What do you know about Virginia's offense? "They're hitting over .300 in ACC play and they're hitting over .300 for the year. I just think it's a really solid club. The other thing that jumps out at you is they don't strike out a ton, and they walk a ton. So they get the on-base component. They're a really solid club defensively. And the pitching part of it is really solid. They pitch to early contact."
"50-10, that's not an accident. There's reasons, there's components that build that process that allowed that to happen. And certainly they've been dynamite at home."
Does the size of their park also play to Mississippi State's strengths? "Well certainly if you look at the numbers one of two things is happening in their ballpark. Either the ballpark plays big, or the pitching has been dominant. And its probably a combination of both. So there's no secret we're pretty comfortable in a bigger environment. I thought that hurt us a little bit at Florida State last year."
"But that's part of being a good ballclub, is adapting to your environment. And I think our kids are very aware of the ballpark. You know, baseball is one of those really tight-knit communities. Because our players, of the people they've played with and against and their friends in the baseball community, they probably know a lot more about that ballpark than we do because they're constantly texting, tweeting their friends."
Have you set the pitching plans yet? "I'm not ready to commit to that, but I'm anticipating Kendall Graveman will start game-one. Just looking at the matchup and on film, I would anticipate it would be Kendall. But we're not going to pull the trigger on that quite yet because we don't have to. But that is probably the direction we go."
Because this isn't a true series but a best-of-three does that change the pitching approach? "Everybody is available for sure. But certainly things change from week-to-week. Who is hot in your lineup, who is hot on the mound for you. We certainly do not want to leave Charlottesville without Chad Girodo pitching, that changes things; you don't want to leave town without Jonathan Holder pitching. We feel Trevor Fitts is somebody, I thought he was brilliant the other night. We did not defend behind him but I thought he was fantastic. So we have some options for sure."
After a rough stretch Graveman had a good Regional start? "I thought he was great. I think Kendall is just one of those guys that is a competitor, you just want him on the mound because our kids believe in him so much. And I'm not saying we have kids our players don't believe in, because I think they believe in everybody on our pitching staff. But Kendall is a senior, he's a captain, he wants the baseball. And certainly I think he got us off to a good start in the Regional."
Virginia has a lot of doubles and triples, how do you pitch them? "Yeah. Don't let them hit doubles and triples! Really work to the bottom and see if you can get ground balls, big hop ground balls and let your infielders work. They're a really solid, solid team. And I think the thing that is the most interesting about their team is you look at the preseason, they were not one of those clubs picked to be top-eight, 50-win types of teams. But certainly that's what they have become and there's a reason for that."
Virginia starts two lefthanders, does that change your batting order? "Again, having two switch-spots in our lineup really helps our cause. The other thing is we do have some flexibility with some other guys too. But when some of your best hitters are lefthanded hitters, you're not going to mess with that. And you know, sometimes some lefthanders, you see this a lot in our league, are much more effective against righthanded hitters than they are lefthanded hitters."
"So we'll look at all the matchups there and the statistical splits. But this is the time of the year when statistical analysis sometimes can drive you crazy. Because you pitch to that, you plan for that, and all of a sudden it doesn't play out that way. Because of adrenalin, because of the nature of this part of the season."
What is the appreciation in college baseball for Brian O'Connor and staff? "I think they've done a great job. One of the things I always look at is--because I went through this at Kentucky--I look at a roster. And they've done it with northern kids. People who are really arrogant from the deep South or from the West Coast, they think that all the great players come from the deep South or Florida or Texas or the West Coast. Boy, is that not the case."
"Brian's done a great job, and his staff, of getting great players from the Northeastern corridor of the United States. They're really good players, and there's no question those kids can play. They've had a plan all along, and they've stayed with their plan, and they've been very successful with that. I'm a big fan of what they've done. You look at the latitude or the longitude of Virginia and Kentucky, it's very similar. You can say, man, I've gotta have deep South players to compete in a Southern league, or I've gotta have West Coast players, I've gotta have this or that. The bottom line is, you need players who fit with what the identity of your club is. I'm a huge fan of what they've done up there. They have an outstanding program."
