When Tyler Fox joined the UNO program for the 2013 season, he didn't have a long list of specific expectations.
“I just wanted to go out and compete, to show my skills and make a name for myself,” Fox said. “I wanted to show my coaches and teammates what I could do.”
The right-handed pitcher from Thornton, Colo., did that and more, leading the team in wins and innings pitched while going 6-2 with a 3.99 ERA.
Now the sophomore will start the 2014 season opener Friday when the Mavericks face Purdue at 11 a.m. in Knoxville, Tenn. Junior Zach Williamsen of Millard West will start Friday's second game, a 3 p.m. matchup with Tennessee.
UNO coach Bob Herold is glad to have Fox on his team.
“He's just so poised out there,” Herold said. “He dominates with his makeup.
“And when you get to practice and your best pitcher is there before everybody else and stays later than anyone when you're done ... he's gives himself and his team every chance he can to win.”
Fox, 6-foot-2 and 180 pounds, said he had originally planned to play for Division II power Dixie State (Utah). But coach Mike Littlewood left for Brigham Young, and though Fox had a chance to join him there, he said he felt like UNO was a better fit.
Herold was familiar with Fox and had a spot available.
“I saw him pitch twice before he came to UNO, and he was everything he was supposed to be,” Herold said. “Then he got here and did exactly the same thing. None of our guys bothered him (in fall scrimmages), and then he went out in the spring and none of the other teams bothered him, either.”
Fox mixes five pitches — two-seam and four-seam fastballs, plus a changeup, slider and curveball — and typically tops out in the upper 80s with excellent command and intelligence.
“He's patient,” Herold said. “He sees what's working that day and he goes with it. He doesn't get in a rush to make a certain pitch. He just sees what's working and pitches to his strength rather than to somebody's weakness. He's a location guy. He can hit 91, but he puts it right where he wants it.”
Fox, one of the Mavs' captains, said he's worked at adding even more movement to his pitches.
“I've come a long ways,” he said. “My pitches have changed even from last year. Hitters are getting better, so I need to get better, too. I'm not going to throw it 95 past someone, but if I can make them swing at my pitch, that's going to help me. ... And I just want to live low in the (strike) zone.”
While UNO won the Summit League regular-season championship last year, Fox ranked fourth in the league in overall wins. He and Williamsen tied for third with four league wins. Fox also had a 3.67 ERA in league games while going 4-1.
Fox said there's a little different feeling around the program compared with early last season. Back then, the Mavs had been picked to finish last in the Summit. This season, they're picked to repeat as champions.
“Maybe just a little more fire in practice and a little more intensity,” he said. “We have that confidence in ourselves. You never know because in baseball things can go either way, but we definitely believe we should repeat (as league champions) and we believe we can compete with anybody.”