2008-09 Coach's Corner Archive
Feb. 18, 2010
April 23, 2009
On the USF series: I thought the USF series was probably as even a series as I can remember playing in the BIG EAST. I think both teams played very well and both teams did what they had to do from an offensive standpoint. We knew going into the weekend that our offense had to get some walks and get some freebies in the series. That happened, but at the same time I'm sure that was a part of the conversation with USF too. Their pitchers led the league in walks to innings pitched ratio but we were able to get on base early and get into our offense a little bit. That happened with us on the mound too. We said that we couldn't walk or hit them and we walked and hit them. Both teams played pretty good defense the whole series.
I think what the series came down to was that the USF pitching staff, and Shawn Sanford in particular on Sunday, was able to shut us down from the fourth inning to the eighth inning. We had the lead early in that game on Sunday. We got some singles and started our running game and had a three-run inning in the second. We got our offense working again in the eighth and ninth innings but couldn't get a base hit to tie it or get the lead. That is probably why USF is in first place and we aren't. I am happy with the effort from the weekend and the way we competed against them but it was disappointing at the end of the day to only get one win and not have two in the series.
On playing three of five BIG EAST series against a first place team: That's a good way to look at it. I told our guys that they have played USF and West Virginia, who are the two best teams in the league, and now they aren't on the schedule anymore. From here on out we have Louisville, who is number three in the league, but we also have Cincinnati, Georgetown and Connecticut. Those three teams are all kind of bunched around us, even though Cincinnati and Connecticut are ahead of us in the standings. They are within striking distance if we play well and going forward that is what we have to hang our hat on as we go into the series against Cincinnati this weekend.
On the team's conference schedule: We were definitely front-end loaded. Obviously now we are in a position where we have to go to Cincinnati and win the series. When I look at the BIG EAST and know that eight teams are going to the playoffs, it means you have to be better than four. Right now Rutgers and Georgetown are behind us and then the other two teams are coming from a group that includes Cincinnati, Seton Hall and possibly either Pittsburgh or even Connecticut depending on how things play out. We are going to play Connecticut at home the last weekend of the season. I don't see them coming into the weekend with a chance to win the league and I don't see them needing wins to compete for an at-large bid in a regional, like we have had the last few years with St. John's, Rutgers and Louisville coming in. I think Connecticut will have a different mindset, where maybe they are in the playoffs and are getting ready for a Tuesday game in Clearwater. We have been down this road the last two years and basically I told the team that we have 12 games on the schedule, they all count equally, and I just think we need to find a way to get seven more wins before the end of the regular season and then see what happens. In a nutshell that's where we are at right now. We have a big bear left on the schedule with Louisville but like we have talked about right now our only focus is on playing Cincinnati this weekend.
On the pitching staff getting hitters out with runners in scoring position: I think the weekend pitchers have done a good job and as a staff we are kind of in between where we have been before. I think last year if you look at the scores, and the USF series is a good example, we lost a game in which we gave up 20 runs and then came back and won the next day. This year I think out of 15 BIG EAST games we have had the lead in 12 of them. We don't have a shut down staff where if we get 3-4 runs on the board we are going to win, like we had when guys like Nick Allen, Kevin Mulvey and Mike Loree were here. I think with this team the number is probably closer to 5-6 runs and we have an offense that can do that on a game to game basis. Our guys are competing to their abilities and that's all we can ask of them. As a ballclub right now I think we are a team that in conference has to get 5-7 runs to win baseball games and our pitchers need to go out and compete at that level. It isn't that our guys can't throw up a zero or put a one or two spot on teams but thankfully, knock on wood, we haven't been in a situation where we look up in the fifth inning and the other team has 15 runs on the board.
On the team's offense: I have no qualms about our offense. We don't necessarily have a great offense but we have a lot of guys in the lineup who compete for nine innings. It is important for us to have guys like Matt McFolling, Joe Rosati and the other seniors who have won before. Those two guys hit home runs in big spots against USF and they know what it takes to get the job done. The younger guys, like Matt Szczur, David Koczirka and now a little bit with Kevin Wager, have been able to get hits and get on base when we need them to. You look at our lineup and there isn't an easy out anywhere. Matt Szczur is close to the top of the BIG EAST in hitting and I think Koczirka is up there too.
On the home runs in the eighth inning against USF on Saturday: I thought hitting two home runs in that inning was great. That's the difference when you talk about where you are as a team. The older guys, your juniors and seniors on a college baseball team, are able to stay in at-bats with two strikes and not panic over the count. I think when younger hitters struggle it is when they get to strike two and are maybe a little more concerned about making an out instead of just staying in the at-bat. We are getting that mindset from our older guys and they are starting to pass that on to our hitters like Szczur, Koczirka and now with Kevin Wagner being in the lineup more on a regular basis he is getting there too.
On Joe Rosati's game-winning home run being his second career homer: Joe hit his first home run as a freshman against Pittsburgh and I was talking to [Pitt coach] Joe Jordano this week. He asked about Rosati hitting the home run and I said the last time he hit one out was against their pitcher Muldowney. I think this ball was the same trajectory, the same spot, the same count and the same type of pitcher. It was earlier in the game when he hit the first one but there was a lot of déjà vu in watching him hit the ball out.
On the middle of the order: I think the middle of the order, going from Joe Cotter to Matt McFolling and Wes Borden, we have three seniors there with a lot of experience. Wes did a good job this weekend of doing something he did more early in his career, and that is taking his base hits. [USF coach] Lelo Prado commented on that too. Other teams are shifting on Wes a little bit and giving him the six hole and he has been able to change his two-strike approach and know what to do with two strikes. It is an adjustment mentally and physically that if the other team keeps pitching you on the outer half that you can go the other way and take a single to get on base and get another guy to the plate.
On the Cincinnati series: I looked at the numbers and offensively Cincinnati seems to mirror us with the exception that they have more home runs and we do more in motion. They are 19-18 and we are 18-19. It is tough to play on the road. Getting something done on the road is something this team hasn't been able to do yet. I think we will get a good effort on the mound. Cincinnati will come into the weekend with a lot of energy after they had a big weekend at St. John's and won two out of three games. They know the deal. They know that if they win the series they put themselves in position to go to the playoffs and we know that we need to win a series. Both teams are going to approach it like that. We have to find a way on Friday night - Kevin Crimmel is pitching for us - to get into the middle innings in a tight ball game and give our offense a chance to put a big inning together. We are going to play on turf in one of the best parks in the league. Our defense has played well all year and I think there is no reason why that shouldn't carry over this weekend. One thing that has been fortunate for us is we are 4-2 against Cincinnati since they came into the league so hopefully they are a team we are comfortable playing against.
On winning two of three games in Cincinnati in 2007: I think the last time we were in Cincinnati it probably changed the direction of our program. We lost a very ugly game on Friday night in a series we had to win. The next day we battled back from being down 7-4. That particular team wasn't a comeback team by any means but we got the job done that day and went out and handled them on Sunday. I think we will show up with a great effort this weekend. We get there Thursday night and will have a workout that night and I think the team is going to have a pretty good feeling going into Friday night.
