Ask Dave: On the Road to Omaha

The Titans are headed to Omaha and Cal State Fullerton assistant Dave Serrano talks about how we got here as well as what to look for once we get there. First of all congratulations. What a great weekend it was for the players, coaches and fans. Did you ever think Cal State Fullerton could have two consecutive sellouts? And what about all the people they turned away on Saturday night?

Coach Dave Serrano: Obviously winning was very special but what we saw for the first time ... we've had tremendous fans throughout but to see the community really support the team was exciting. I even made a comment to coach Horton in the eighth inning of that Saturday night game, I said, "Cal State Fullerton has finally arrived." It wasn't just about the number of people in the park it was about the things they did to get our team continually going. What they did for Bacani in the ninth inning [standing ovation], the roar they gave to Merrell when he came off the mound, what they did for Saarloos on Friday night and for Rifkin and Rouse ... it was phenomenal. I want to go on record to thank everybody that was in the crowd and helped us get through these regionals and propel us into Omaha.
I guess you were right on the hitch Darric Merrell had from our last meeting. He said after the game he was nervous in that first inning but how close were you to taking him out of the ballgame?

Coach Dave Serrano: He wasn't perfect and we all get nervous. You wouldn't be human if you said there weren't any butterflies in those type of games but he battled. He was plenty good enough to get us into the seventh inning and then we handed the ball to Mike [Nunez] who did a phenomenal job. He only threw to two hitter but was on the mark and then give the ball to Chief [Chad Cordero] for the last two. And our offense continues to make it easy on us and hopefully we can continue to score more runs than the opponents.

[As for how close], I did get a guy up but he did what he's done a lot this year. He got a big ground ball double play and that was huge. Then he started to get it going even though he was behind in the count some he made pitches when he had to. He's done that for us all year and he pitched good enough for us to win. Yes he was behind in the count a lot but how much did that have to do with the umpire changing his strike zone all night?

Coach Dave Serrano: Yeah, I would say the strike zone was a little different. I thought it was a little small. I thought early on Mississippi State was getting some low pitches and Darric wasn't but he didn't let it beat him. It shows the sign of his maturity for a freshman that he overcame that. Like I said, it wasn't perfect but it was plenty good enough.
Head coach George Horton said he had never seen anything like the performances of Rouse and Rifkin on consecutive days. How about you?

Coach Dave Serrano: No and it was kinda neat how it happened because coach Horton had jokingly said to the team Saturday, "Someone else can be the hero tonight. I don't think we can expect Mike to hit another three home runs so someone else will have to do it." He said it in a joking manner and sure enough Rifkin came through and did it.
As a pitching coach, this weekend couldn't have gone any better. Sure the Mississippi State players were not known for knocking the ball out of the yard but Saarloos appeared to have some real nasty stuff Friday night. What do you think, did Saarloos have his "A" game that night?

Coach Dave Serrano: No he didn't. In my opinion he didn't and I'm not trying to be tough and I think he would agree with me on that. His command wasn't as good as it has been. His ball was really moving a lot That was the same but I don't think his stuff was as good as I've seen him this year. Again, just like I said about Darric, it was plenty good enough to help the Titans win and that's ultimately the most important thing.
David Bacani was pretty emotional after the game. It was kind of bittersweet for him being that he has played his last game as a Titan. He's obviously a fan favorite but big an influence does he have in the dugout?

Coach Dave Serrano: Yeah, I think so. He'll get the team going. He'll say things at the right time when he feels like we're a little flat but I think the team responds more to what he does on the field than what he does in the dugout. I think a lot of our guys are like that. We have a lot of leaders but I think we have leaders more by action than we do words. I consider Kirk a leader, I consider Jon Smith a leader. There's guys on this team who aren't the super stars, the Spider Martin's, the Louie Lamoure, who are leaders and they do it by the way they play the game. I credit a lot of our success not just to what they've done physically on the field but to what our senior leadership has done for this team. ..

Coach Horton has done a really good job of molding this team together and bringing it close together. He mentioned at the press conference of the team functions, we've had more than ever before. The players really enjoyed it. They stayed longer than they were even supposed to because they wanted to be around each other. This team is close and I think the love for one another on this team is what has gotten to this point and will carry us as long as we keep scoring more runs than the opponent.
With the baseball draft tomorrow how do you handle this with the players?

