Feb. 16, 2011
May 5, 2010
On the upcoming alumni golf outing: Alumni Weekend is an extremely important weekend for our program every year, for the kids on the team, the support staff and of course the alumni that come back to support us. I always look forward to not just having the alumni out at the golf outing but also to having them come out to the ballpark and see this year's version of the Wildcats. I always like for them to become familiar with the players that are in the program right now who are going to become part of the alumni association in the near future.
On the previous week of games: I thought last week was an important week for us. After getting a win last Sunday in the final game at USF, we really needed to continue building some momentum. We were able to do that in the middle of the week with wins over our Big Five rivals Temple and Saint Joseph's. We not only beat them but did so on the road and continued our goal from early in the year of improving our record in road games. Those two midweek games gave us some momentum going into the Georgetown series and I the guys went into the weekend playing a lot more relaxed. I saw us go back to doing the things offensively and defensively that we were doing early in the year.
On winning the first game against Georgetown: In that Friday game, Brian Streilein had a rough first inning but he settled down after that. Just like he always does, Brian gave us a chance to get the lead and have things go our way. In the late innings, we were caught by surprise when they tied it up but it is always nice to have a walk-off win. Once the game was tied, Julian Diaz and Mike Francisco did a great job to keep it that way and get us to the bottom of the ninth inning where we had a chance to win the game. Matt Fleishman got a two-out hit and that was what we needed to come away with a victory.
On the second and third games of the Georgetown series: Our defense in Saturday's game was a little disappointing and that just became too much to overcome once we got into the middle of the game. There was a little bit of a hangover effect into Sunday morning also and we were down 4-0 in the second inning on Sunday with not a lot of energy. We started to battle and get some guys on base and in the fifth inning a sacrifice bunt was the turning point that really opened things up for us with the bases loaded and nobody out. Just like we have seen before, Georgetown struggled with our bunt game and the next thing I know is there are 12 runs on the board. It was a great team effort on Sunday. When you play at home you have to be able to win the series and we accomplished that.
On coming back to win on Sunday: I thought the team was pretty calm the whole game, even when we fell behind by four runs early on. We knew Georgetown wasn't a great defensive team and I just thought we were looking for a little bit of a break that could get us going, not just in the game but in the BIG EAST overall. If they field the sacrifice bunt early in that inning we would have second and third with one out and maybe we just end up tying the game, but as it turned out we loaded the bases with nobody out and the door was cracked open a little bit for us. From there the offense just knocked them out. Everything was fine leading up to us having a big fifth inning, but I just thought that inning made us see the light at the end of the tunnel and we did a good job once we saw that.
On the Rutgers series this weekend: It is always exciting to go up to New Jersey and play. Rutgers is one of our true rivals in the conference and we have a dozen or so guys from New Jersey. If you look back at our all-time roster, we have a number of guys that were draft picks, eventual major leaguers and Villanova baseball Hall of Famers that came from New Jersey. It is always an important series when we play Rutgers and recently when we play them there always seems to be major playoff implications on the line for both teams. This weekend will be nothing different. We have beaten Rutgers in six of the last nine games played at their place so we hope to keep that trend going.
On not playing against Rutgers last season: I thought it was a disservice to us last year that we missed both Pittsburgh and Rutgers on the conference schedule. The schedule rotates each year so there are going to be seasons when you don't see rivals play each other, like maybe St. John's and Connecticut or Cincinnati and Louisville. But the one quirk in the schedule last year was that we missed both of our natural rivals in the same year. It is tough to miss either one but to miss both in the same year was odd. We have a number of young guys on the team and they will understand the importance of this series once we get up to New Jersey. I do think it will be a little bit of an eye opener for us. Our entire infield will be playing against Rutgers for the first time in their careers.
April 28, 2010
On coming back to win the final game of the USF series: The guys did a really good job. We were fighting a number of different things at that point and at the end of the day we were just trying to win a game in the BIG EAST. We had our team meeting before the game that morning and in those settings sometimes we talk about the game plan, sometimes we talk about effort and sometimes we just tell a story. In this meeting I talked about our trip down to USF two years ago and about being in the same spot playing USF when things didn't go our way in the first two games and we faced a must-win game on Sunday. I felt like we had to leave USF with a win, no question about it. We didn't have to win every single game the rest of the year but we had to leave on Sunday.
Some of the guys on the team this year were on that team in 2008 and they went out on Sunday and found a way to build some momentum that we could hang our hat on. I wanted the guys to understand that USF was going to make a run and that even in the game we won in 2008 we had a big lead and USF hit a grand slam that gave them the lead. In 2008 we came back to win that game and we were up against a similar situation this time around. I just told the team that the last time a Villanova team was in this situation we won the game.
I thought on Sunday we went out and played well. One of the keys was that we got some stuff going on early and that gave us enough energy to withstand the USF runs and be able to win the game. We expanded our lead, which was something we hadn't done recently and we also took walks and got on base and stole some bases. It was good to see the guys playing free and easy again because that is how we looked earlier in the season. I give Julian Diaz and Mike Francisco a lot of credit for not allowing USF to tie the game. They threatened and had us on the ropes but psychologically it was important that we kept the lead.
On what that win can do to spark the team to make a run in the BIG EAST: I think winning that last game just took the monkey off our back. It is one thing to not be playing well and to maybe alternate wins and losses but we were in a streak where we lost 12 games in a row in the BIG EAST. We went from winning our first two conference games and being in first place to being 2-12 and in last place. It just seemed like after we won that game everything went back to normal. The guys played relaxed and the win allowed us to go into Temple and Saint Joseph's this week with a chance to string together two or three wins in a row as opposed to needing the midweek games to stop a losing streak.
I noticed that the win on Sunday carried over into the game against Temple on Tuesday. The players were locked in and relaxed and the effort seemed to come easily. The guys had run in the dugout and we went out and bulldozed them in the early part of the game. Even when Temple made their run in the game there was no panic from our players.
