CWS Pre-Series Press Conference
June 14, 2012
Omaha, Neb. - South Carolina head coach Ray Tanner, Kent State head coach Scott Stricklin, Florida head coach Kevin O'Sullivan and Arkansas head coach Dave Van Horn spoke on Thursday morning in the Pre-CWS Press Conference. Here are remarks from all four coaches.
BILL COUSINS: On the far end, Scott Stricklin of Kent State. Scott is 313 and 163 in his 8th season. And his baseball AD, Mike Ashcroft. Raise your hand if you have any questions for Coach Stricklin.
Coach Dave Van Horn of Arkansas, the Razorbacks are 44 20 out of the SEC. They are the winner of the Houston Regional, and the Waco Super Regional. Dave is 403 and 221 in his tenth season at Arkansas. And Chad Crunk is his baseball SID. Chad, where are you?
Then the 8:00 o'clock game tomorrow night, South Carolina, Coach Tanner, the two time defending national champions are 45 17 this year out of the SEC. The number 8 national seed, and the winner of the Columbia Regional and Super Regionals, 734 313 in his 16th season at South Carolina, and 1129 486 3 in his 25th season as a college head coach. Andrew Kitick on the side is the baseball SID.
Of course, Florida, the No. 1 national seed, 47 18 out of the SEC. The No. 1 national seed, winner of the Gainesville Regional and Super Regionals, Kevin is 223 100 in his fifth season with the Gators, and John Heinz, the baseball SID. And John is over here.
First of all, Scott, give us an opening statement about the Flashes, and welcome to Omaha.
SCOTT STRICKLIN: Thank you. We're thrilled to be here. This is the first time in school history that Kent State has gotten past the Regional level. Our goal coming into this season was to try to get out of a Regional, get to a Super Regional. Our motto is anything can happen once you get there. To be in Omaha is a dream come true for our players, for our coaching staff, and we're trying to soak it in right now. That is probably the biggest question we're getting is what does it feel like? It's very surreal right now.
I think you'll enjoy watching our team play. We play very hard. We've got 34 very good baseball players on our team, and 27 are with us now. 27 are players from Ohio and 7 from Western Pennsylvania, so we recruit from home.
Like I said, we're very thrilled to be here, and excited to be on the stage with these three great coaches and just thrilled to death to be here.
DAVE VAN HORN: Kind of the same thing. Just thrilled to be here. It's been a ride this year. This season has been something else. It's been exciting and disappointing a little bit of everything. I tell you, getting through the Super Regional is very special. So, again, just extremely excited to be here and can't wait to get on the field.
KEVIN O'SULLIVAN: We're excited about being here. We had a very good season, but like everybody else, we had some ups and downs. We had some expectations going into the season. I was very, very pleased with our players and how they handled those expectations.
Obviously, playing in the SEC was very, very challenging for our team. I think the other coaches would say as well it hopefully prepares you for the postseason. We got by a very, very good N.C. State team in the Super Regional, and they were very, very competitive. Obviously very, very good, and we're fortunate enough to be here.
We're excited about being here. Excited about the opportunity to compete for a National Championship.
BILL COUSINS: Ray, I know you've never played Kevin before, so.
Ray Tanner: Well, we may be a little bit biased sitting up here, but I think that this is the best event the NCAA has to offer across all sports. I know that maybe football or basketball might say something different, but I've heard a lot of people talk about the College World Series in Omaha, and it just doesn't get any better.
For the players and coaches, it's very, very special. Every single chance you get to be here, it is a dream come true, and we're delighted to be here.
I'm proud of our players. We started at the beginning of the year with a very, very young team and some veterans. We're probably here today because of our veteran players. They had a little more patience than I did with the young guys. I was a little bit anxious early.
I was probably a little bit hard to play for for those young guys. And the older guys took them under their wings and helped them mature and develop, and they got better as we went through the season.
Had some close games down the backstretch, and we were able to win enough to be here. So we're very, very excited to be a part of this field.