What is the similarity preparing for this super regional and your first one in 2011, do you tweak anything? "No, I don't think so. This is a time of year where there's nicks and bruises, so the kids who can work at it really hard, we're going to work at it. The kids who need more rest, you've got to give more rest to those guys."
"It's important to get in the weightroom at least a couple of times, which is something we're going to do. It's important for them. Believe or not, it's more difficult when school's not in session, because our kids have so much more time on their hands. Their days are so much more structured when school's going on, so we have to structure the days a little bit more for them. But you want them to have some time off. This is a fun time of year when you're doing nothing but playing baseball. There's only 16 teams left in the country. That's a pretty fun time. I remember experiencing that as a player, even though it was 162 years ago! I remember that. That's a pretty cool feeling."
The Major League draft starts tomorrow, how big a day is it for you and the program? "Well, I will tell you this. Yesterday, I'm trying to remember the exact number, it was in the number of 40, either a combination of phone calls, texts, asking me what time we were leaving tomorrow. And Coach Cohen is so smart that he could not figure out why everybody wanted to know what time we were leaving and what time we were landing? And then it struck me that the amateur draft was Thursday night!"
"I think we're leaving around 3:30, and there was some debate as to whether we were going to be on a plane during the beginning of the draft on Thursday night. I think we get in at something like 6:45 or 7 o'clock, somewhere thereabouts, Eastern time. But that's how much I've thought about the draft. Even though all the clues were presented to me, I could not figure out why everybody was asking me that question! I think our kids' priorities are in the right place. All of them are really interested in doing all we can to try and win a super regional against a great club."
Who was blowing-up your phone? "People. Everybody who has my number, which is everybody, including every one of you guys."
Would you like the draft held later? "My standard quote on radio shows and things like that has been, I would just love to see the look on SEC football head coaches if anybody brought up the issue of the draft being during their postseason preparation. Like, I would love to see the facial expression at an SEC head coaches meeting if someone brought up the fact, hey, we're going to move the NFL Draft into December while you're preparing for your bowl game, and just see how that flies!"
"But certainly our sport is different, because baseball's a 365-day-a-year event, whereas I think other sports are much more structured in terms of what their season is. Maybe there's not a good time to have the professional baseball draft. It doesn't make a lot of sense, but baseball being played in the coldest months of the year doesn't make a lot of sense either, especially when you're up north. But that's something you just have to deal with and work through it. It's an exciting time, it's a fun time. You don't want to take anything away from your players who are going to have that experience, but I would, I'd like it to be removed from our season."
Moving the signing deadline up to mid-July seems to help the schools? "That's been a good rule. Everything that's been amended around the draft has been good stuff. But, it certainly makes our life interesting. It's making 16 teams' lives a lot more interesting for sure."
Do these guys play better after hearing their name called in the draft? Do you think Renfroe will have a weight lifted off his shoulders? "I would imagine that would be the case for anybody who's called out. Yeah. Really, everybody's different."
"I remember somebody in our dugout telling me that I had been drafted during the College World Series. That's a strange sensation, when you're playing in the College World Series and somebody said, 'Hey, by the way, you were just drafted by the Minnesota Twins. Congratulations.' I would much rather it happen before and not during. That was standard for a long period of time, that the College World Series was going on during the draft."
Do you see a lot of similarities between your team and Virginia? "I'd like to, yeah. A club that's as good as Virginia, I'd love to be able to say we're very similar in a lot of ways. I do believe that to be the case. They're going to pitch, they're going to defend – I think there's some similarities there. There's not a ton of huge home run numbers, but really nobody in the country has a ton of huge home run numbers. They play in a bigger ballpark. They don't beat themselves. When we're really going well, that's another quality of our club, that we don't beat ourselves. Yeah, I think there are some similarities for sure."