On the way the team handled playing three difficult series on the road in a span of four weeks: Being 1-8 in that stretch on the road isn't good but my takeaway is that I thought we completed in all three weekends. There were opportunities for us to win games but we were just unable to do it for various reasons. I think we have a very good team but of the three teams we just faced on the road, two are top-15 teams in Louisville and Connecticut. We are a good team and we went in to those series with a good record but we just aren't at that level yet. The way the games played out against Louisville and Connecticut, it wasn't like we got our doors blown off or were overwhelmed. I thought at least two of the games at Louisville we had a chance in the middle innings to do what we needed in order to win and it was the same at Connecticut. I thought the difference came down to those teams have juniors and seniors in their lineup. We are still a young team that is trying to get to where those teams are.
In the series against USF, I didn't think that USF was the same caliber as Louisville and Connecticut but then again they have probably had the best home record in conference play of any BIG EAST team the last two years [USF was 22-1 in BIG EAST home games since Villanova's last visit to Tampa]. When you talk about playing a team that is a monster at home and our team not being good on the road, it was that much more important of a victory. We are trying to teach our sophomores to win games on the road in the BIG EAST and this went a long way towards that.
On the consistency of the starting pitching: I give our starting pitchers a lot of credit. Each of them has probably pitched games in the BIG EAST that they felt they could have won but haven't. These guys [Brian Streilein, Kyle Helisek and Kyle McMyne] have taken the ball every weekend and given us consistency by going out on the mound and competing in every start. It all starts with Brian Streilein battling on Friday nights, because there are some really good Friday night starters in this league. Brian has been a great competitor for us his entire career and has given the team a chance to win a baseball game every single time out. When we have scored runs he has kept the lead and when we have struggled he has kept us in the game. It has been huge for us that we have never had to blow through the bullpen on a Friday and leave the bullpen in shambles for the rest of the weekend.
Kyle Helisek has had some starts where it looks like he has nothing early in the game and then he goes out and pitches well. I wasn't sure he would make it out of the first inning against USF and the next thing you know he pitches six innings. He has had a couple of games like that and he pitched well enough to win against both Connecticut and Pittsburgh. As a sophomore this is his first go-around in the BIG EAST. Kyle McMyne is the same way but the most impressive thing for him is that it is his first year as a starter after pitching in the bullpen last year. He is a true power guy and has made some really good hitters look really bad at the plate. What's notable about him to me is that we have seen him grow in every start. He isn't just learning how to be a starting pitcher, but he is doing it on the weekends and in BIG EAST play. He has done a really good job of handling that.
On the bullpen: The bullpen has been dependable every weekend. We got touched up a little bit against Louisville and Pittsburgh but that is fine because those teams have touched up a lot of people. The bottom line is that the bullpen guys have done their job. They kept us in every game against USF and gave the offense enough chances to score runs. We are going to give up a run here or there but nobody is going to put up a zero every inning. The relievers have been pretty consistent pitching with the lead and in those situations sometimes you will give up some runs, which is okay. When we have need to put up a zero for the other team we have done that and more impressively they have done a great job of not letting inherited runners score. Jerry Battipaglia in particular has done a great job with that but the bullpen as a whole has been great at shutting down big innings.
On the way the batting order has come together: We have tinkered with the lineup a little bit, moving Matt Szczur down to the three hole and moving David Koczirka down a little bit. I think that our lineup over the years and again this year is always a work in progress, especially with younger guys. Koczirka looks really good hitting in the middle of the lineup at times, as have Kevin Wager and Chris Johnson. The top of the lineup right now is really formidable with Justin Bencsko, Dain Hall, Szczur and Johnson all hitting for a high average. The first three guys at the top of the order have great speed as well, they are all contact guys and have been really good table-setters.
We juggled around some guys at the bottom of the order when Matt Fleishman was out and that took some time to settle that down. Individually, different guys were able to step up every weekend but as a whole from the five guys at the bottom of the lineup we were only getting one or two hitting well at a time when we probably needed three or four. Now I feel like we are starting to see those bottom five guys gel and it is more like earlier in the year when other teams couldn't get the top of the lineup out and the bottom of the lineup was producing just about every game.
On balancing this week's schedule right before the start of finals: We have always understood that we have smart, bright student-athletes on our teams and the guys that come here to play baseball are well-balanced students whose education is extremely important to them. That is why they are here. We do say on the first day of the fall semester and the first day of the spring semester that there are going to be finals at the end but that is something every team deals with. It doesn't matter what school you are at, every team has finals and still plays games. Our guys do a great job of taking care of their studies and still finding some time to practice when they can. From a team perspective, we might have four or five guys at a time come in to hit, throw, stretch or just get some work in.
There are no midweek games during finals and that also gives everyone's bodies a chance to heal up a little bit. The guys can focus on their tests and papers and kind of get a little bit of a break during the day as well. This also starts a fun time of year for the players. They are excited about being out of class and still having 15 or 16 games left on the schedule. This is always a fun time of year for the team.
On the upcoming series against Georgetown: From what I have seen Georgetown has a good team and has had some hard luck in the BIG EAST like we have. They have had some pretty big leads on people and have lost some of those games. We have been there too and that is never easy. Georgetown is going to come into this weekend much like us. They still have Cincinnati on the schedule and they know they need to win this series, just like we need to win a series to get into our next weekend.
Statistically, it looks like Georgetown has good offensive numbers and hits with a lot of power. They have a group of guys in Sean Lamont, Tommy Lee and Erick Fernandez who are very solid BIG EAST offensive players. They are formidable offensive threats and we will have to do a good job of pitching and of catching the ball. We can't let them extend innings. If we extend innings by walking them or making errors it will only be a matter of time before they pop a ball in the gap or start hitting home runs.
This weekend will be a challenge for our pitching staff. Our starters need to go out and pitch well in these games and we are going to need some people to step up on the offensive side. If we can find a way to win a game early in this series, it will allow us to have a chance to take the series on Sunday.