Q. Ray and Kevin, what are some of your most vivid memories from your first trip to the College World Series? What did you remember most, and what stuck out the most from that first experience coming to Omaha?
Ray Tanner: I'll be honest with you. I guess it was in 2002, my first trip here. I couldn't contain myself, to be honest with you. As a player and a coach, you always dream of getting to go to Omaha, and I never had that opportunity as a player probably because I played. Eventually we were fortunate enough to come.
I remember when we got here, I said I can't handle this. I got to gather myself a little bit so my team doesn't see how I really am.
So when we got here, we checked in at the Hilton Garden Inn, and I talked to the general manager of the hotel, and I said, hey, I need a special favor. He said what's that? I said I've got to go to Rosenblatt. He said, well, it's like 9:30. I said well, just take me over there, we'll get in. He said it could be locked. I said we'll get in.
So I went over there, I had to get in I had to kind of get there to soak it all in. That's how sacred it was. And how excited I was. I had to sort of get my bearings with the whole thing. That was my most vivid memory of the whole experience of Omaha. Baseball is great, but when you talk about the College World Series in Omaha, it goes deep with players and coaches. I got in.
KEVIN O'SULLIVAN: I've been fortunate enough to come as an assistant when I was at Clemson, obviously, and now at Florida as a head coach. I think when you're younger and you're an assistant, it's all about the wins. You're so focused in on the games, that you kind of lose the feel of the whole experience here.
For me as a head coach, I think I've got a much better feel for what this event is all about. It's about the fans. It's about the players.
Of course we all want to win, but there is so much this event has to offer that I think the older you get and the more times you're able to luckily, hopefully get out here, you learn something every time you come out here.
But for me, this trip never gets old. I think the more times that you get close to getting to Omaha, you realize how difficult it is to actually get here. So for me, I'm trying to enjoy it a little bit more, and hopefully the players will as well.
Q. Ray and Kevin, your two teams have obviously had some pitch battles here the last couple of years, including the end of last year. Do you consider what's going on as a rivalry? I know that has a negative connotation sometimes, but do you consider each other the rivals now?
KEVIN O'SULLIVAN: I don't know if rivalry is the right word. I think there is mutual respect on both sides. Last year when South Carolina beat us, they beat us fair and square. They played better. There was nothing for our players to hang their heads about.
I think Ray and Dave will tell you the same thing. There are a lot of good teams in the SEC. I think we would all agree that there are other teams in this league that could be sitting here right now, and there is a mutual respect throughout the league. There are a lot of good players in our league. All the coaches are obviously very talented.
But as far as the rivalry, I don't know. I've got a great deal of respect for Ray and his program. I will tell you that. Every time you play them, you have to play your best. It's never going to be easy. Obviously, Saturday night will be no different.
Ray Tanner: I agree with Kevin. We've had some good games and good battles, but rivalry does sometimes have a negative connotation. I think it's all about respect as it is up and down our league, just go out and play. I think the players on both sides really enjoy it. Nobody likes to lose, of course, but you really enjoy it.
I knew that when Coach O'Sullivan went to Florida, they were headed to the top. When I heard that Jeremy Foley hired Kevin, my response was dang, because I knew what was coming. He's excelled. He's excelled as a player. He's excelled as an assistant coach, and it doesn't get any better. His impact on the Gators is evident.
Q. Can all four coaches talk about the evolution of the game and how important defense has become from back in the late '90s when it was Gorilla Ball? And for all of you, how important defense has become for you?
SCOTT STRICKLIN: I think that's why we're here pitching and defense. We've got an outstanding pitching staff, our defense has been, the last seven weeks, as good as any team I've ever had. So I think that every coach here is going to tell you they've bunted more than they ever have before. We all still love the three run home run, but it doesn't happen as often.
So you're going to have to execute, you have to play defense. Your pitcher has to throw strikes, and that's why we're here. I don't know if we'd be here ten years ago with the bats and tennis racquets we were using before. But now the game is a better game. At least for me. It's a better game. It's more enjoyable. You've got to coach, and you've got to execute. I think it's a big reason why we're here.