April 16, 2009
On the previous week: Last week was a good week for us. We had kind of been fighting that win one game, lose one game type of thing and going up and beating Lehigh was a good start to the week. Kyle Helisek was outstanding in that game. I am glad he was named the Big Five Pitcher of the Week because not a lot of mid-week guys get that honor. It was good to see him go out and pitch nine innings and be in complete control of the game and it is important for our senior class to get to the championship game of the Liberty Bell Classic. We followed that game by playing very well in the series against Seton Hall. As a younger team our confidence was a little bit shaken in the Big East and I think we got what we needed in that series. I was really excited by our effort in the series. Nobody wants to sit there and be 1-9 after losing the first game of the doubleheader but all of a sudden you win two games and now you are tied with a bunch of people and you are back in striking distance. We are three games out of sixth place so winning the series with Seton Hall gave us a chance to get into this coming weekend. It was a series we had to win. We weren't in a situation where we had to win every game but we needed to take the series. Getting two wins the hard way after losing the first game made it that much better for us.
On Game 1 against Seton Hall: We ran into a good guy in Sean Black in the first game of the doubleheader. Brian Streilein was pitching really well and Black pitched well and neither was involved in the decision. Unfortunately Seton Hall hit two balls into the sun that fell in for hits and gave them one of their runs.
On Game 2 against Seton Hall: I think we needed to have a game where we got a little help from the other team's defense in being able to take a lead and build on it. Kevin Crimmel and the senior class really did a great job in that game. In between games of the doubleheader the seniors talked to the team and told the younger guys to get their confidence up, that we would win baseball games and that we would win game two. That was the most important thing because game two was the next game. Look, in between games of a doubleheader you never know that a team's mindset is going to be. Obviously Seton Hall had all of the momentum coming out of the first game but Kevin Crimmel went out and those first two innings pitched well. I thought offensively, even though we scored in one of those innings, we just weren't where we needed to be and if Seton Hall put up a big number early we would have been in trouble. Kevin went out and had complete command of the strike zone and got out of minor trouble to give our position players a chance to collect their thoughts and let the offense get going. We talk to our starters about the fact that most Friday and Saturday games, and even a lot of Sundays in this league, you are going to run into an opposing starter that can shut you down. Our offense is based off of getting on base. We aren't hitting balls over the fence right now. Kevin pitched those first two innings and we got the lead and had something to feel good about and the next thing you know it's 10-1. It was an outstanding effort by Kevin and our senior leadership in that game to hold things together early and allow us to win the game.
Also not lost from that game is what Joe Rosati did for us. Joe Cotter got hurt in the bottom of the first inning down two strikes in his at-bat with a man on second. Rosati came in and I think battled to get the count to 2-2 and then got a base hit up the middle. He wound up with three hits, including a triple, and drove in three runs. That's what I mean with our senior leadership. Here's a guy who instead of sitting on the bench worrying about not playing game two because we went with Justin Bencsko in the outfield, Joe is mentally locked in during the first inning and has an at-bat with two strikes. These are the little things we look at that make a big difference. That is the type of mental approach and focus we need in order to be successful and do the things we need to do and get to where we want to be at.
On Game 3 against Seton Hall: The weather was a mess on Saturday and instead of a 12:15 game we were playing at 3:45. Seton Hall scored two runs in the first inning after they had two outs and nobody on. They hit a ball of Chris Pack's foot and the next think you know Chris Affinito hits a home run and it's 2-0. It is tough to be the home team in bad weather because you have to fix the field. We came in to campus and had breakfast at 9 a.m., did our hitting and took infield at 10:30. Then the guys had to be a grounds crew for the next several hours and all of a sudden it's 2-0. We put a good game together after that. Kyle Carver came out of the pen and was outstanding and Mike Francisco continued that and we got six scoreless innings from the bullpen. It was a complete grind offensively until we got the lead at 6-4. We kept putting guys in scoring position and had nothing to show for it, while Seton Hall kept battling. Finally in the eighth inning we saw that our guys played the whole game and weren't satisfied with a two run lead. Joe Rosati hit the triple in the eighth inning and two runs scored on that play and the game was over at that point.
On the last few starts by Brian Streilein and Kevin Crimmel: The starting pitching has been good. We have to pitch well to be good, just like a lot of teams but I think it's maybe a little more important for us. You expect that out of your Friday and Saturday starters. Those guys go deep into games. Our bullpen is young and we are still trying to figure some things out with Josh being out for the year. Mike Francisco has been doing a good job trying to close games and Kyle Carver had an outstanding weekend. Those guys and Kyle McMyne are all very important but if we have to run those three guys out there for three to four innings every game you are going to get jammed up.
On Kyle Carver and Kevin Wager playing first base: As Kyle starts to work more out of the bullpen you might see more of Kevin at first base. Kevin was a starter for us and was going to be the everyday third baseman until he had a minor injury. David Koczirka stepped in and has done a fantastic job both offensively and defensively. Kevin has done a solid job at first base and made that great play against Seton Hall on the double play. I think that Kyle Carver is the best defensive first baseman in the Big East and now I am starting to think that with Wager we have the two best defensive first basemen in the league. When Kevin plays first base it allows Kyle to prepare more as a pitcher. We are still going to use him some at first base but now we don't have to give either guy 15 at-bats against one opponent, and we can change our look there a little bit. We have a solid bat off the bench if Kevin doesn't start. If he does, we can use Kyle on the mound earlier in the game as the first guy out of the pen. After that, maybe he goes in to play defense but if not then you aren't losing the designated hitter and having someone like Joe Rosati or Matt McFolling having to come out of the game.
On the USF series: This is the second trip up here for USF since they joined the league. They are tied for first place with West Virginia and their head coach, Lelo Prado, is one of the top coaches in the league. He has USA experience and built the Louisville team that went to the College World Series. He is doing a great job at USF. It is still too early to call but I am hoping this turns into a home series much like our series against Pittsburgh where the home team always seems to have the advantage. We are 3-3 against USF. They won two out of three down there last year and we won two out of three here in 2007.
USF is a southern team. They have very good arms and they play kind of a similar style of offense to us. They have more home runs but they are more of a manufacturing type of offense. They don't run as much as we do but they aren't afraid to get their sacrifice bunts down and grind to get runners on, get them over and get them in. USF probably has 3-4 all-conference type players on their team.
We feel good going into the series. We have been one of the best home teams in the league record-wise for a number of years and especially the last two seasons. We need our pitchers to compete early in games and give us a chance to get our offense going. Another thing we feel good about is having the best fielding percentage in the Big East and ranking 22nd in the nation. That's something that can be there every day. You can have your starting pitching and your team defense every day no matter what else is going on. It is really important for us to defend our field in this series.
On the tightly packed Big East standings: It has been an unusual year so far. You sit there with three wins after the first four series but you are two games out of eighth place and three out of sixth. I think that speaks to the balance and parity of our league. Each weekend you really can't put your thumb on what's going to happen. I will be honest with you - we went to Notre Dame and I thought we could really get our guys going and I was shocked when we got swept. All three games were very close and the pitching was good. The weekend after it looked like Cincinnati was fighting through things a little bit and they won two out of three against Notre Dame. Earlier in the year Connecticut got swept by West Virginia and then won their next three series. Most people probably looked at Seton Hall as having a chance to end our season last weekend after they won series against Louisville and Notre Dame. They came off a tough series against Connecticut, though, and once again Villanova is playing that Rasputin role where we don't go away. We beat Seton Hall two out of three games and now they are 6-6 and we are 3-9. I look at our two teams and I think if we played them four weekends in a row we had the same result. I didn't see where they were any better of a team that us at all despite the records. It wasn't important for me to see that but it was important for the players to see that and understand that each weekend is an opportunity. If you win a game then you are okay but if you win a series then things can drastically change in the standings from now until May 17 when we end the regular season against Connecticut.