On the Villanova defense: Our defense has been great. Having a good defense is something that we have to do. We talk about pitching and we have generally had good pitching here and we talk about our running game and our great record when we steal bases. But we have to play great defense do. [Assistant coach] Rod Johnson does a great job working with the players on defending the field. We spend a lot of time talking about that and a lot of time in practice on our defense. I think the guys have done a terrific job of buying into that and taking pride in going out and executing our defensive plan.
March 31, 2010
On the 17-5 win over Penn: We started off the week well by beating Penn, especially since they had beaten us last year. We talked about doing a better job versus the other Big Five teams this year and this game was a step in that direction. Kevin MacLachlan had a great effort on the mound and I think it was the best he has looked all year. The plan was for him to go two or maybe three innings, but he got through four innings and had total control of the game and was able to cut through their lineup with his command. The game kind of exploded in the middle innings. We scored seven runs in a scoreless game in the fourth inning, with six of them coming with two outs. Then the next inning we put the game away. It was a good game to be able to get everybody in the game, have good quality at-bats and get our pitchers some innings to prepare for a weekend BIG EAST series. I thought the game set the table for the rest of the week.
On the 5-2 win over Cincinnati: The conditions were a big part of the game on Friday, with the wind blowing in hard. We would like to have the wind blowing in like that for just about all of our conference series. It is favorable for our pitching and defense and we are confident in our ability to find ways to score. Cincinnati had a 2-0 advantage early and it looked like one of those days where it would be very difficult to generate offense. We scored two runs in the sixth inning and eventually got three runs in the eighth inning, which I just thought was a testament to the patience of this team. The guys played with a lot of confidence and just did what they needed to in order to win. Brian Streilein did a great job of focusing on shutting down the Cincinnati hitters and letting our offense do what it needed to. Once we tied the game it was just a matter of time until we were going to score again. We took the lead in the eighth inning but a really big part of that inning was Tyler Sciacca getting a drag bunt down with two outs, which allowed us to eventually get two more runs and take a three-run lead. Tyler's bunt was kind of the nail in the coffin in that game.
On the 3-0 win over Cincinnati: I give Kyle Helisek a lot of credit because there are certain teams that he just chews up during a weekend. I think all our lefties dominated the Cincinnati hitters during the weekend but Kyle executed his game play very well. He was in a little trouble in the first inning and allowed a leadoff double to Jamel Scott in the third inning, but he was able to pitch out of both situations. That's what Kyle has been able to do successfully all season long, is make pitches when he is forced to in pressure situations. The game was a grind offensively and we battled through a lot of scoreless innings. One thing the team has shown it can do is score late, so even though we had a 1-0 lead it was critical that we scored twice in the eighth inning on a single by Matt Szczur. That made it a lot easier for Mike Francisco to come in and get the save than if it were a 1-0 game.
On the 4-3 loss to Cincinnati: Overall it was a frustrating day but the positive that I take out of the game is that Kyle McMyne pitched great and gave us every chance to win the baseball game. He made one mistake in the first inning and they made us pay for it with a single and a walk that allowed them to get into their offensive skills and score a run. Kyle commanded both sides of the plate with his fastball and we had a lot of time to get something going. It comes down to us being 0-for-5 with a guy on third base and less than two outs. We scored one run on a great baseball play by Justin Bencscko, who scored from third on a groundball out, but then we weren't able to score until the bottom of the ninth inning. Cincinnati scored first and kept some momentum with that and I give their pitcher a lot of credit because he kept getting out of trouble. We made one poor defensively play all weekend and it came in this game and allowed Cincinnati to extend their lead a little bit. We did score twice in the ninth and continued to prove that we can score late in BIG EAST games. If we can continue to do that we will have a chance to win a lot of games. We find our way into a lot of close one- and two-run games against conference teams and at the end of the day we left too many guys on base to be able to get it done offensively.
On Villanova's style of play: I always say that styles make fights. We go into every game with certain goals for that particular day. They usually involve getting into the other team's bullpen, how we approach the game defensively and what we need to do in order to get on base and use our offensive skills. That's the blueprint every day and out of maybe five things for each game, if we can check off four or five boxes then we will probably win the game. We also have a number of takeaways each day, things we want to take away from the other team. Against Cincinnati we wanted to take Jamel Scott out of the game by making him hit his way on base and not putting him on which free passes. We also wanted to take away their running game. Basically the later in the game we can go out and still be playing our kind of game, the better chance we have to win. It doesn't matter if you are Arizona State, or Norfolk State, or Villanova, if you have to abandon your game plan in the second inning you have a problem. Our goal every day is to play our style game for as long as we can play it.
On Villanova being ranked No. 1 in the Northeast Region by Ping!Baseball last week: It was really big for us to go down to Florida and play well against the Big Ten teams and to beat a team like Kansas State. When you look at our schedule in terms of RPI, the strength of a team like Norfolk State shows up. We did well against them and they have been a good team and won some series. We beat Indiana in the Big Ten challenge and they are the defending Big 10 champions. Our body of work leading up to the start of BIG EAST play certainly merited our ranking, especially with that being combined with traditional powers like St. Johns, Notre Dame and maybe Rutgers not running off big records to start the season.
On Villanova being joined in the top three of the regional rankings by Pittsburgh and Connecticut: If you look at these three teams, they have all been involved in two of the last three BIG EAST playoffs and UConn has been to the championship game in two of the last three years. Pitt is the type of team that, if they get off to a good start, they usually wind up with a good team and stay near the top of the standings from start to finish. Villanova and Connecticut have traditionally been stronger second-half teams that are both playing well right now. It is nice for people in the Northeast to recognize the teams that are doing well and see the strength of the BIG EAST Conference. I think with respect to the rankings they looked at our records and the teams that we all are playing and they got the rankings right.