COACH: If you look at the statistics for all eight teams here, the batting averages vary, the home runs vary, but one thing that is pretty close is the E.R.A.; all the teams are good. They have low E.R.A.s. they can pitch. Field percentage is pretty good. It's a big part of the game. We wouldn't be here if it was just all about offense, we wouldn't be here. We have to pitch and try to find a way to win.
But it's happened over the last couple of years, you can see it coming. We planned on it a couple years back. I made this comment many a time. We started investing more scholarships in pitching than we had in the past. We'd always run short. You always feel like you need another player, another hitter, another pitcher. But for the most part, this is the deepest staff I've had, and that's why we're here.
KEVIN O'SULLIVAN: I agree with both coaches. I think our success has certainly been because of our pitching defense. The hitting, regardless of how good a lineup any of these teams have had, we've all been through a two or three week stretch where we haven't hit or executed offensively. It almost seemed like a virus that went from one team to the next.
Speaking with coaches, the teams that were able to stay above water were the ones that were able to pitch and play defense on a day to day basis.
I agree with Dave. We've changed our recruiting, a little bit more speed, definitely defensively oriented and pitching, you can never have enough.
Ray Tanner: I never thought I'd see it like it is today. You remember the years that coach had all the big bats at LSU. He also pitched very well. But it was offense and pitching. Although four, five years ago the talk was that the bats were going to change, I wasn't so sure that it would be like it is today.
I think it is a great game. My sister told me a couple years ago we're going to find out if you can coach or not now, because she thought I just sat over there and waited for the three run homer, which I kind of like that, but it has gone away.
As Coach Stricklin said, it just doesn't happen, 25 feet less, and that's drastic. So you've got to stay close and turn the double play, keep the game in order, and not make too many errant throws and you have a chance. If you can just play good defense, you might trail, but you're not going to be down by seven or eight. You have to manage every pitch. A lot of positives, but it is hard to hit home runs.
Q. Ray, what plays or moments stand out the most to you over those two seasons?
Ray Tanner: We've been lucky more times than once, so we just had a few atom balls and those kind of things. It's really the double play ball that gets us out of trouble. We had the line drive against Virginia, and a couple groundball double plays. The play Wingo made, Robert Barry made, those are incredible plays. You can't do it in practice. You have to make plays, you have to have good players and you have to have some luck too. I don't think there is any question about that.
Once you get to this point, and I know that there's maybe two or three teams here that may be the favorites, it really comes down to who is going to make the plays and the pitches and come up with this big hit. I don't think it's a magic formula now. It's just who plays the game the best.
Q. Coach Stricklin and Coach Van Horn, could you talk about your experiences coaching together last summer negatively and positively how that might impact a match up coming up?
SCOTT STRICKLIN: Well, I certainly have a lot of respect for Dave Van Horn. Been around them in the recruiting circles at Georgia Tech, and I was excited when I was able to join that staff and be along with Dave and Tim and Rob. It was just a great experience for me as a young coach to learn how things are supposed to be done on a daily basis to learn the intensity that Coach Van Horn brings every day. That's what I try to do.
We had a lot of fun to be honest with you. It was a shortened team USA experience. It wasn't the six, seven, eight week thing they've had in the past. It was three weeks.
So we got a chance to spend a lot of time together on the bus, in the hotel, and got to meet each other's families. Anything, mutual respect. Respect for me. I'll let him answer the mutual part. But just love being around him, he's a great guy, great coach. As far as the negatives and positives come into this game, I don't think there's an advantage either way. We both know we want to win and we'll do anything we can to help our team win. From my perspective, a lot of respect towards Coach Van Horn.
DAVE VAN HORN: I can say basically all the same things. I really enjoyed this past summer, got to be around great players, great coaches, and it was pretty intense. Lot of traveling, lot of practice. We kept them busy.