On what exactly makes a stadium a "pitchers park:" What really makes a stadium a pitchers park is how you defend it. We recruit to our park. We are a speed team and if you look at our outfielders with Justin Bencsko, Matt Szczur and Joe Cotter, two of those three guys are usually in the outfield and they might be three of the top 10 overall speed guys in the league. What happens if you play in big parks is there are going to be some doubles and triples. We see it more in the non-league games how important it is to defend the gaps. Our outfielders take pride in the mindset that if the ball is in the air and it stays in the park we are going to get to it. That doesn't work out for us all the time but it works out more often than not.
When you play in a cavernous park you have to cover the outfield. The ball is going to go just as far but you have to track it down. A lot of it is wind conditions too. There were some days here early in the season where the wind was blowing out, which is unusual in March. When that happens all of a sudden guys were hitting balls that nobody was getting to. They are hitting the fence or going to the warning track because they get up in the jet stream a little bit. At our park the wind tends to blow in hard from left field. Most hitters are right-handed so it becomes up to the pitchers to make them pull the ball. Against Seton Hall, Kevin Wager hit a ball with the wind blowing in that was hit as hard as any ball I have seen all year and it was caught on the warning track. It is big for our guys to understand all of that. Hitters can get frustrated in situations like that but it becomes more about your hitters understanding that and the defense knowing they can defend the field. Our seniors understand that because they have played all their home games here. It becomes a situation where maybe if the other team hits a ball to the warning track they have a different level of frustration, whereas if our team hits a ball to the warning track they know it's just how the stadium plays.
March 26, 2009
On the St. John's series: The series was extremely disappointing for us. We went up there and in all three games there were points in the game where we played well enough to win, but we didn't get any of the games. The big thing for me when I discuss the series with the team is that when we play the traditional top teams in the league you have to take the opportunities to take a lead or extend a lead. When we let teams like St. John's hang around, historically they came back and got us.
From a learning standpoint with our team it is really just about finishing those top teams. When we play teams in the middle level of the league or the lower levels, maybe those teams give us something, give us an error or a walk or their hitters strike out in a bad at-bat. That doesn't happen against teams like St. John's. We played three games and 27 innings and I think there were only about three combined errors for both teams the whole weekend. That was the story of the series. St. John's made one more play each day than Villanova and won every game.
We have to move forward as a team. This team has shown so far that they can learn from their mistakes and get better and hopefully the trend will continue going into this coming weekend. I thought there were some good things to come out of the St. John's series. Chris Pack and Kevin Crimmel had quality starts and Mike Francisco was okay out of the bullpen. We took our walks and our run production relative to our hit production was good. We got better at the hit-and-run and even Sunday we were outhitting them late in the game. There are some things to take from the weekend but overall it was a disappointment because of the results.
On the Friday game: We were up 5-0 and we had a chance to extend that a little bit but really at the end of the day we couldn't shut down their offense. It was even to the point where St. John's had a 10-5 lead and we were chipping away and had guys in position to tie the game but don't get a hit. Then St. John's was able to extend it.
On Saturday's game: It was 2-1 in our favor for a long time and we had some chances but didn't extend that lead. We got a bad break on a ball with two outs that took a bad hop and hit Dain Hall at second base. That allowed St. John's to tie the game and then we didn't tie it in the ninth.
On Sunday's game: Sunday's game was the same thing. St. John's got a lead but we battled back and had guys in scoring position but never were able to tie it, and then they extended the lead in their last at-bat.
On the positives to take out of the series: We have traditionally been a slow starting offensive team in the Big East and overall. I think we are doing more things at the plate and having better at-bats early on. We weren't getting the result of a hit on every at bat but we have been able to get pitch counts up and get into bullpens and get on base. That is the recipe for us to be able to have success. St. John's took away our running game; their pitchers did a good job holding runners on and their catcher does a good job throwing guys out. He isn't the smoothest guy back there but if you look at his results they speak for themselves. St. John's was making us play the game from first base at times and with the wind and field conditions and the defense they played that can make things tough on any offense, anybody's offense. That held true for us.
Overall, St. John's probably wasn't as strong on the mound as in the past, and I say that with a lot of respect because they have had a number of major league arms the last couple of years, like we did. They had some young guys who are good college pitchers but we weren't seeing the veteran pro arms like in the past. I thought our offense did a good job with that. They played against one of the top three team defenses in the league. Sometimes we get into situations where the other team maybe boots a ball and allows us to get a three runs in an inning. St. John's made all the plays with two outs.
On Villanova's defense: I think the defense has surprised me a little bit. I know the amount of effort Rod Johnson puts in with the guys and I just think that with some of our younger guys this team was built more athletically to where guys are playing their natural positions. In the past we have moved guys to different positions. Derek Shunk is an eventual Hall of Famer at Villanova but at the end of the day probably wasn't a true shortstop. He was able to play the position and play it very well in college but now Marlon Calbi and Tyler Sciacca are more of a true shortstop. Dain Hall played at third base last year but he is really a second baseman and that is where we have him now. Kyle Carver is the best defensive first baseman in the league and he was last year. At third base, David Koczirka and Kevin Wager, when he has been in there, have done a good job. I think through our recruiting process we have a group of guys that are playing at their natural positions and Rod has done a good job coaching them.
You can't overlook the play of our outfield either. The outfield has played very good defense. Last year we made some errors on dropped balls or overthrows to a cutoff man or the middle of the field where someone took an extra base. Our pitchers have done a phenomenal job on PFPs. Our defense isn't giving anything away. The amazing thing to me is that we are at or near the top of the league in defense but other teams are playing just about as good defense against us, and that number would be near the top of the league too. Hopefully when you come to the park you always bring your defense no matter what is going on. Over time even if we do not continue at quite this level, if we keep balls in play on the offensive end that will force people to make some mistakes.
On the composure of the defense: I think that is where you get people. It is errors that start an inning and errors with people in motion, and that is what has caused us problems in the past. Even if we didn't commit an error we would get a two-hopper double play ball and get the lead guy but not finish the play. Instead of one ball, two outs we were getting one ball, one out. The infield has done a great job turning double plays and understanding the one ball, two outs concept. It is important for the whole team because double plays seem to emotionally swing the momentum both ways. We have been able to do that to some teams.
