Pardon the pun – or not – but Mike Fox and his North Carolina baseball team had been feeling a bit snake-bitten lately, amid more than a month of hardship and futility. Nothing, though, like N.C. State coach Elliott Avent, who recently found himself the victim of a copperhead bite.
“Had a little text exchange with Elliott,” Fox, the Tar Heels coach, said after his team’s 8-1 victory against Notre Dame on Monday night. “That was funny.”
Fox laughed in part because Avent is OK now. For a time, however brief, it was scary, though.
Now that the venom has subsided, in a literal and figurative sense, Fox and Avent might even share a laugh about it Thursday night, when their teams meet in the first of an important three-game series at N.C. State.
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The Tar Heels (33-19, 12-15) and the Wolfpack (32-17, 13-12) need victories to secure their place in the 10-team ACC tournament next week. UNC, which enters Thursday with the ninth-best conference winning percentage in the ACC, is in an especially precarious position.
Indeed, before the Tar Heels’ victory Monday night, Fox worried his team’s postseason hopes soon might wind up like the snake that bit Avent: dead.
“If we’d have lost (Monday) … it might have been close to the nail in our coffin,” Fox said after his team won its first ACC series in more than a month. “It would have been really challenging.”
He found it similarly challenging to recount without laughing an exchange he’d shared with Avent after that doomed copperhead bit Avent on the ankle. Avent was walking his dog May 11 when the snake bit his puppy, and then it bit him.
Avent exacted revenge and killed the copperhead with an umbrella. He took the snake with him to the hospital so doctors would know the kind of snake who’d dealt the bite.
Somewhere along the way, Avent got in touch with Fox, whose wife, Cheryl, was bitten by a copperhead a few years ago.
“So as soon as I told Elliott that,” Fox said, recounting the story, “he’s bombarding me: ‘What happened?’ ”
Never one to be rattled, Fox didn’t exactly slither away from the chance to have some fun.
“Elliott’s a little gullible,” Fox said, and the way he told it, Avent, who missed his team’s series at Louisville last weekend while he healed from the bite, was asking Fox how long it took his wife to recover.
“I’m like, ‘It was months, Elliott,’ ” Fox said, recounting the fib with dramatic flair. “I should have said she hasn’t recovered yet.”
If I gave you all access to the text messages that went back and forth with me and Elliott (Avent) you would run with it and it would be like, ‘Really?’
UNC baseball coach Mike Fox
The two coaches carried on this conversation through text messages, back and forth. The mere thought of the messages this week elicited a hearty chuckle from Fox.
Here they were, their rival teams in the final days of a long regular season, both fighting to position themselves more favorably for the postseason, both anticipating an always-intense series against the other. And they’re talking snake bites.
“If I gave you all access to the text messages that went back and forth with me and Elliott,” Fox said, “you would run with it and it would be like, ‘Really?’ ”
At one point Avent informed Fox that he was going to send a picture. Fox figured Avent planned to send him a picture of his ankle, a look at how the bite was healing.
Moments later an image of the dead copperhead popped up on Fox’s phone.
“And I’m like, ‘Only Elliott,’ ” Fox said.
Then Avent told Fox he’d killed the snake with an umbrella.
“And I’m laughing so hard,” Fox said.
Now, though, it gets serious for the Tar Heels. They’re among a cluster of nine teams, including N.C. State, vying for six unclaimed spots in the ACC tournament.
UNC is expecting a difficult, festive atmosphere during the next three days at Doak Field.
“It's going to be hostile,” Zack Gagahan, the Tar Heels' sophomore infielder, said earlier this week.
Fox anticipates that his team won't enter Thursday with a lack of motivation. These games, the ones against the Wolfpack, are “always fun,” he said.
“They're very good,” he said. “And they're ornery. Both their head coach and their players.”
He acknowledged such orneriness was understandable, given recent circumstances.
UNC at. N.C. State
Three game series at Doak Field
▪ Thursday, 6 p.m.
▪ Friday, 6:30 p.m.
▪ Saturday, 1 p.m.
The ACC tournament, featuring the top 10 teams, will start Tuesday at Durham Bulls Athletic Park