I got to really watch Scott in action. He throws good BP. He's fun in the dugout, intense in the dugout. Couple times I had to remind him we're playing Japan, could you leave the umpires alone. I remember before the selection show, I was talking to the coaches at the tournament, one thing you don't want to face in a Regional is Kent State because they're up there. They have a chip on their shoulder. They play hard, and just a lot of respect for Scott. It was a great summer. I didn't know how it would go for me. I was nervous being away from our program that long, but it was well worth it.
The experience, and the memories and getting to know these guys on a personal level is it going to help us prepare more for his team? The only thing that has helped me with is I know how intense and how much he wants to win. That always makes me a little more nervous.
Q. Coach O'Sullivan, you've been here three straight years and had a lot of the same guys on those teams. Are you feeling extra pressure to get that ring this year because you might not have a lot of these guys next year?
KEVIN O'SULLIVAN: Obviously we all want to win. But our players will not perform if we put extra pressure on them. Bottom line, we get to this time of the year the players have to play. Us as coaches can only do so much. You try to get in the right frame of mind and hopefully your team is playing their best at the end, and playing injury free.
But at this point of the year, they have to go out and play. We've had a great run with a group of great guys that have done very, very well. For me, I just want to go out there and enjoy it and play as hard as they can. Whatever happens in the ballgame happens. But there is no extra pressure on our end. There are eight good teams here.
Just like Ray said, there may be a so called few favorites, but to be honest with you, everybody in this tournament field has equal chance as anybody. It just comes down to making pitches, making plays, and executing offensively. It's really as simple as that. We like our chances, but there is no extra pressure.
Q. Scott, a lot has been made this year, but also in the past about how difficult it is for northern teams to get to the College World Series. Does the fact that Kent State and Stony Brook got here take a lot of steam out of that argument?
SCOTT STRICKLIN: I think it's got to. We heard a lot of that coming out in February and March early in the season. Some northern coaches and some northern conferences talking about the disadvantages that we have. Well, we all know that. The north is the north, the south is the south. The weather is not going to change. Our sport is very weather dependent. What we've been able to do and what Stony Brook has been able to do is keep our local players home, keep the best players close to home, and develop a toughness about ourselves.
Like Coach Van Horn said, a chip on our shoulder. We have a lot of pride in what we do. We feel it year in and year out that we had a chance to get here. To be honest, we thought last year's team was the team that could get here. We felt like we were loaded last year. We had four kids going in the Top 10 rounds. We had a first rounder on the mound and got tripped up by Texas. That was the year we thought we could get here. The fact that we could get hear this year, I think is a testament to the toughness of our kids.
It is possible to get here. For two teams to do it this year is ironic because of the steam that was coming around with that argument. It does put some holes in that. We're thrilled to be here. We're thrilled to represent the north, and we hope it opens a lot of doors for some other schools.
Q. Kevin, last year you were on the opposite end of some of those great plays that South Carolina made. Looking back on it now, when you think about what Wingo did and Jake Williams making the throw, that ends up being the difference in games in winning and losing that championship series, doesn't it?
KEVIN O'SULLIVAN: Yeah, all the credit goes to those two young men. They made great plays. Obviously we were disappointed, but that's what championship teams do. It's as simple as that. They rise to the occasion. Wingo makes a great play, and the catcher finishes it off.
Williams makes a great throw home. I think for me all the credit goes to Scott Klein. They made the plays. But that's what championships do, and that's why they won it last year.
Q. Congratulations on making it to the College World Series. Two questions. One for Scott. Your thoughts on being here in Omaha with what we call the SEC midwest in Omaha against Arkansas and Florida and South Carolina in your bracket. And for every coach, a lot of people talk about TD Ameritrade Park and how it plays, sometimes it's more of a pitcher's park than a hitter's park. Will you be tweaking some of your philosophies based on that?
SCOTT STRICKLIN: First of all, we're thrilled. We saw the way the bracket was kind of taking shape when we were in the Super Regionals and we made the comment that we might be in there with the SEC. We're thrilled to do it. We're thrilled to be here.
We feel like we belong. These guys have all seen us play on TV. We've got a very good ballclub. We feel like we belong here. We played a very good Kentucky team in our Regional and beat them twice. So I think we've proven that we do belong here and we're proud to be here.