On the pitching of Kyle Helisek and Kyle McMyne in the win over Lehigh: Kyle Helisek made his fourth start and he has gotten better every time he has pitched. In my mind he has only had one bad outing and maybe one average outing. He was able to throw strike one consistently against Lehigh. He was more relaxed and then Kyle McMyne, who will be a very important part of our weekend staff, it was good to see him come out with a good fastball but more so with total command of the strike zone. He is a true power pitcher in the Big East and out of the bullpen we talk to the guys all the time about how throwing strike one can change at-bats dramatically. Late in the game people maybe start to press at the plate and expand the strike zone, or maybe they are forced to take strike one because of the situation, as happened on Tuesday. I was happy to see two freshmen complete a game for us and have complete control of the entire game. They also had 12 strikeouts, which are a defenses best friend. That means we are only fielding 15 baseballs and with some fly balls maybe we only have to field 8-9 ground balls. That is a big difference compared to if we have to field 21-22 baseballs sometimes in the past. The percentages eventually get to you.
On Josh Eidell: Josh won't be with us for the rest of the year. He has a season-ending injury. This is a huge blow in a lot of ways. Josh is a tremendous pitcher for us and is one of our top guys all-time in saves. He can pitch one inning or five innings and he had the most experience of anyone on our pitching staff. Hopefully he can rehab his injury and maybe join us for a fifth year next year and get back on track towards being a senior-sign player. Josh is certainly a guy I thought would have been selected in the Major League Draft in June and I still think that can happen, although the injury is a setback.
From the team standpoint, pitching is one of our strengths and just like when we lost Ted Aust a few years ago, this creates opportunities for other people. There are going to be innings for guys that weren't there before, whether they come on Tuesday afternoon or during a Big East weekend. We take pride in our pitching staff and have to have freshman pitch for us. Maybe now Kyle McMyne, Kyle Helisek and Jerry Battipaglia will have to do a little more a little sooner fur us. We also have Tom Tesauro, who got a start this week and is a guy we think has a good, quality arm. We have to get him in the mix now.
On the lineup: I think from 1-9 we have done a good job. I have been pleasantly surprised with the offense because I thought it could potentially be the one thing that would take the longest, just because it has been that way for seven years. The guys have done a good job of understanding what we are trying to do and how to attack on the offensive end. We work hard to get on base and have as good an on-base percentage at this time of year as we have ever had. Our offense works by getting on base and that is whether it's a hit, walk or hit by pitch. We have to be able to capitalize on pitching counts to get on base. When we get on base we can do some things. We can run, we are getting better at the bunt game and a lot better at the hit and run. At the end of the day I think we have been able to dictate when we get on base that we will see more fastballs. People have to make a decision what to do if Matt Szczur or Joe Rosati or Justin Bencsko or on base. Do they want to throw a breaking ball in the dirt and let us run or do they want to throw a fastball? Right now we are barreling up on some fastballs and causing problems for some people.
On the batting order: We aren't traditionally going to put a 3-4-5 in the middle of the lineup and hit it out of the park. We need those guys to make contact and in Dain Hall and Joe Cotter, they are two of the best guys I've got. They don't panic in bad counts. Matt McFolling is zoned into the strike zone and isn't expanding out of the zone. Those guys grouped together with the 1-2 guys getting on base with speed and the 7-9 guys continuing to muck and grind some at-bats to turn the lineup over, we are able to filter in some of our offense. The big piece we need to get going is Wes Borden and he will do that. He is a good college hitter and when he does get it going it will make a real difference in our lineup.
On the West Virginia series: West Virginia will be tough. They are hitting .384 as a team and bring in probably the best offense in the league, or maybe they are tied with Louisville. They traditionally swing the bats and we have to work hard not to give them freebie stuff. The pitchers have to do a good job and we have to play good defense. It has kind of been a home series with the home team winning over the years, but without the emotions of our similar home series with Pittsburgh. For whatever reason the home team wins more than it loses in the series. This weekend will be a big challenge. We will go out and in a lot of ways we match up well against them if we pitch and catch the ball. We need to get a win. We are 0-3 in the conference and it's hard to say what's got to happen with winning series. You have to get a win behind you in the Big East and then go from there. We were 1-5 last year and came back and made the playoffs. Once you get a win, you go from there and the first chance for us to do that is on Friday. The last couple of years we always put ourselves behind in the Big East but this team has for the most part been there before and seen things before. The most important thing is to play well on Friday and if we do that we have a chance to win a game and go from there.
March 19, 2009
On winning the Villanova Baseball Bash: The weekend was really good for us. We went out and played complete baseball games all three days and we played really well in all areas. I think our starting pitching was okay. Kevin Crimmel was good and Brian Streilein and Chris Pack were okay. I have seen them pitch better this year but they both pitched well out of jams. Our defense as good and our offense was good. We continued to battle at the plate to get on base and allow our offense to happen and that led to us putting up some big numbers. The weekend was good for us in the sense of the team trying to gel as a unit. I saw the younger guys start to play more relaxed and I saw us continue to pitch well out of the bullpen. Those are things we need out of this team.
On the Niagara game: We scored 18 runs against Niagara, which is the most we have scored in a game since 2004. It is difficult to put up that many runs in our park at times so that was a good game for us.
On the Cleveland State game: They came in and got on Chris Pack right away. They scored three runs in the first two innings and it looked like that would be a high scoring game. It was on our end but our pitching eventually shut them down.
On the St. Peter's game: This game has traditionally been a headache game for us. St. Peter's beat Kevin Mulvey twice during his career and last year they were beating us late in the game. I was happy to see us beat them 6-1 and feel like once we got the lead the game was over.
On the Saint Joseph's game: We talk about this game and it being a big rivalry for the alums at the two institutions. I hope this was the last time we have to go over to Latshaw field in Norristown. Saint Joseph's is trying to get a field on campus but I don't know what will happen with that. We seemed to be in control of the game, leading 2-0 and Kyle Helisek had faced nine batters through three innings. Saint Joseph's scored three runs to take the lead and then expanded it to 6-2. I tip my hat to Kyle McMyne because he came into a real tough spot with the bases loaded, nobody out and two runs in. He got a sac fly, there was a play at the plate and Saint Joseph's got the safe call. Then he got the double play where Matt McFolling made a diving catch and the runner left early from third. Kyle threw four or five pitches but he had a really good fastball and got ahead in the count and got us out of a jam. That allowed us to keep the score at 6-2 and kept us in the game. Mike Francisco was awesome in the late innings and eventually our offense scored four runs in the eighth inning. We scored eight of our nine runs with two outs in the game and it was just a matter of playing 10 complete innings. I told the team that when they play hard for 10 innings they see what can happen, as opposed to playing hard until you think the game is over, whether you are winning or losing. That's what we did yesterday, is to play a complete game until the last out.
On winning the first five home games: From a coaching perspective, and when we talk about our goals, we don't want to be a good home team, we want to be a great home team. We have a pretty good home record and this year we have five Big East series at home and we are trying to get back to the playoffs. It is something we have talked about that we have these five series at home and if we take care of business then we go back to Florida for the playoffs. The success at home starts with the weekday games and the weekend tournaments and it just creates a mindset that we don't allow people to beat us at home. I think the overall NCAA winning percentage for home teams is about 62 percent. We probably have to play closer to 70 percent at home. I am really happy to see the pride that guys take in being a great home team. We talk about our park a lot and understanding the park and what it can do to shut down offenses and what it can do to help offenses.
