Aoki Reflects On Tournament Run

BC baseball ended their season with a memorable weekend in Texas. After coming back from that, Coach Aoki took some time to talk with Eagle Insider about the season, the tournament and the off-season.

EI: Obviously, the loss must still sting, but with a few days gone by, have you moved on to reflecting on the positives that came out of the weekend?

MA: Well, a lot of positives came out of the experience. We had a heartbreaking loss to Texas on Saturday, obviously, and then followed that up with another close heart-breaker on Sunday. But when you think about it, every loss at this time of year is a heart-breaker, because of the finality of all.

I'm proud of the way we competed all year, and all weekend. We had an excuse to fold up the tents on Sunday and just give up in the game against Army, and nobody would have really blamed them, but that's not what happened. The kids went out and played hard, and put themselves in a position where they had a chance to win and keep playing. Looking back, we did a lot of things that we wanted to do this year – we played ourselves into the ACC tournament and into the NCAA tournament, and played well once we got into the post-season

EI: The Texas 25-inning game will long be remembered by everyone who was there, or watched or listened to the game online. What's one memory from that game that will really stand out in your mind?

MA: Just the way Mike Belfiore and the rest of our staff pitched. It's incredible, how well they performed for so long. And you can't ever forget the way Austin Wood pitched for Texas - 12 1/3 innings, unbelievable.

I'll also remember just the nature of the game itself – all of the highs and lows. Even though it went for so long, both teams had their chances to score runs, so it was a real roller-coaster. And it felt really surreal in the dugout once you got into the 19th, 20th, 21st inning, with everyone thinking, ‘this has gotta be it, right?'

EI: How is Mike Belfiore doing after his extended workload on Saturday night?

MA: He's fine. He felt pretty good and during the game he wanted to keep going. Obviously his pitch count was never as high as it got on Saturday, but he'd thrown 70-80 pitches before, so it's not like it was totally unprecedented for him to go deep. He felt pretty good the next day and played the field for us and gave us some at-bats.

EI: Is there anything to the idea that you and [Texas coach] Augie Garrido wanted to let those guys duel it out, since they were having such a memorable battle? Looking back, do you feel like everyone was sort of getting caught up in the moment?

MA: Not really. I don't know if coach Garrido felt that way, but that's not what I was doing. I knew I'd eventually have to take Belfiore out. The inning before his last inning, I thought I might take him out, but Belf said, "one more."

EI: What was your bullpen management strategy during the Texas game? There's no preparation plan in place for going 25 innings. Why was Dennhardt the guy in the 25th?

MA: Well, first of all, Dennhardt had been put into a position where the difference between a 2-0 count and a 1-1 count was huge, especially with everything that was at stake in that game, knowing that if we lost we'd have to turnaround and play the following afternoon Dennhardt was that guy who was going to be a fourth starter for us, but I was trying to keep bullpen pitch counts at least somewhat down and moves had to be made.

When Robbie Anston was ejected from the game, Chris Kowalski was the guy I went with, partly because he's one of our only guys down in the bullpen with hitting experience. Anston's ejection ended up putting the pitcher in the 1-hole in the batting order. Kowalski got to about 60 pitches, which was certainly about as much as we could get out of him. At this point, we were out of position players.

The next option after Dennhardt, had we kept going, would have been someone like Oxley or Lasko, but at the time we went with Dennhardt.

EI: What did you do after the Texas game to prepare for Army? How difficult was the turnaround?

MA: We pretty much just went back to the hotel, got hydrated, ate, and went to sleep. I told them, get in good, deep sleep.

We didn't take batting practice or infield practice the next day. A few guys hit in the cage for about ten minutes.

We had an excuse to fold out there, but it didn't happen – our guys played at a high level. Army just made a few more plays than we did, and that was that.

I thought that Jon Leonard pitched great in that game, he pitched us out of a couple of jams. We handled their lineup pretty well, all around. The score reflected the game well – it was a tight game, a well-played game.

We had our opportunities, and so did they, and they took advantage one more time than we did.

EI: A few of your players could be selected in the upcoming MLB draft. What will they be doing to prepare?

MA: Some of them need a little bit of time off. Tony Sanchez is going to go home for a while, as is Mike Belfiore. They'll lift and work out, to stay and shape and get ready, but they'll be at home. Both of those guys will be drafted pretty high. J.B. MacDonald will also get drafted.

There's a chance that Robbie Anston and Barry Butera get drafted, and it depends on what round and what kind of money whether or not they'd go. And Harry Darling might get an opportunity, maybe as a free agent.

It would be great if we could get all our guys back, but obviously that's not realistic – Tony and Belf will definitely have a great opportunity to advance, and everyone has to do what's best for them.

EI: Who will be playing summer ball over the next few months?

MA: Just about all of our guys will be playing except for a few who are recovering from bumps and bruises. Mickey Wiswall will be down at the Cape Cod League, along with Leonard, Dennhardt, and Kevin Moran. Outside of the Cape we'll have guys scattered all over the country, with some in the NECBL and in New York, and a few guys heading down south.

The guys will do what they do every summer, they'll be bouncing around, working hard, and getting ready to come back strong next year.


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