As far as your question about the park, it does play big, just from watching it on TV. We'll get to practice in it today. The two parks that we played in in the Regional and Super Regional in Gary, Indiana and Eugene, Oregon, same way. Very big parks. Only one home run was hit in the Regional and in Oregon, I believe. There was only one home run hit in our Super Regional.
We're not going to live with the long ball. Pitching and defense will come into play, and we're going to keep playing the way we play.
Q. Coach Van Horn, did you go see Rosenblatt with your team? The feelings about the nostalgia of that?
DAVE VAN HORN: We talked about that. Did I an interview the other day, and the reporter brought it up that they're going to open it up a little bit. I don't know all the details. I talked to our operations person about it. If we can work it out and you guys want to go. We'll make them go. I'd like to see it again. Had an opportunity to go over there a few times. Great set up and a lot of history.
Q. For all the coaches, something he said about having to coach better in an era where the bats lost their pop. Do you agree with that that you guys had to become better coaches, that it's been more of a fun process? In what way have you become better coaches over the years?
KEVIN O'SULLIVAN: I think making good decisions on where to throw the ball, keeping runners off the scoring position. But I think the biggest thing is offensively, you know, moving runners up from second to third with nobody out, making solid base running decisions. Basically, the fundamentals. If you don't do those well and don't move runners, I mean, a runner at third with two outs is a big thing.
But if you don't get that run in with an opportunity to score a run without getting a hit, often times that run will come back to hurt you.
Executing offensively has probably been the biggest change here in the last couple of years for us anyways.
COACH: I totally agree. It really started last season. We figured it out in the 2011 season that we were going to have to do the little things well. Bunting and maybe putting runners in motion with hitting and running, and being able to field bunts. Pitchers did a lot more defensive work with our pitchers. Just more hitting the cutoff man and keeping that runner from going from home plate to second on the throw to the plate. Just keeping runners out of scoring position.
I know in 2011, we played 20 plus one run games and another 10 or 12 two run games. We played 33 or 34 two run games, and it's basically been the same this year. We've been on both sides of those one run games this year. We played six or seven extra inning games in Southeastern Conference play alone. So the games were tight. Just the littlest things would come back and bite you.
You'd go back to the hotel room, and as a coach, you lose by running and you sit there and dissect the game, and it usually comes down to something small. Like Kevin says, you get a runner to third base, and you don't score that runner, it's very disappointing, because you know how critical that run is going to end up being. Yeah, it's not about just slapping the ball in the gap like it used to be.
COACH: We won four out of five of our wins at the Regional and Super Regional level by one run. You look at Eugene Oregon, when Campbell made that catch in right center, Scott moved him over just before that pitch. So defensive alignment. Our win on Monday, was a sac bunt by Evan Campbell again, to move the guy over and we get the win. So defensive alignment and offensive execution is going to win games.
Ray Tanner: I think we've all had teams years ago that could hit a hundred home runs. Now you can hit half of those. So you're really forced offensively to try to manage the game with more heightened awareness. I've had teams where when certain guys came to the plate, you'd get three, and maybe you'd run into one, and you didn't manage. You just let the game evolve.
It's so much different now. You're looking for an opportunity. If you're going to hit and run, let a guy take off, or if you're going to put a bunt down, you're always thinking about getting that run, because you just don't get too many, and you'd hate to see one left on the board when you get an opportunity.
So I just believe across the board, the heightened awareness among the coaches is at an all time high about getting that run home.
Q. Could you talk about your planned pitching rotations through your first few games?
KEVIN O'SULLIVAN: We're going to go Brian Johnson, game 1, and Hudson Randall game 2 .
DAVE VAN HORN: Yeah, we'll go with DJ Baxendale, and Ryan Stanek in that order.
SCOTT STRICKLIN: David Starn will go game 1 for us. And Ryan Bores will go Game 2.
Q. Dave, can you give your thoughts on what you felt when you saw the bracket for the first time and South Carolina and Florida were matched up in an opening round game? Knowing what you know about those teams, what kind of a game do you expect on Saturday night?
