.
First Home Series/First Sweep
The following week, UNC returned home for a series against Seton Hall, which would be Fox’s Boshamer Stadium debut. The Tar Heels would crush the Pirates over the course of the weekend, winning the three games by a combined score of 35-7.
In total, Fox’s first season went quite well. The Heels went 37-18, including an incredible 23-4 at home. They went out in two-straight games at the ACC Tournament, but it was enough to get them into our next entry.
First NCAA Tournament
The 1999 campaign ended in Fox’s first trip to the NCAA Tournament at UNC. They headed out west as the #3 seed in the Palo Alto regional, which featured the #6 national seed Stanford.
Carolina got off to a good start, beating Nevada 8-5 in 12 innings, where they scored four runs off future major league pitcher Chad Qualls. The game would go to extras where third baseman Ryan Earey hit a three-run home run to give the Heels the lead for good.
Their opponent in the winner’s bracket game was Stanford. The Cardinal led for most of the game, but thanks to four runs in the seventh and eighth inning, Carolina was on the verge of another win. However, the Heels would make multiple errors in the top of the ninth, allowing Stanford to score five unearned runs and steal the win.
They came back later that day for an elimination game rematch against Nevada, but that didn’t go as well as the first one. UNC managed just one run off of pitcher Matthew Rainer, and fell 5-1 to be eliminated.
First College World Series
UNC made the NCAA Tournament in six of Fox’s first seven year in Chapel Hill, but they had yet to break through and go to Omaha. The closest call had been a Super Regional trip in 2003, where they were swept by South Carolina.
In 2006, UNC made it back to supers after sweeping through a regional held in Boshamer. They had to go on the road to face #4 national seed Alabama when they got there. After an easy win in game one, which featured an excellent performance by Andrew Miller, Chad Flack hit a two-run home run to give Carolina an 8-7 win after they were down to their last out. It was Fox’s first trip to the College World Series, and UNC’s first since 1989.
In Omaha, the Heels wept through their side of the bracket, which included a win over #1 overall seed Clemson. They made it all the way to the championship series against Oregon State, where, well, the less said about that the better.
First Conference Tournament Championship
The following season, UNC were even better and went into the NCAA Tournament as the #3 overall seed. They got that thanks in part to Fox’s first ever ACC Tournament title. After starting off the pool play format with a loss, they rallied to beat NC State and Virginia to advance to the championship game.
In the title game, they faced off against Wake Forest. There, the game was tied going into the eighth when Josh Horton scored Dustin Ackley with a triple to give the Heels a one-run lead. Andrew Carnigan then threw scoreless innings to finish off the game and give Carolina their first ACCT title since 1990.
As for what happened in the NCAA Tournament, again, the less said the better.
Thanks to GoHeels.com for all historical info/box scores.