On Villanova's successful start to the season and how to take the next step: This is a young team, which you can see right away just by looking at our starting lineup and seeing what class each player is in. We start two sophomores with one senior in our pitching rotation and also have a sophomore-dominant lineup and pitching staff. I thought it was important early in the season for this team to just win baseball games. Last year we weren't able to have the level of success early in the season that would create an expectation to win. Last year we hoped to win whereas this year the team expects it. It was a goal of the coaching staff to have the team be in this position early in the season. What we do with the opportunity we have now remains to be seen. This team still has a lot of development areas, with one of them being able to win BIG EAST games on the road. We only had one road BIG EAST win last season and just four total road wins. This year we have won all three true road games we have played and we are getting set to go on the road to a tough environment at Louisville. The challenge for the team is to find a way to grind out a win. That will be our goal each day and we have three days to find a way to win baseball games. That is the challenge the team has in front of it.
On the series with Louisville: The coaching staffs are obviously very familiar with each other. [Louisville head coach] Dan McConnell has probably not played any one BIG EAST team more than Villanova. For whatever reason we haven't missed them in the rotating schedule. The familiarity with each other should give both teams a comfort level with the expectations of both squads. I think that our players saw Louisville last year and know what to expect from them. Going into playing them at their place, the LSU trip from last year will probably help us. They went into that environment and handled the atmosphere there. Beating a top 20-30 team on a neutral field like we did with Kansas State earlier this year should also help the team. That was a win over a Big 12 team that went to a Regional last year. We will be climbing into the ring with one of college baseball's heavyweights in this series and if we are able to play well for nine innings we will have a chance and expect to win the game.
On playing a highly-ranked opponent: I look at the series as a great opportunity for Villanova. Louisville has a high ranking and the fact that they are a conference team doesn't diminish the great opportunity that is out there for Villanova baseball. Louisville, in a way, can only have failure each day. We have nothing to lose. This Villanova team goes in 17-4 and has created a lot of opportunities for the program with that record, not only in the BIG EAST standings but on the national level as well.
March 24, 2010
On playing five straight days the previous week: It was very frustrating two weekends ago to have our first tournament washed out. The weather changed so much that week when we got back from Florida. We had a beautiful day to play Bucknell and then the weather shifted. It looked like Friday and Sunday would be okay and it turned out none of the days were okay. Eventually we had a schedule where we were going to play five days in a row. That is a challenge and not something we have done before. We may play five straight days during our Spring Break trip next year and I wondered if we could get through that. I thought that we could. I give the guys a lot of credit because they were mentally in the game every day. The results the first three games in that stretch were a little dicey but I give the other teams a lot of credit. The low-scoring games we played against University of the Sciences and Niagara happen sometimes in our ballpark. Sometimes regardless of the opponent the ballpark kind of locks you down. I was happy to go 4-1 during the week. You would like to win every game at home but in a week like that to go 4-1, I would take that every week. I was just really impressed with the guys and how they handled the situation.
On the game against Fairleigh Dickinson: I thought our offense did well in that game and we were able to score. I wasn't really pleased with our bullpen that day. We gave them a lot of runs late that they tacked on, but the offensive effort was good.
On the game against University of the Sciences: I give them a lot of credit for coming over here to play, and that is the chance you take. They come and play hard and they made plays. They put their outfielders on the warning track and we didn't hit the ball out of the park. We hit it to the track over and over and next thing you know we had to score some runs late to beat them.
On the game against Niagara: They had been struggling coming into that game and they had their best game of the year. I give [Niagara starting pitcher] Dan Monari a lot of credit because he went deep into a game when we were in total control. Brian Streilein dominated the game and it was a situation where we lost a ball in the sun, they hit a ball off of Brian's hand and it is a 1-0 game for 26 outs that day. We came back and found a way to battle and win the game.
On the game against Marist: I liked our effort versus Marist because we were a tough out. I always tell the guys to play the game for 27 outs and not until you think the other team has you beat or vice versa. That is the beauty of baseball. In a sport like basketball or football the time can run out on you and maybe that would have happened to us in a game like Niagara or University of the Sciences. We have to put balls in play and grind the entire game to control our offensive skills and drive in the runs. That is how we can frustrate teams and put some runs on the board. Marist was a high-scoring game but at the same time they got a lot of unearned runs early and I thought we did a great job of putting up some zeros in the middle innings and giving ourselves a chance to get back into it. Julian Diaz and Jerry Battipaglia did a great job out of the bullpen to allow our offense to get going. We just came up a little bit short.
On the game against Youngstown State: They scored two in the first inning against Kyle McMyne and again we threw the ball away early. I just think there came a time around the second or third inning where McMyne realized he was better than Youngstown State and that was it. They didn't even threaten against him again until the eighth inning when he was over 100 pitches. Youngstown State had a guy on the mound, Alex Oles, who pitched at Pitt and still had some of the grit of a Pittsburgh-Villanova series. He battled for five innings and after that our offense was too much for their bullpen. We started hitting the ball out of the park and they couldn't control our running game late in the game.
On the team's pitching holding up through five straight games: I was very happy with our pitching last week. I sat down with [pitching coach] Jim Carone and tried to map that thing out. One of our philosophies is to put a guy on the mound every day that is as good or better than the opponent. The only starter that got touched up for us was Kyle Helisek, but not all that was his fault and he stayed in there and battled for a couple of innings. Otherwise, our starters from Brian Streilein to Kevin MacLachlan to Kyle McMyne were able to go deep into games and set up our bullpen. We had to use Mike Francisco to close out the game on Thursday but then we didn't need him again until Sunday. In a week like this you always fear that you will have to use seven pitchers the first day and then have nobody left. That happened to us in Florida between the Kansas State and Western Michigan games, but we had to use all our pitching to beat Kansas State. I just thought this past weekend that our starting pitchers did what they needed to do in order to allow to win.