DAVE VAN HORN: Just talking about those two teams, we had the opportunity to play them, I don't know if it's an opportunity, but we play them every year. I just know how talented they are. I knew that they were probably thinking how did this happen. As coaches they're both friends of mine. I respect them a lot.
Like they both said, and I guess what I thought is that we're probably going to have to play each other anyways. They've both had tremendous years, but actually my first thought was who are we going to play? I think that's my biggest concern is just trying to figure out how to beat Scott's team.
Q. Scott, even though you guys make it here for the first time, it seems like Stony Brook is kind of the darling of the nation right now. How do you view that? Do you feel that you're not getting as much love as you deserve? Or do you feel that that could work to your advantage that everybody's over there with Stony Brook?
SCOTT STRICKLIN: We're getting all the love we need, trust me. We're getting plenty of exposure. Northeast Ohio and Western Pennsylvania, we're getting all the exposure that we need. We don't recruit nationwide anyway. But I feel we're getting a lot of respect. I'm thrilled for Stony Brook. The thing I'm most thrilled about is they're in the other bracket. Let them be in that bracket, let us be in the other bracket. Just thrilled for them and watching them play.
We all saw them play. They're really good. Watching their order, 1 through 9, that's as good an offensive team as I've seen this year.
They certainly deserve to be here. I'm happy for them, and I'm certainly happy to be here and be in the other bracket, and we'll take all the fan that's we can get, but we're not disappointed in losing any spotlight at all.
Q. Coach O'Sullivan and Coach Tanner, having played Arkansas this year, when someone brings up Arkansas to you, what is the first thing that comes to your mind?
Ray Tanner: The first thing, we played in Fayetteville and, the first thing in my mind then and still is can you get on the board and score? Their pitching is really, really good. They've got some good players, but it's much like Coach O'Sullivan's team, they can shut you down.
You're very fortunate if you get an opportunity to score some runs or get a seeing eye dog or bloop somewhere to get things going. They're not going to go out there and smack it around. That's how good they are. Very, very impressed with their arms and how they've been able to win.
KEVIN O'SULLIVAN: Same thing. Pitching and sinkers. They put the ball on the ground, and they battle at the plate. They're very aggressive during the count. They have some guys in the middle of the order that can really hurt you. And I think Dave does a really, really good job of handling his bench. He'll utilize his bench when he sees fit, so you have to stay on your toes and have a lefty in the pen. He does a good job getting the most out of his players.
But like we said from the beginning, it all starts from the pitching, and their pitching is as good as anybody's in the country, to be quite honest with you.
Q. Dave, South Carolina's closer over the years has been a shut down guy for them. What is it about him that makes them so special?
KEVIN O'SULLIVAN: Big game pitcher, bottom line. He wants the ball at the end of the game. It's hard to find guys like that at this level. He's done it so many times, time and time again. You know he's going to attack you. He rarely ever has a bat outing. He's consistent, he's competitive, and on top of that, he's really good. He's got good stuff. He's challenging.
It's kind of like our pen. The rest of the guys up here, when you have a guy down there, it really does shorten the game. So when you do get those opportunities to score early in the game with a runner at third with less than two outs, you've got to get that run in because you know that guy's hitting down there.
Ray has done the same thing I have in terms of using your closer not just in the ninth. But if you get in trouble in the 7th, there are two outs with two runners on he's not afraid to bring in price at that point. The game really does get shortened up.
DAVE VAN HORN: That's what I see. He can come in with seven outs. He's coming in with two outs, bases loaded in the 7th inning, whatever it takes, he can still finish it up. He's strong, got experience, he comes in and throws strikes. He's been there and done that, and very confident when he comes out of that bullpen. I like his mentality as well. He's good.
Q. Ray, you talked about being a little looser and embracing some of the fun stuff that your players have wanted to do. What was the impetus for that change? Why did you decide to loosen up? When do you feel that happened? Was it something someone suggested to you?