On the eight-game winning streak: In sports it doesn't matter who you play or how you play them. Our win streak started after we lost 15-0 to North Carolina State. The next game we went out and laid the wood to Akron about as well as we can with our running game. We stole 11 bases in the game and got some momentum. After that it was a matter of not picking our opponents but just going out and playing baseball games. You go out on the field and someone is going to win and someone is going to lose, so why not Villanova? For this team, with as young as we are at times with the lineup, I thought it was important for this team to learn how to win baseball games. We wanted to get that out of our schedule and now we have won eight games in a row going up to St. John's this weekend. I couldn't be happier with how the team is playing right now.
On Mike Francisco's 14-inning scoreless streak: Mike is a power arm out of the bullpen for us. He is a big man at 6-5 and with a big build. He is an imposing figure on the mound and he has a power arm. He runs it up there pretty good for a lefty. He has confidence out there and he has pitched well all year. That started at LSU and I think he learned at LSU that when he throws strikes he is going to get people out. Opponents are hitting .220 against him and he has 16 strikeouts in 15 innings. Mike has a mound presence and now he is starting to not just play the game but to see the game out there. He is pitching relaxed and with a lot of confidence and has had a lot of success. I am happy for Mike because he is a guy that as a freshman probably didn't get the innings he wanted or have the results in the chances he had. He is building off the momentum he has created this year. With Mike along with Josh Eidell and Kyle Carver we have a really nice bullpen.
On the freshmen pitching out of the bullpen: The young guys have done a really good job. The older guys have been here and in the past we have been able to build a tradition of solid pitching while I have been here and certainly before that. A lot of pitchers have had opportunities here and I think it takes a certain competitiveness to be a pitcher at Villanova. The nice thing is that we can start our rotation with Brian Streilein, Chris Pack and Kevin Crimmel. They are older guys that have been through it and the same goes for Kyle Carver and Josh Eidell on the back end. In the middle innings for short spurts, guys like Jerry Battipaglia, Kyle McMyne and Tom Tesauro at times have gone out there and in short periods of time have had some success. Our young pitchers in the bullpen are starting to understand the power of strike one. They understand that if you come in and throw strike one then things will go your way. Strike one for relievers is just so important. It is important for starters too but in the middle innings and the late part of the game when you throw strike one then people start swinging the bat. If you throw ball one then you are pitching to the hitter's strength. The young guys are starting to understand this and establish command of the strike zone.
On the emergence of David Koczirka: I think that Dave is a guy that last year got lost in the shuffle being on a veteran team and being hurt. He had some at-bats early before he took the redshirt and we could see that he is a good player. Dave came to us from West Chester East, which is one of the better programs in the state. He is in a stiff battle at third base with Kevin Wager. Kevin had a minor injury and was on the shelf for a little bit and Dave took advantage of that opportunity. We tell the guys that they have to be patient but when they get their chance they have to walk through the door. Dave has really energized the bottom of our lineup. He has done some good things with guys in scoring position and hit well in all counts. He can put a good swing on the first pitch but he doesn't panic with two strikes. He had a huge hit against Saint Joseph's on a 1-2 count. They threw him hard away and he just barreled it up. Dave is an average size guy but he has really put some good swings on the ball, both in Florida and at home. He has four doubles and two triples, so six of his 15 hits are for extra bases. He has done a nice job with that.
On Matt McFolling: Matt is one of those guys that I think sometimes it can take a long time to learn how to hit. Matt has the bat speed and he has power. He can obviously hit for a high batting average. It is just a matter of approach. Right now Matt is locked in on the strike zone and is hitting his pitch. He isn't expanding out of the strike zone and if he continues to do that he will keep putting numbers up. In general, Matt has done a great job and for a guy that has been with me for four years I am really happy for him. Matt is fulfilling his potential right now.
On the offense mixing extra-base hits with small ball: For us to be successful this is obviously how we have to play the game. The nice thing is that it started down in Florida. Really I think it started against St. Bonaventure - we got guys on base but didn't do the small things and we hit into four double plays. Against N.C. State it was the same thing. We got guys on base and didn't capitalize. Then we started to get our confidence with the running game against Akron with 11 stolen bases and we were able to start getting some bunts down and executing the hit-and-run. That is how we need to play and the guys understand that. The longer we can stay in our game plan the better. The Saint Joseph's game is a good example of that. We didn't go outside our game plan, even when we were down 6-2 and it was late. We kept playing our game and having a good approach at the plate. We didn't expand out of the strike zone and eventually we put a couple of guys on base and then hit a ball into the gap. That is how we have to play. I think we did that the last month to month and a half last season and it carries over for us into this year.
On where the team stands opening Big East play at St. John's: I think we go into St. John's with everyone healthy that needs to be. We have some momentum going into the series and our record is in good shape. This team has learned how to win games and has learned how to come from behind to win games. Some of the teams I had always had to have things go their way from the start but it hasn't had to be that way with this team. We have scored early, we have been behind early and come back and against Saint Joseph's we were behind late and came back. We have seen everything we need to as a club to be able to go into St. John's. We have been on the road in a tough place like LSU. We have seen a great team like N.C. State and now we can go up against a team in St. John's that has won numerous regular season championships in the last few years. Mentally we are where we need to be going into this series.
On the nature of the Villanova-St. John's series: I think that the last few years if anybody had our number it was St. John's. They had beaten us 12-13 times in a row and they were up 7-0 on us the final day of the regular season. For that team last year to be able to came back and beat St. John's gave them the confidence to look at St. John's a little bit differently going into the playoff game against them. We had our No. 1 pitcher against their No. 4 pitcher and we had a mindset that they wouldn't beat us. Period. A lot people from both programs have moved on that were part of our long losing streak against St. John's. We go into this weekend with eight wins in a row against a team that is playing pretty well right now. For the guys returning, all they know if that Villanova won 12-0 in the playoffs. For our young guys on the history doesn't matter and the same thing goes for St. John's younger guys. I think some of the mojo they had against us is gone and now it is just a different conversation in both locker rooms. We are hopeful that we can go out and play well. St. John's has a very good team and a great tradition. They are a good home team and I think that if we can go up there and muck and grind some innings away and throw the ball over the plate and catch the ball we will have a great opportunity all three days. I just think that some of the back of the mind stuff with the losing streak against them was too much for some of my teams to overcome. Now that is gone and I am really looking forward to the challenge of going up to New York to play them.
March 13, 2009
On the Florida trip: I thought it was a good trip for us. We went 4-3 and it is always a good thing to win more than you lose. We have had better trips record-wise, but given where this team is and with the young players we have and new guys still trying to figure out college baseball, it was a really good week for everybody involved. We got a lot of work in during the week. This was the first time we stayed two extra days and I think that really paid off in the long run. I saw the guys starting to pick things up during pre-game on Wednesday and, although it didn't show up against N.C. State, our batting practice and our infield/outfield got better each day and the freshmen and sophomores started to pick things up a little more each day. By the end of the week, we got into our on-base and running game and scored in double digits in the wins over Akron and New York Tech.
On Villanova improving during the trip: All of the games looked winnable on paper. Against Indiana State, we saw a veteran team that was playing well. We are young and were still trying to figure things out at that point. We didn't play well in that game. They overwhelmed us early in the game and we didn't really get anything going. The next two games that we won against New York Tech and Mount St. Mary's were kind of dicey. The St. Bonaventure game is probably the one that you would want back. I thought we were the better team but they played harder than us. That was a message I talked to the team about. We had a day off on Monday and we didn't really know how to get things back in gear. We hit into four double plays and were down 3-0. The team just wasn't ready to overcome that at the time.