On the bullpen: It is true of any team, not just Villanova, that if you have three quality guys in the bullpen you will be a good team. The unique thing for us is to have a guy like Kevin Crimmel who has started before and can either get out of an inning on a couple of pitches or who can go for a while. Jerry Battipaglia fits that mold also. He is probably a borderline starting pitcher but we don't need that from right now. Out of the bullpen, however, he can go three or four innings if you need that. That is something that will only get better if we get Chris Pack back. He is another proven arm and we have a chance during the year to set up our bullpen to be really deep. Whether you are playing weekday or conference games, the deeper your bullpen is the better you are going to be.
On the lineup: I am happy with our offense because we have had a lot of contributors. You have the established guys who need to be in there every day like Justin Bencsko, Matt Szczur, Dain Hall and David Koczirka. Each of those guys understand what we are trying to do but we have gotten contributions from guys like Scott Buckwalter, who played well against Kansas State without any drop-off, or Paul Rambaud, who has had some pretty big hits for us against Duquense and Niagara in a very short career so far. Steve Schrenk has come off the bench and been able to perform. We are able to make moves with pinch hitting when we need to and the guys are all doing a really good job. I feel like we have 12 or 13 guys to count on for our offensive effort and that kind of depth isn't something I have had a lot of in my nine years at Villanova. There have been years we were lucky to have nine guys you could count on. This team is very deep offensively and the nice thing is we have a lot of younger guys contributing and they are handling some tough situations very well.
On the quality of hitting Villanova has faced so far through 18 games: I think the quality of hitting has been a little better than in the past and that starts with Norfolk State. They have a good offense that we were able to shut down, but I just saw that they beat Old Dominion, 12-5, in a game where I would imagine they were a pretty big underdog. We also played the three Big Ten teams in Florida who all hit well. The one difference from other years is we haven't had the one big team like LSU or Florida. I thought the teams we played have all done a good job offensively, even if their overall records don't reflect that. In Florida, I thought that Duquesne and Western Michigan and St. Bonaventure all swung the bats well and the teams we played at home have all been strong hitting teams. Here we are with a 15-3 record and sometimes people ask who a team like us has played. I think we have played as tough an early schedule as we ever had, minus having that one big power like an LSU on the schedule. Our RPI so far this year has been between the 40's and the 60's, which is higher than it has been in the past.
On whether playing stronger hitting teams will help the pitchers at the start of conference play: I think it absolutely will help the pitchers because our guys have been touched up a little bit. When I say that I mean that they have given up their hits and been able to pitch out of jams in all kinds of games. We have had some low-scoring games and also a lot of mid-range games in the 8-5 range where we need the bullpen to come out and shut down an inning or two in order for us to have a chance to win. Sometimes when you face teams that are not talented offensively it gives your pitchers a false sense of confidence. I don't think that has happened to us this year. The pitchers have been challenged and I think they are as ready for the start of BIG EAST play as they ever have been.
On the quality of pitching Cincinnati brings into this weekend's series: I think they have good pitching. Cincinnati is a really solid ballclub all around. They are 11-7 entering the weekend and this is a little bit different of a team than we have seen from them in the past. They lost Mike Spina and Leon Durham, who were two of the better power hitters in the country the last two seasons. They still have a challenging offense but they are pitching well and maybe a little better than in the past. That is probably because they were forced to pitch well early to win games when they couldn't rely on having that one big power threat who can change a game. They catch the ball well also. I think their pitching will be similar to what we faced in the three Big Ten games in Florida. The biggest thing with other teams' pitchers is that guys haven't gone deep into games against us with the exception of Dan Monari from Niagara. We have been able to get into the other team's bullpen during games and that becomes vital in a three-game series. We didn't get into Niagara's bullpen but we don't play them again. We do play Cincinnati for three straight days and we have to make them use multiple pitchers the first day. That will be a challenge because on Friday we are going to face Dan Jensen, who will be one of the better pitchers we face all year.
On the series with Cincinnati being played at home: We have only played Cincinnati in Plymouth Meeting once before and we were fortunate to win two of the three games. It was when Kevin Mulvey was still here so it has been a while. To be honest I would have rather played the teams Cincinnati had the last couple of years at our ballpark because we could have maybe contained their power a little better. This Cincinnati team is built a little more like us. They look to run and Jamel Scott is a formidable veteran leadoff hitter. Cincinnati likes to get on base and challenge opponents with their running game. Last year we had an early lead at Cincinnati and gave a couple of the games away late. I don't know if that would have happened if the games were played in Plymouth Meeting, but over the years not a lot of teams have been able to come in and beat us late at home.
March 10, 2010
On the team making the most of the trip to Florida: I think the guys did an outstanding job of taking advantage of the opportunity to play a number of games in Florida. It is worth mentioning the distractions that they had to deal with, starting with getting pulled out of class to leave a day early because of the weather. We took a bus to Baltimore to fly down there, not even to Philly, and the guys did a great job with that. There was no complaining or talking about it and then we had the opportunity to have a really nice workout the next day at USF. We were able to get on the field and have a 2 ½ hour practice where we took full batting practice, got to throw the ball and work out defensively. That carried over to the rest of the week. I don't think there was any team we saw that was more prepared than us. I thought we were maybe a little bit ahead of the first couple of teams we saw in Purdue and Indiana, just in terms of the amount of time we had been on the field. I couldn't ask for better preparation from the guys with their pregame. They were outstanding.
On playing in the BIG EAST-Big Ten Challenge: This tournament is a unique event and I certainly walked out of it with a better taste in my mouth than going into it. It is easy to say that after winning two games but I just thought that the people running it did a good job and the concept of the tournament is outstanding. It needs some fine-tuning, which would be expected. I felt that the teams we saw in Purdue, Indiana and Iowa could all probably finish in the middle of our conference. It was good for us to match up like that. Even though we didn't play any of the teams three straight games, we saw a similar opponent each day and got a quick look at what might be to come in the BIG EAST. It was very different from playing a top SEC or ACC team for three games. Those are teams that would win our league or finish near the top of the league and it sometimes becomes a situation where for three games you are just holding on to a degree. We saw some other BIG EAST teams play in the tournament too and I just thought that the whole weekend the teams that played better won the games. I enjoyed playing in Al Lang Stadium for one game against Indiana. It was a tremendous facility and I would hope that somewhere along the line we could play there again. Beating the defending Big Ten champion in Indiana was definitely a highlight of the weekend.
