BC Baseball NCAA Tournament Preview: Mik Aoki

Boston College is in the NCAA Tournament for the first time in over forty years. The Eagles will start post-season play against Texas State and face Army and Texas in the regional round. Coach Aoki took time to talk about his team's reaction to making the tournament and their preparation for the regional.

Although most people predicted you'd make it, it must have been a real relief and thrill to see your name go up on the board during the selection show.

MA: It was great. It was a really exciting time for all of us. We'd practiced for a little bit prior to the selection show, then we all went into the lounge in Conte Forum to watch it, and waited for our name to go up. Right away, ours was up there, in the first regional posted, and our guys were up off their seats, jumping around. I'm really happy for our team, and for our program. This really validates a lot of the hard work we've done.

What has this week been like? Has it been a typical week in terms of preparation, or have you done anything specific to prepare for these opponents?

MA:It's been a pretty regular week for us. We've had a chance to go over fundamental things in practice. During the season we actually rarely really practice, because we play so many games and you want to give the guys an off-day on Monday. So when we have practice it's usually just batting practice and things like that.

But now in the last few weeks we've had three or four days of not playing. Now we can go over bunt defenses, and other fundamentals like that – that way, we can stay sharp. The only difference this week is that we've had a few practices in Texas instead of back in Chestnut Hill.

The fields are probably a little bit nicer…

MA:Actually, I'd put the quality of our actual playing surface up against anyone's. Our grounds crew does a great job as far as the actual playing surface goes. It's just all the stuff around it – we don't have the stadium, the luxury boxes, things like that.

Obviously, we've had a chance to practice in Texas's stadium, and it's beautiful. They've got the field turf, 8,000 seats, luxury suites, chairbacks on every seat, the giant video board. It's definitely been a cool experience for our guys.

What have you done to make sure your team doesn't suffer from the ‘happy to be here' syndrome?

MA:I'd honestly be really surprised if we suffered from any of that. Kids here realize how good the ACC is, and how it prepares us for this. Our conference schedule prepares us for the tournament because we compete week in and week out against college baseball royalty. Our kids are excited to be here, as they should be, but everyone here aspires for something bigger.

When you get to this stage, you're playing against teams who are used to getting that timely hit, getting the big out, and finding ways to win baseball games. So you know you have to really bring your game to the next level.

Talk a little bit about your opponents – obviously, everyone knows about Texas, but Texas State and Army have had good seasons as well.

MA:I've put most of my focus on Texas State this week, obviously. They swing the bats really, really well. They score runs in bunches, and have that really high team batting average – I think they're hitting .332 as a team. They also have very good defense.

They pitch it okay. One thing I've seen is that their guys are used to putting men on base, because they put a lot of base runners on – but their run totals aren't as high, so they find ways to work out of jams. So that means that we're probably going to get our opportunities, and we'll have to have a good approach and take advantage of them.

Another key is going to be to play excellent defense, because when you're facing a team with such a great offense, the last thing you want to do is give them extra outs. And obviously J.B. [MacDonald] is going to have to have a good day out there.

As for Army, they won a championship to get here. We'll have to play at a really high level against a very good squad. They're well-coached, and obviously they will really compete with you and give it all they've got.

With Texas, the thing is finding a way to score some runs against their pitching staff. They're used to winning tight, low-scoring games, because based on the numbers, they've got the best pitching staff in the country.

What is your game plan for the pitching rotation?

MA:We'll go with J.B. MacDonald in the first game against Texas State. J.B. has been our Friday night guy all year long, and he'll be our Friday guy again this week. He's the kid who was our most consistent starter from the beginning of the year to the end. He's our captain, and he'll compete his rear end off out there.

Then, we'll have Pat Dean going in game two, and I'm really comfortable with him in that role, because it will be up to him to either stave off elimination, or pitch us into the championship game. With the way he's pitching right now, I like having him in either of those roles.

If everything goes to plan, our game 3 starter would be Jon Leonard. But if we lose game one and need to use everyone in order to avoid elimination in game two, we'll use him if we have to and we'll figure out the rest of the weekend as we go.

Two controversies regarding the NCAA bracket include Virginia being shipped out to Irvine, and Rhode Island being excluded from the NCAAs. Can you comment on those situations?

MA:It's hard for me to comment, because unless you've sat on the committee, and you're not familiar with the workings of what they do, it's hard to say what they should or shouldn't have done. It's a tough job.

But that's really rough – the winner of the ACC, who traditionally would host a regional, not only has to fly all the way across the country, but they have to face Stephen Strasburg.

With URI – that's really hard. They're a Northeast team playing a lot of games on the road at a high level. I really feel for Jimmy Foster and that whole program, they did everything they could do except win their conference tournament.

I'm glad I'm not on the committee – it's a difficult task, and you're kind of breaking the hearts of 35 kids, and all the staff. That's difficult. Rhode Island had a great year – in my mind, they deserved a bid – but that's a hard one.

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