I thought in the N.C. State game we had them in trouble early with guys on base but we hit into a double play and didn't drive in a run with a runner on third base. In the fifth inning, we made one mistake with a passed ball on a strikeout with two outs; the guy gets on base and they score 10 runs. That is what an ACC team can do to you. That was the point, though, where our guys realized that we had kept letting little things happen early in the game. That happened against LSU and against Indiana State. After that point, we started to take care of little things early in games. We have played good defense all year and things started coming into form a little bit after that. We got out of Florida winning two games in a row and got set up to come home and start our home schedule.
On the wins over Bloomsburg and USP: It was good for us to get out and play at home this week. This week wasn't so much about the opponents as it was getting innings in. It was an opportunity for us to give two Pennsylvania teams a chance to come play us. I just thought for us it was good to get some stuff out of the way with getting used to playing at home. The first day on the field, there was a lot going on with fixing the field, and a lot of commotion moving screens, etc. Those are things we didn't have to deal with in Florida and I thought these two opponents helped us get used to being back in the routing of going to class, then being in the locker room and taking vans out to the field, etc. We pitched very well in both games and kind of got our identity back on the mound. We did some nice things offensively and that should set us up well going into our tournament this weekend.
On the pitching staff: The most impressive thing so far has been our bullpen. With the exception of N.C. State, the bullpen has given us a chance every time out. When we are successful it has to start with pitching and the really good teams we have had all had solid bullpens. As a closer, Josh Eidell is as good as anyone there is. Mike Francisco is developing into a strike thrower and we have seen what he can do when he throws strikes. He started against USP and struck out six in two innings. The freshmen have done a good job also; Kyle McMyne, Kyle Helisek, Tom Tesauro and Jerry Battipaglia. They are going to have to give us important innings during the season. What I have been happy with is they are giving us quality innings right now as they figure things out. Sometimes you pay the price with young pitching but our guys have done a really good job getting out of innings and not paying the price with a lot of runs scored. They are comfortable with their defense too. The defense has been fantastic the whole season. In the rotation, the veteran guys - Chris Pack, Brian Streilein and Kevin Crimmel, have all done a good job. Chris has made three quality starts. Brian has been a slow starter but I was really encouraged by his last outing and I am excited to see him against Niagara.
On the offense: We are growing as an offense, especially with starting 3-4 freshmen. We are still trying to figure out the lineup 1-9, more so in the middle of the order. I think the offense started to get its confidence against N.C. State because we were putting guys on base against a good ACC team. We didn't execute driving runs in that day but we did the next day against Akron. The offense has gotten confident in the sense of when we win the on-base battle there is a lot our offense can do. When we put balls on the ground and get our bunts down, we have a lot of speed. We have been able to take the extra base on outfielders and obviously we have been able to steal some bases too. We probably dictate more how people pitch to us with fastballs and maybe take away some breaking balls and changeups because of our running game. The offense is a work in progress but it is going in the right direction. We have gotten our walks up and we will try to get our strikeouts down.
On Dain Hall batting third: Dan has really settled the top part of the lineup down. He is a good hitter and someone that has a chance to be a real plus college hitter. He barrels the ball up and has some power. He isn't a traditional number three hitter in the sense of hitting the ball out of the ballpark, but when guys get on in front of him he can handle the bat, he can bunt, hit the ball the other way or pop a gap. He did a lot for us as a freshman last year and for us to be successful we need him to hit the ball.
On Matt Szczur: Matt is a rarity in being a kid drafted out of high school that missed a year of baseball when he got here. He is still figuring out his hitting but we see the tools that he brings. He has tremendous speed and he has power and will hit some gaps as the season goes along. Matt is definitely a guy that other teams have to prepare for. For someone that hasn't played baseball everyday since his senior year of high school, it is only going to get better for him. He is getting more comfortable with our game and understands what we are trying to do and I think he's having fun with it. Matt is as fast as anyone we have ever had going 90 feet down to first. He is so explosive out of the box.
On the young hitters: We have gotten a lot of guys in there with David Koczirka, Kevin Wager, Marlon Calbi, Cuyler Espositio has some at-bats and we are going to try and get Tyler Sciacca in there. I am happy these guys have all gotten in. They are doing a really good job defensively and the offense will come. The surprise has maybe been Adam Nelson behind the plate. For a guy without a high school baseball team, he was an outfielder/first baseman that caught every five games or so for a traveling team. I have seen Adam get better behind the plate. He receives the ball and throws it well. He is a big, strong kid. I have been happy with all of the young guys.
On the potential of the lineup: I think the one area that hasn't gelled yet has been the middle. We have been good 1-3 and good 7-9. Matt McFolling has helped the lineup by driving in some runs down in the order. He started out 0-for-11 at LSU and he was having good at-bats but nothing was going his way. Now he has hit two home runs against lefty pitching and given us good at-bats. If we can get the 4-6 hitters going, which they will, we have a nice 1-9. They will get it going. Joe Cotter and Wes Borden are proven hitters and Kyle Carver can hurt you with his power also.
On this weekend's tournament: This is the first time in our tournament for Cleveland State, Manhattan and Niagara, while St. Peter's has been a traditional team. We are excited about the teams that are here and about having La Salle, Saint Joseph's and Temple co-host them with us. It should be a challenging weekend for us. These are three opponents who probably don't have their records where they want them yet but they have all played tough competition. The weekend should be just what this Villanova team needs. If we pitch and catch the ball every day then we should have a shot to win. We are lucky that it sounds like the weather is going to be good all weekend. We are excited just to play at home and have a chance to build on a four-game winning streak and two home wins and maybe getting on a roll in Plymouth.
On playing five games this week: With the new national start date, college baseball has turned into your three games on the weekend and then Tuesday and Wednesday. Out of 13 weeks, there are maybe 2-3 weeks you only play four games. It is vital that we played LSU in good weather and down in Florida in good weather and now are getting our home games in. A lot of teams that went down to North Carolina lost games due to weather; we only lost the Cornell game because of the field situation. We are young and need innings on the field. It is good that we can get out and play these games at home this week. The home field advantage is what college baseball is all about and we are fortunate to get all five of these games in.
February 25, 2009
On the experience of playing at LSU: We talked about it with the players going into it and I think it was a once in a lifetime experience, especially when you take into consideration what the LSU program means to college baseball. We have played games all over the country and I have worked at different places around the country and I have never seen anything like the atmosphere we had this weekend. Once you gain an understanding of the LSU program, the best analogy I can give is that it is like opening Yankee Stadium. From having all of the great LSU players back, and [former coach] Skip Bertman who won five College World Series championships, to the highlight film showing the history of LSU baseball, and the fireworks display and playing front of 10,000 people who got rallied up with their Tiger chant, even Saturday with the skydivers dropping in the first pitch, I don't think there is anywhere you would rather be as a sports fan. Even thought things didn't go our way, it was an honor to be in that environment. You don't have to be a baseball fan to understand the magnitude of opening Yankee Stadium and what that means. This was on the same scale with college athletics.