Ray Tanner: I think it was suggested by the players who exited the program when they get a chance to give some input back. They don't do it too much when they're playing you work hard, you play hard, you coach them hard. And not to be a cynic, but I think it's changed a lot. I probably didn't have as much fun as I needed to as well. I remember a number of players.
Adam Everett was probably the first person to say to me, you need to have fun. Allow your players to have fun. Coach Toman who is the head coach at Liberty now said if you don't change, you're going to be out, because it was just a lot of stress. I was tough at heart. I thought that's the way you did it for the most part.
I think Coach Van Horn and I have had this conversation a couple of times about how we manages and we're so intense. Sometimes you have to let it go a little bit.
Michael Roth has been a great influence on me, no doubt. He's not going to do that. He's going to have some fun. Win, lose or draw, he's an amateur. He's going to have some fun playing college baseball. I just got to the point, where, hey, you don't have to have stress and anxiety to win. That usually causes you to struggle. Just have some fun and play hard, and hopefully it works out.
There is no way that a lot of pressure, stress and anxiety are going to make you a better team.
Yeah, I was guilty. I was a young coach at one point. I was 27 when I became a head coach, so it took me a while to get to the point that you could enjoy it a little bit more.
Ray Tanner: It was probably late 90's, 2000s before I started to enjoy it a little bit more.
Q. Dave and Scott, obviously being here, is it any extra special for you guys because you're playing for the teams you're coaching?
DAVE VAN HORN: It is for me. I can't speak for Scott. But it's always special when you're coaching where you play. You know, my wife went to the University of Arkansas, I could go on and on. I had a lot of friends in the area. It was awfully special when I was in Nebraska, and you get to bring the school you played for back and have a chance to play at this level for a National Championship. Probably the only thing better is winning it all. That's something we're hoping we can accomplish this year and in the future.
SCOTT STRICKLIN: I met my wife at Kent State, very proud alumni. To be the head coach at my alma mater is very special. Our stories are very similar. We're back at the place where we learned how to become a man. It's great to be a head coach to pass that along to our players.
Q. Dave, you talked about knowing the guys on your left and having to get ready for the unknown. Could you talk about what's involved for a crash course for a team like Kent, and what did you learn?
DAVE VAN HORN: I truly believe by being around Scott for approximately a month, this past summer, I learned a lot about him and his personalities, his make up, and the way he runs his club. Just through conversations on the field, off the field, dinner, whatever, on the bus; and then we tried to it's not like Kent State came out of nowhere. They've been pretty good for a long time, and Scott's taken them to another level. Some great coaches go through there. He's just taken it through the roof. So we all knew about them.
Like I said, that's a club you don't want to see pop up in the Regional in the first round game. Then to have the opportunity to watch a little bit of some games that were on and try to dissect it a little bit. So that's really about what you can do this time of the year. You go around and try to get scouting reports and try to find out if there are any tendencies on pitchers or pitch selection.
And David Lyon, the starting catcher calls most of the pitches. I know Scott had a little band on there. You know, Dave, I've coached him. He's intense. He's a winner. Can't hardly throw the ball by him. He blocks everything.
We kind of know what we're up against, and we know we're up against one of the best eight teams in the country at this time of the year.
Q. Could you give me an idea how impressive it is that South Carolina has won back to back championships this is six out of 11 years in the College World Series?
SCOTT STRICKLIN: It's near impossible. But somehow Coach Tanner has done it. To be back here again is a testament to their program, their coaching staff and what they've been able to develop. The tradition that they have there. Going back 20 years ago, he's built the tradition. The tradition has been built by Ray Tanner.
So now that is a destination for recruiting. That's where they want to go, and it's tough for all of us, if we ever have to recruit against that.
It's an unbelievable accomplishment. To be back here going for a third straight, it's pretty hard to understand how much of a feat that is.
DAVE VAN HORN: Getting here is so hard, and then to win it in back to back years. I remember when Oregon State won it back to back, I thought that was amazing. I thought that would never happen again, and then Ray did it. I remember talking to Ray a couple years ago, and they were up and down a little bit. We were talking at the conference tournament, and I won't go into the whole conversation, but it wasn't going great, I don't think, for them.