On the games played in Winter Haven: Chain of Lakes Park is a beautiful park and probably one of the nicest venues we have played in during our Spring Break trips. It is a big park and the playing surface was phenomenal. As for the games themselves, the first day we beat Duquesne, which is a team that we probably should beat. At that point of the trip though, we had gone five hard days in a row including our practice at USF and it was good to get out of that game with a win and have a well-deserved day off. Later in the week, I was very impressed with how we played against Northeastern and St. Bonaventure to dominate games and win where the score wasn't close. Northeastern is a very good offensive team and we probably didn't see their best effort that particular day. We faced the CAA Freshman of the Week on the mound and battled for five innings to get the lead until we could put them away.
On the win over Kansas State: During the middle of the week we beat Kansas State, which was a highlight of the trip and probably one of the highlights of my career just because it was our first win against a team from the Big 12 Conference. We have played better teams than Kansas State before but we played this team at a point where they were 6-1 and were looking very similar to us. They are great defensively in the infield and they look to run offensively. We saw their number four starting pitcher and for us I thought that Kevin Crimmel did an outstanding job versus their lineup to keep them at bay. Offensively, it was good to see our offense work against a defensive team like Kansas State. We were able to put balls in play, steal some bases and get our bunts down. We played good enough defense to build a big enough lead that we could take their best shot and hang on. Mike Francisco and Kyle McMyne were outstanding in the eighth and ninth inning but before that Jerry Battipaglia did a good job of maintaining our lead. Kansas State threatened and got within one run but they never tied it. Once we got to the eighth and ninth innings with Francisco and McMyne, they had no shot. Those guys were phenomenal in closing it down.
On the team's 10-2 start to the season: I told the guys on the bus that Villanova has been playing baseball since 1866 and I don't know how many teams started 10-2 but this team has. It is a great feeling and now we have a chance to build off of this and put together a nice stretch now that we are back at home. I am excited to see what we do with that opportunity as we get set to play nine home games out of our next 10 games.
On the pitching staff: I think during the Florida trip [pitching coach] Jim Carone did a really good job with the guys of putting together some team goals and takeaways each day. One big goal was to avoid the big innings that sometimes happen in Florida. Our goal each day was that one-run innings are okay but we didn't want teams to get three runs on us or have a big inning. The guys did a good job of that with situational pitching. When we got in trouble it seemed like we were able to get a groundball double play or a strikeout when we needed to. The guys had command of the strike zone for the most part. Out of eight games, I would say we probably had seven quality starts and got seven quality games out of the bullpen. The first guy out of the pen each day did a good job and there were a lot of faces with that. Julian Diaz battled and Jerry Battipaglia came up big in spots. At the end of games, Mike Francisco has been a force and the one game Kyle McMyne came out of the pen he was a force in the ninth inning. There are a lot of people doing good things on the pitching staff and that is how it has to be for us to be successful. Strong pitching is where our recent tradition has been. I tell the team that if we have three quality guys out of the bullpen then we are going to be a good team, because we can always compete on the mound with our starters. Our starting pitching can always match up with anybody. Right now with Brian Streilein, Kyle Helisek and Kyle McMyne, we definitely haven't seen anyone with a better top of the rotation and I'm not even sure if we have seen any one pitcher that has been better than any of these guys.
On Villanova's offense: The guys have been doing a great job offensively. [Hitting coach] Dave Miller has done a good job with getting the hitters to buy into our system. Two years ago we were a great offensive team with guys like Derek Shunk and Ryan Arcadia and nobody could get us out. But that was at the end of the year with a senior-laden team. Our offensive success right now is coming at the beginning of the year with basically sophomores sprinkled in with some upperclassmen. The guys have bought into pitch counts against our opponent and no starter has gone seven innings against us yet. We are putting balls in play and that is how we beat people. I think at times we have been overwhelming other teams with getting on base and getting into our running game. We have also been able to hit and run much better than we have in a long time, while still getting our bunts down. That tends to wear people out over nine innings and that's what we have seen so far. The other thing we have done better this year than any other year I have been here is refine our approach with two strikes and with two outs. We are putting balls in play and extending innings. We have gotten our one- and two-run innings early and then still been able to have a big inning later on. We knocked out Northeastern with nine hits with two outs or two strikes. Against Kansas State, we won 8-5 and I think we beat them 5-2 with two outs and that was the difference in the game. If we can keep doing that, the running game and everything else will take care of itself.
On Justin Bencsko leading the BIG EAST in hitting through 12 games: Justin has been outstanding this year. He has always been a good player for us over four years and it is hard sometimes to put your finger on when a guy is going to break out. We don't really redshirt a lot of our scholarship guys the way some bigger schools do. Justin has always been a good player on our good teams as a third or fourth outfielder where he could be in the lineup or come in to contribute defensively. He was in a tough place the last two years with so many left-handed hitters on the team. This year he has been relaxed and been able to figure things out. He is doing a great job on the bases and has built some of his offensive momentum with some great defensive plays. For four years overall, I really think that Justin is the model of what a Villanova student-athlete should be. He is a great guy but all that stuff aside he has been a really good Villanova baseball player and I am excited for him to be doing so well.
On coming home from Florida to start the home schedule: It was big for us to get home and see our field in good shape. February was a month weather-wise that I have never seen but our field is in great shape and outside of any rain we will be able to get our games in this week and all year. It is so important to us for the field to be ready to go so we can avoid delays where we come home and don't play for 10 days. That has happened to us in the past but we pride ourselves on trying to be one of the best home teams in the country. We have nine home games coming up and this is our time to build our home advantage every day.