On Villanova's ability to handle the atmosphere at LSU: The one thing I would say is that our guys embraced the situation. I thought we embraced it, we handled it and then we played our game. Our guys did a great job and the assistant coaches did a good job of getting them ready. We brought it up a week in advance of going down there what to expect, down to e-mailing our guys the LSU fight song. We have some really high quality character guys in our organization. I told them the history I have with [LSU head coach] Paul Mainieri and that LSU does a lot of the same things we do in terms of travel and preparing for games, to 1-on-1 meetings and their policy and procedures at hotels. With that, I think there was a comfort level when we watched them on the field doing the same things we do to prepare for a game. In the first inning of Friday's game there were some jitters but I don't think the crowd ever took us out of our game. The LSU players took the game to us at times but our guys did a great job of embracing the situation.
On the series itself: When I recap the series I look at us playing 24 innings on defense and probably 20 of those innings we played as well as maybe we can play. We had a lot of young guys playing for the first time and we defended the field well. I thought five of the seven guys that came out of the bullpen did well. All three starting pitchers competed and gave us a chance. We were behind LSU offensively but at the same time we were facing SEC pitchers too. We will face guys in our league that are at that level but this was our first day facing live pitching outside. LSU exploited some of the things we did but I thought that each day we got better in all areas. The second game was unfortunate in that it was 6-1 all the way and they scored a couple of runs late that distorted the game. Off of a guy [Anthony Ranaudo] that is the top pro prospect in the SEC, we had a chance to get him out of there and let him off the hook. That is a learning experience that we can get better from. On Sunday we had a legitimate chance to beat the No. 1 team in the country and we just didn't get it done. We played all nine innings and then some on Sunday and the whole weekend we competed and played hard in all three games. Now we have to build off this experience, and it will be about what we do now this upcoming week.
On Villanova's pitching: I think it was good. The unique thing about LSU, which we expected, is that they are known for their offense. They are an offensive team and we had to pitch to all nine guys. There are no free outs in their lineup. One through nine you have to pitch to them and no matter who came there wasn't going to be an easy out. Everybody that got in to pitch, including several freshman, did a good job and Mike Mayer came in and did a good job pitching out of some trouble. Josh Eidell was outstanding. I was real excited with our efforts on the mound, both in going out and competing and in facing that lineup.
On the start by Chris Pack: I was real excited for Chris. That was the Chris Pack we got out of high school. He had some things in his career early here with injuries and being able to condition properly because of them. Now, Chris is two years fully removed from what was basically a basketball injury, and it takes basketball players two years to recover from that. Chris went out against LSU and gave up one earned run. He pitched in front of the biggest crowd in the toughest spot of the weekend. If we get efforts like that from Chris every weekend we are going to win a lot of games with him on the mound.
On the offense: My experience anywhere I have been is that the offense is always better the second weekend. The pitching staff we faced at LSU pitched probably pitched themselves into trouble in only one or two innings the whole weekend. For the most part they pounded the strike zone. The bottom of our order was outstanding all weekend. Kyle Carver hit down towards the bottom and Kevin Wager had a good weekend. Guys like Matt Szczur and Justin Bencsko were able to get on base out of the nine spot. We did a really good job of turning over the order but the middle of the lineup had a tough weekend. If you were going to circle one reason why didn't get a win in the series, it would be that LSU did a better job against the middle of our lineup than we did against theirs.
On the offense moving forward: From a growing standpoint we saw that when we got into our bunt game and our running game a little bit, we caused havoc. When we broke everything down I think five of the seven runs we scored were with two outs. As the weekend went on we had a lot of two-strike contact and put balls in play, moved runners up, and did some of the little things that we have to do at Villanova to be successful. As we started getting more comfortable at the plate we saw that when we play our style game, even against a team like LSU, we are going to score. Going forward, for us it is a matter of putting more balls in play. We are a team that has to put 16-21 balls in play every game. If we do that we are going to get our runs.
On the quality of the at-bats by Villanova hitters: As we started to get more comfortable with the situation down there the quality of the at-bats kept getting better all weekend. On Saturday we faced one of the top pitchers in the SEC in Anthony Ranaudo. It is tough to come out of the gym and face a guy throwing 94-96. That's difficult for anybody. As our guys got more confidence being outside and standing in the dirt in the batters box, we got progressively better and better. We were becoming a tougher out and making more productive outs.
On the upcoming trip to Florida: From a team perspective we have to go down to Florida and get some victories. Our first chance at that will be against Indiana State. How we play this weekend is very important because we have to take something out of the LSU series. I told the team that we had a lot of young guys play this weekend and they aren't going to face a tough environment anywhere. Anywhere. We played in front of more than 28,000 fans for the weekend in a hostile environment. What we can take out of that is to go down to Florida, play complete games and start to compete. We talk about analogies a lot and I think being on the big stage at LSU against the No. 1 team in the country, it was like we were in a Pay-Per-View fight. Now we will get Indiana State on Friday and I guarantee there won't be 8,000 fans there. We have to go back to work and earn the right to get back onto that Pay-Per-View stage. From a coaching standpoint we want to make sure the guys don't have a let down going into the Florida trip. The games down there won't be easy.
Our first three games in Florida are against Indiana State, New York Tech and Mount St. Mary. Indiana State comes in with a lot of momentum after winning three games last weekend at Citadel. That was a big weekend for them and it looks like they do a lot of things we do with the bunt game. Mount St. Mary won their conference last year. We are going to face a few teams down in Florida that are playing their first game of the season, so they will have a lot of energy. The situation shifts to where we are now the ones with a target on our back because some of these other teams have the opportunity to play a BIG EAST team and get a great win for their program. That is something we will have to deal with.
During the course of the week we will see St. Bonaventure, a team we are familiar with from the Atlantic 10 Conference. We also play Akron from the Mid-American Conference, and we have had some issues at times with teams from the MAC. Then on Wednesday we play North Carolina State and we are right back in that arena with a heavyweight. Coming off the LSU weekend, I am very interested to see how that game goes. I worked for their coach Elliot Avent so both coaching staffs should be very familiar with what the other team wants to do. It will be a great opportunity for Villanova that day. We play a couple of games early and then we are right back in it with an ACC team that was one game away from the College World Series last year. That is a chance to see how we have grown as a ball club to have a couple of games under our belt and then to get back in there against a great program.
On playing some night games in Florida: We don't usually have a whole bunch of night games on our schedule and I don't know if we ever have in a neutral setting like this in Florida. Over the course of the season we play night games at Notre Dame and at Cincinnati and then hopefully we are in the BIG EAST playoffs and get a night game. We have seen in the past that when we played 10 a.m. games down in Florida it was beneficial to us on the back end when we played 10 a.m. games in the playoffs. Maybe that will also hold true with the night games.
February 17, 2009
On the preseason practices leading up to beginning of the season: The preseason has really been a pleasant surprise with everything we had going on in the sense of a lot of turnover on the roster. We had a lot of guys graduate last year that are now either playing pro ball or are in the job market and starting the rest of their lives. Then we have 16 new guys coming in and with being a spring sport the players come in here in August and do nothing but practice until February. It is like having a seven-month boot camp in a way. From a coaching perspective, I think the assistant coaches did a great job of getting us back to just teaching the game again and teaching what we are trying to do offensively, teaching how to play the game the right way defensively.