Next thing you know, they're winning the National Championship. I talked to him next time, and he was all smiles. You remember that conversation? That was great. Everything seems to be going good in South Carolina now.
Every time we play them, it's the same team. They're so steady. They don't make hardly any mistakes. Their fielding percentage every year is around .980, which is incredible. I picked his brain to figure out how he's doing it. From the little things. I go to the convention and make sure when South Carolina guys are speaking, I write down notes, because if you stop learning, you're going to go the other way.
Then they get here the last six out of 11 years, because we know how hard it is to get here.
KEVIN O'SULLIVAN: Playing in the SEC is difficult. Everybody's going to have their bumps in the road. But the thing that's been remarkable is Ray gets his teams to play the best at the end of the year. That is our goal as coaches to try to do that.
It really didn't hit me how much it was until we were flying back last year. You know, to win one National Championship is all of our goals. But to do it in back to back years is an unbelievable accomplishment.
Like these other guys said, testimony to Ray, his coaches, the players he has.
For me, to go back to the beginning, to get your team to play the very best at the end, it's been a great run for him, his coaches and his players for sure.
Q. Coach Stricklin, your play by play by was on local radio this morning talking about your starting pitcher in Game 1. Said he was a former walk on, but was the all time strikeouts leader for Kent State. Could you talk about him? Also, there are a lot of local baseball fans here that are kind of neutral but tend to get behind a Cinderella team. In the short time you've been here, have you sensed you pick under some fans here too?
SCOTT STRICKLIN: No question the fans have been welcoming to us and our players. We've heard that comment before, looking for a team to root for. Looking forward to seeing you play. People will enjoy watching us play. We're just a bunch of dirt bags. Kid that's play the game hard. We don't necessarily look like we belong in a uniform. We got a couple of guys that look like bat boys instead of three hole hitters, but they play the game.
I think people will enjoy that. As far as David Starn goes, David was a walk on. We did not offer him a scholarship. He won the state championship in high school, but he was throwing 79 to 81 miles an hour. I went to go watch him his senior year in high school, and I was standing there with the assistant coach at the University of Akron and his 7 year old son. And David was pitching, and he was not pitching well. I looked at the University of Akron's coach's son, 7 years old, and I said do you like that pitcher? And he looked me in the eye and he goes, no. And I said, you know what, I agree with you.
About a month later, David ended up winning the state championship. Cleaned things up. Pitched really well, and we offered him a walk on spot. Again, you can say we're really smart for taking him, but we're really lucky because he could have gone anywhere. He chose us and we're fortunate. He's the most decorated pitcher in Kent State history.
Q. Lot of times when a team has a streak like you have going in the NCAA Tournament, 21 in a row, lot of times it puts pressure on you. I get the sense that for your guys it gives them confidence rather than being an albatross. It's more of an injection.
Ray Tanner: Well, it's something. These guys have been awfully kind with their comments, but it's something that we really don't embrace that. It's hard to think about those kind of things. When it's being said, it's almost like that's not us. We're not a team that's had four or five first round draft pick.
We've got some good players like these programs as well. But it's a situation where our players are at a school that supports baseball. There are resources. There is a tremendous fan commitment. Just like in Gainesville and these other programs in the SEC, you have a chance that if you can win enough games to get to the postseason, you have an opportunity.
Our guys don't think that they're unbeatable by any stretch of the imagination. They do think we have a chance. It's confidence, but it's not arrogance. It's respect for the other team and perspective. Have we been lucky? Has it been a tremendous run? Absolutely. It's kind of hard to even imagine it to be honest with you.
But it's simple for our guys. I listen. I'm one of those coaches where if we're stretching or they're in the dugout or on the bus I eavesdrop. I want to know what conversations are going, Oh, they're talking about their girlfriends or the 6 4 3 the day before, and that never comes up. It's about let's go play, and get in position to win the game and keep it simple. That's kind of the way they are. We've been lucky.
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