On Tuesday's win over Bucknell: Bucknell looked like a very strong team coming in and that is exactly what we saw. We knew to expect a close and hard-fought game with them and we did a great job of grinding it out and doing whatever it took to get a win at the end of the game.
On playing Cornell on Friday: It has always been a tough game when we play Cornell. We have played this Villanova Classic tournament for a number of years and we have a lot more wins than losses in the tournament. Cornell is one of the teams that has beaten us though and there has been some great ballgames between these two teams. I expect nothing less than another great game on Friday. We are going to face an all-conference quality pitcher and Cornell also has an All-American closer. Their lineup is sprinkled up and down with preseason All-Ivy League players. It is going to be their first game of the season so we need to use that to our advantage. Brian Streilein is going to pitch for us. He is a great competitor and has 16 career wins for us so he is going to go out and compete for as long as he needs to and we will do our best to take care of business at the back end of the game.
On playing Hofstra on Saturday: Hofstra has a very good coach in Pat Anderson, who has been a pro-ball guy and is in his second year there. They played a tremendous schedule early on with Florida State and Maryland. They have tough kids and play in a good conference and I know that they targeted this game against us after getting out of games with SEC and ACC teams as a chance to step forward as a ball club. We haven't played them in a long time so the teams aren't really familiar with each other. Kyle Helisek is pitching for us and hopefully he will keep things rolling.
On playing Northeastern on Sunday: We have an in-season rematch against Northeastern and games like this in any sport always worry me. It is a revenge game for a team we beat 11-0 in Florida. Northeastern is a good team that finished in the upper half of the CAA and we didn't see their best team the first time around. I expect them to come in with some momentum and for their kids to have this game circled against us. I am looking forward to a good game and for us to compete and play well for nine innings. If we do that I will take my chances with getting wins throughout the entire weekend.
February 24, 2010
On sweeping the three-game series at Norfolk State: Obviously it is great to win three games in a weekend no matter what time of year it is and I was extremely pleased about our results down at Norfolk State. As a coaching staff we were very happy with the guys' effort in all three games, which is what you would expect for the first weekend.
On Villanova's pitching in the series: We pitched as well as we possibly could have throughout the series. The starters were dominant. They all had good control and command of their pitches. They were sharp and pitched out of jams by staying in the strike zone. All three starters did that and the bullpen was very good as well. The guys coming in out of the bullpen all took care of business.
On Villanova's defense in the series: We defended the field as well as we ever have, particularly for it being the first weekend and our first time on a baseball field. In addition to making the routine plays, I thought there were some momentum changing plays that really worked to our advantage. We turned double plays in big spots, had two outfield assists and Adam Nelson threw a runner out trying to steal in a big situation. I also thought the infielders played exceptionally well on a choppy field and being out there for the first time. If this is how we are going to play defense all year then we really have something good going.
On Villanova's offense in the series: Offensively we did a lot of the little things right. Our running game obviously worked because we were 14-for-14 on stolen bases. We did a good job of playing our small ball game in terms of getting guys on base and bunting them over. The bunt game worked to our advantage and did a good job using the hit-and-run. The big thing was seeing our hitters battle through at-bats to get on base. I think we had a high number of hits with two outs and/or with two strikes. I was very pleased with the quality of our at-bats.
On Brian Streilein being named BIG EAST Pitcher of the Week: I was very happy to see Brian get this award. He has deserved this recognition several times before and in the past few years we have also had starting pitchers win games against teams like Florida and Alabama and not be named the BIG EAST Pitcher of the Week. Brian was dominant in his start and I am very happy for him and glad for the program to have someone recognized at the BIG EAST level for their efforts on the mound.
On the team's level of preparation going into the Norfolk State series: With regards to our baseball preparation, we had been able to get out on the football turf in January but we hadn't been outside at all in February due to the weather. Then we go down to Norfolk State, get on a field for the first time and play extremely well. I think the players were mentally ready to play and maybe being inside in February helped us think through what we needed to get done. Defensively, everyone knew what we wanted to do. We knew where the ball was going and where our cut-off men were. The pitchers knew the game plan and took care of business. When I look back at this series, I'm not sure what Norfolk State did or didn't do that led to the results of the games. I just thought that Villanova did a good job of getting ready to play both physically and mentally. We did the things we feel we have to in order to win games.
On the importance of the Spring Break trip to Florida: The annual trip to Florida is always critical for us. We get a chance to be away for an extended period of time and for me, this is the longest trip that I will have been on with a ball club. We are going to be staying in Florida through next Saturday, so the team is going to be down there for a long time. We are hoping for good weather but the biggest thing is just having the chance to be on the field every day. The results of the game matter; we know that they do. Just as important for us, though, is to make the most of our time on the field. That means having good pre-game routines, taking good batting practice and good infield/outfield. We need to be able to take advantage of not having to worry about the field conditions. It will be good to play a number of games.
On the alumni event planned for Saturday (February 27): We have been very fortunate in recent years to have the Tampa Bay chapter of the Alumni Association offer a great deal of support to the baseball program. They have come to see us play in Bradenton and at USF and we are looking forward to seeing them during the upcoming trip. From a baseball standpoint, team Hall of Famer Sam Greenwood spearheads this effort. I am very much looking forward to seeing all these guys and we would like to be able to play well in front of all the alumni.
On playing in the BIG EAST-Big Ten Challenge: It will be interesting for us to be a part of this tournament for the first time. Hopefully all the teams get there without incident. I think the bad weather this week could make for some interesting trips down to Florida for some teams. The coaches of the teams in this tournament last season enjoyed it. The nice thing about this tournament is that it matches teams that are in the same boat. We see Purdue on Friday and they haven't played yet, so for the most part they have been indoors hitting in cages. All of the teams here are in the same situation with the weather up north and that makes for an interesting tournament. Everyone here is at a similar point in their readiness to play so none of the teams should have any advantage over anyone else in that respect. We are seeing teams we have never played before in Purdue, Indiana and Iowa. I feel good about where we are going into the weekend.