Coach Dave Serrano:
We hope it doesn't come into play. Guys are going to be drafted, guys are going to be happy, there's going to be guys disappointed. We did talk about that today and made a vow as a team that we weren't going to talk about that when we are in a team function. You can talk about it with your roommate in your room, you can talk about it with someone else but when we're with the team we weren't going to deal with that. It's about Titan Baseball, it's about the Titans being together and whether you're excited or disappointed by the draft that wasn't going to come into play, not until June 17th which would be the day after the championship game.
Okay, so we're going to Omaha. You and the coaches have been there as well as some of the players but you are going to see something on Friday night that no one has ever seen before: Lots and lots of red. How do you prepare the team for this extra hurdle?

Coach Dave Serrano: That's exactly right. It's going to be the first time, since when Creighton played, it's a dominant crowd for one team. This will be my third trip. Coach Vanderhook has been there seven times. Some of our players have been there once but nobody has experienced what we're going to experience on Friday night. But it's good.

Coach Horton said to the team today, Ken Ravissa talked to the team today. It's going to be uncomfortable but we've dealt with uncomfortable and it's going to be good... hopefully we'll come out on the good end of it, just to relish it. We're going to walk into that stadium and our players are going to look around and just go, "Wow! This is unbelievable." As long as we play the game like we've done all year long and just enjoy what the crowd is doing I think we'll be okay.

What goes unnoticed is we have been working all year with Ken Ravissa in our mental training and he does a tremendous job in preparing our guys for that. I'll tell you what's helped our team more than in the past is we are on OCN now. We get to play in front of some good crowds this year going into some other environments which has always been the case but we have been on TV. Omaha is different. It's more than just a baseball game. It's kind of a carnival atmosphere with a baseball game being played. It's like they are in the big leagues now and they're going to have to accept the fact things are going to be different and uncomfortable. If they say the game times is at 6:03, for TV's sake it's 6:03. In between inning the pitchers have a 90 second window for commercial breaks. For the regular season it's not 90 second it's when you throw your five warm-ups.

We've dealt with this and talked about this all year long and I don't think there's another team in Omaha that is more prepared mentally for what we're about to see than the Titans are.
So do you have a rotation set yet?

Coach Dave Serrano: Yes we do. We have decided today to go with Jon Smith in the first game. There are a couple reason why we are doing this. We feel he's a better match -- not saying Kirk isn't a good match against anybody -- but when you map out the whole schedule of what our goal is, and that's to be playing for the National Championship, it makes sense.

Jon would go Friday and you're going to have Darric available for relief, you're going to have Nunez available for relief, you'll have Cordero available for relief and you'll have Saarloos available for one inning. So you're going to have all those guys in the mix and if Nebraska can beat us with all those guys then they deserve to beat us.

And we'll come back Sunday, win or lose, and that will be Saarloos' game. Our next game would be Merrell's game. Hopefully we're 2-0 going into Wednesday's game and Merrell pitches and if for some reason we lose that game, Johnny (Smith) pitches the "if" game that next Friday and then you have Saarloos for the Championship.

So we're going to be able to throw our best bullets a lot of times in these games and that's what happens in the College World Series with all the days off, rightly so. You're going to have to beat the best and they're going to have to beat your best.

And if we're fortunate enough to go 3-0, which is going to be very tough to do, then that championship game we'll have Saarloos, Smith and Cordero all available to pitch.

... We were finally able to rest Johnny and he's going to be at full strength and I think it will work out good for us
Nebraska early Scouting report?

Coach Dave Serrano:
Very solid baseball team. Kind of similar to us. They're aggressive. They like to run the bases and the guy we're going to face on Friday night, Shane Komine, is a very, very good pitcher. Comparable to Kirk Saarloos. A good college pitcher who's won a lot of games and is going to be very tough to beat. He's a pitcher. He can throw two or three pitches over the plate, he mixes it well and he's a fierce competitor.

They handily won the Big 12 which is a good conference. They went through their conference tournament and they won that. One advantage we do have is how many player we have back who have College World Series experience and the fact that I think the pressure's on all them because they're playing in front o all those people. All the fans are there for them and I think there's going to be more pressure on them then there will be on us.
I believe CBS gets to pick the game but why USC and Georgia and were there are hard feelings?

Coach Dave Serrano:
We kind of felt that this morning that they would go this route because of that one which wasn't completed until today. Our goal is to play on CBS for the championship game. Believe me we will forget all about not playing on CBS Saturday afternoon if we can play it on June 16th.