On the games Villanova will play in Winter Haven: This is going to be our first time in Central Florida. Our games in Winter Haven present a challenge. This is a bear of a schedule in many ways. We play a game Wednesday against Kansas State, a Big 12 team that is ranked in the top 35 right now and went to an NCAA Regional last year. That game is a great opportunity for us. We also have some revenge games against familiar foes in St. Bonaventure and Western Michigan. Back in 2008 we lost twice to Western Michigan with a team that was as good as any I have had at Villanova. We'll also play Northeastern in Florida and then turn around to play them back at Villanova a week later in our tournament. We split a doubleheader with them in 2008 as well. We also play Duquesne during our trip. They are an in-state opponent and unfortunately they have announced that this will be their last season of baseball.
On a more personal level, our assistant coach Dave Miller was played in this minor league ballpark (Chain of Lakes Stadium) when he was a first-round draft pick of the Cleveland Indians. He came here for seven of his first 10 spring trainings. I always enjoy the chances we get to play in a stadium setting.
February 17, 2010
Villanova opens the 2010 season this coming weekend with a three-game series at Norfolk State. This marks the first series the teams are playing against each other since 2007. Earlier this week, Coach Godri sat down to talk about the team's mindset to begin the year and preview the series this weekend.
On his impression of the team during the preseason: I am really excited about the team as we begin the season. One thing I have noticed is that collectively this team is as committed to being successful as any we have ever had. The guys have put in a lot of hard work and as a younger team they are very enthusiastic. All of the players have gotten after it. They did a great job in the weight room and with their conditioning and the hitters have gotten extra swings in away from practice. From a physical and mental standpoint, we are going into the season as strong as we have ever been as a ballclub. The guys are genuinely excited to get started on the field and put last year in the past.
On what the "trademark" of this team will be: What we bring to the ballpark every day is that this is a very athletic team. We have good speed all the way down the roster. In the past we had guys who could run but top to bottom the position players this year are as fast and athletic as any team we have had here. We can really defend the field well, beginning with catching the ball around the infield and having good players in the outfield. Our infield has the potential to be as good defensively as any in the BIG EAST. Team defense is sometimes overlooked in college baseball when you run into teams with good pitching or a good offense. We have had great pitching here at times but with this team we know that we have to defend the field. The guys have really embraced that attitude nicely.
On putting together a batting order for a team with a number of versatile athletes: With so many speed guys in the lineup, it sometimes makes the decisions tougher as far as the batting order goes, but that is healthy. We are going to put a lineup out there on Friday for the first game of the year but there are definitely a number of other capable guys. After the first game it will be a matter of who is getting it done and who isn't. From a coaching standpoint you can't ask for anything more than that. If it comes down to a situation where we have to defend the field and support the pitching staff, it is nice to have 11 or 12 or 13 guys that can not only do that but also can hit and play our offensive game. If we need to use our offensive skills to get down a bunt or steal a base, we can do that. The makeup of the team gives us some more leeway with matching up righties against lefties from an offensive standpoint.
On the makeup of the pitching staff: The big thing with our pitchers is that day to day we are not going to experience any drop-off in the rotation. We can put a quality guy out there each day regardless of whether we are playing a team like LSU or a top-tier BIG EAST team. We know that the guy we put out there is always going to be capable of competing. That flexibility gives us a chance to mix and match the rotation sometimes. This weekend the rotation will be Brian Streilein, Kyle Helisek and Kyle McMyne. With those three guys we are going right-left-right and switching up between power pitchers like Streilein and McMyne to a guy like Helisek who can throw four or five pitches and still throws pretty hard. It is definitely to our advantage to put a quality pitcher on the mound each game. Not every program can say that.
On the offensive goals of the team during the first weekend of play: From an offensive standpoint I am looking for us to have quality at-bats and put balls in play. Early in the year if we can play a game offensively where we put 20 or more balls in play and have over 50 percent quality at-bats, that means we can get our offense going with either our running game or the bunt game. Those are the things that will give us a chance to win. A key thing for us from the first game to the last is that once we get runners on base we have to drive them in. This weekend I'm looking for the guys to have quality at-bats and compete well offensively.
On the team's defensive goals in the first few games of the season: We are at a huge disadvantage defensively when we first start out and this early in the year we are relying on our athletic ability to catch the ball. Fielding wise, right now we are good on the football turf and good indoors, but we won't be on the field for the first time until the opener against Norfolk State. That's when you have to deal with the grass and bad hops and the wind and how quickly the team can get acclimated to that will dictate what we are able to do defensively.
On the pitching goals for the first weekend of play: On the mound we are looking to get quality starts from our three starters for however long they are able to go. All the pitchers are on a pitch count this early in the year and we are just looking for quality starts, whether it is for three innings or five innings or however long they can go for. From the bullpen it is just a matter of which guys are going to come in and throw strikes. The goal for us as a team is to take care of enough things ourselves that we aren't at the mercy of how the other team plays in order to have a chance to win the game.
On the series against Norfolk State: This is a very important series for our club. [Norfolk State head coach] Claudell Clark does a fantastic job there and they have a nice playing facility. Their team plays hard and they have had good players that went on to play professionally. We always see pro-quality arms from them. Norfolk State was picked second in their league, which has a top 40 team in Bethune Cookman. Norfolk has been getting close to winning the league and a lot of years they might win the leagues that we play other non-conference games against. Norfolk has one of their better teams this season with a lot of pitchers returning. They are very athletic and if you walk or hit them you have to deal with their running game. Like us, they push 75-100 stolen bases a year so it will be important to contain them and not give up free bases. We also need to be able to compete well against their starters and try to get into their bullpen on Friday. Their pitching staff is probably not as deep as ours top to bottom. They might be as good one through four but after that the more guys we can get into games, the more pressure it will put on them.