The last two years we had veteran ball clubs that had been with us for four years and had several four-year starters so they knew what to expect offensively and defensively. It would have been easy to take that for granted, that the team knows how to run our offense. We have put more of an emphasis on teaching the game this year and that won't end when we get on a plane to go to LSU. That is going to be part of the deal the whole year. It has been refreshing for me to get back to working with a lot of freshmen and trying to teach them how to become successful college baseball players.
On evaluating players that can play multiple positions in the field: It can be tough to evaluate where everyone should be in the field. That starts with our fall workouts. We try to give the players a week to 10 days in the individual workouts and then the first week or two of practice and let them play the position they are most comfortable in. That early in the year our goal is for them to get used to the program and the other guys, get used to being student-athletes and managing their academics.
Once we get to the middle of our fall season is when we start with our chaos situations and intra-squad games. All of a sudden the guy who was playing shortstop everyday might play a few innings at third base. Someone else might go to left field. We have a lot of guys with similar body types and one of the things we preach is that our team is built to run and defend the field. We challenge the players everyday both on the field and in meetings off the field to know all the positions, know the defenses at first and third and on relays to know the right spots. Our goal defensively is to have a 9-on-1 mentality in the sense that there are nine guys out on the field and we are defending one hitter. That means middle infielders have to understand where they are moving and where the backups are supposed to be.
We continue that all through winter workouts, but it gets more challenging when we get outside on the football turf in February. I think we get in a lot of quality work on the football turf for the infielders but with the outfield it is tough and it gets monotonous to be getting balls out of the machine and off of a fungo. The outfielders really don't get balls live off the bat until we play our first game. That seems to be one of the things we deal with in the Northeast with our outfielders so we sometimes will bring them in to the corner infield positions for our workouts on the turf.
On the veteran players on this year's roster: We have a group of veteran guys in Joe Rosati, Matt McFolling, Wes Borden, Josh Eidell, Kyle Carver - all those guys have done an excellent job given the amount of new people to assimilate the freshmen into the program. They talked to them about baseball and about academics and those are the things that help younger guys develop into a college baseball player. This senior class has been there and they have reaped the benefits of hard work. They have seen us get on a plane to go to Florida for the BIG EAST playoffs. They were a part of beating St. John's 12-0. They have a win against Alabama. They have been to Texas, so they are going to know what to expect at LSU. I think these guys have done a great job this year, from what I've seen, of being good teammates. I expect that will continue throughout the season.
On the goals of the senior class: I am very excited about what this senior class has done in their careers and about what they still have a chance to do. We look at what each senior class has done in setting our team and individual goals. If this group continues doing some of the things they have already done - we aren't even talking about pie in the sky stuff - if they continue on the path they are on they have a chance to get to 116 wins, which would be the most of any senior class in my coaching career. The seniors have a lot of individual challenges and team goals. Hopefully they will accomplish a lot of them and some of them will have a chance to go out and play at the next level.
On some of the team's key position battles during the preseason: Our biggest position battles are throughout the infield. We are going to be young in the infield no matter how you cut it up other than catcher and first base. Wes Borden is our catcher. Kyle Carver is going to play first base, but he wears two hats for us and he is going to pitch too. The only other guy coming back in the infield is Dain Hall, who is moving to second base. It is the first time he has played there. Dain played shortstop and some outfield in high school and he played third base for us last season, so he is learning a new position.
We are going to see balance throughout all the positions. Some of the guys have stepped up and done a nice job. I was happy with Tyler Sciacca at shortstop during fall workouts and with Kevin Wager's progress at third base. I have been happy with all the freshmen. I think now it will be a matter of trial and error. When the lights get turned on Friday night at LSU it won't be an intra-squad game in a controlled situation. At that point it comes down to who can make the plays. I think all the freshmen infielders have done a good job of positioning themselves for playing time in the infield. That is what LSU will do for us, what the Spring Break trip to Florida and our Villanova Baseball Bash will do. We have 17 games before we open up BIG EAST play. When we get to that Friday and we are opening against St. John's that is when we really will look and see who our best nine guys are on that day. I don't think we know that yet.
In the outfield we have some more experienced guys. Joe Cotter has been here for five years and played every day for about three of them. Justin Bencsko has had a lot of playing time and now it is his time as a junior to step up and prove himself as an everyday guy. Matt McFolling, as a senior, is almost in the same boat. He has had a lot of playing time but now he has to step up and be a key part all year. We are also getting Matt Szczur back. He is another guy who came in after being drafted out of high school. He is two years removed from playing baseball. He has had a great football career at Villanova so far and we hope he has the same success on the baseball field.
On the series at LSU: If you had to pick a series we have played, though the makeup of the teams is different, this is most similar to us going to Texas in 2006. We have played a who's who of college baseball since I have been here, from Florida to Alabama, UNLV, Georgia Tech...But in LSU we have a team that is one of the four crown jewels of college baseball. If you were going to rattle off the four teams that come to mind when you think of college baseball, you are going to mention LSU, Texas, Arizona State and then make an argument about the fourth one. Those first three are going to come up in any conversation about college baseball.
We always talk about the way that styles make fights, and this weekend we will be getting in the ring against one of the real big-time heavyweights in college baseball. LSU can play all facets of the game well. That is why they are the No. 1 team in the country. They have solid pitching and they are a real good offensive club that can do multiple things. They can run, they can hit the ball out of the ballpark and they can put balls in play. We do know a little bit style-wise just with the background of [LSU head coach] Paul Mainieri from when he was at Notre Dame. Paul isn't afraid to create action with the hit-and-run and that sort of stuff. He had great teams at Notre Dame and he has a great team right now at LSU.
On preparing to open the season with such a series: This is the first time since I have been here that we are playing the No. 1 ranked team in the country and we are going to play in their backyard. We have to be able to handle the stadium atmosphere with 7,000-plus fans. There are a lot of opportunities on the field this weekend for Villanova against one of college baseball's true heavyweights.
On his relationship with Paul Mainieri: I have known Paul since he was at Air Force and I was at Colorado State, continuing to when he was at Notre Dame and I came to Villanova. It is an honor for Paul to give Villanova the opportunity to be the first team to play in their new park. He could have picked anybody; he hand-picked his opponent. We are going to go down and play hard and play tough and try to find a way to get a win and then go from there. The unique thing is that when Paul was at Notre Dame his team was the first opponent to play us when we opened our stadium in Plymouth Meeting and now I will be the first opponent to play LSU in their new park.
On Major League Baseball's renewed emphasis this offseason on valuing speed and defense: At the end of the day if you are going to be a good baseball team you have got to be able to catch the ball. In the major leagues, you have 162 games of swinging the bats and if you do that well you get into the playoffs. We keep seeing that once the playoffs start is when teams have to get into small ball, stolen bases and that sort of stuff. It brings the game back to how it was designed. In the College World Series in recent years, we have seen the teams that have had success have been the teams that bunt and play that West Coast style offense along the lines of Cal State Fullerton, Long Beach State and Oregon State. The teams that had success did the little things at the end of the year. There have been teams like Oklahoma State and Miami to a degree that came in swinging big bats but the guys that did the little things offensively and defensive and created havoc were the ones to win the College World Series.
Getting back to the Major League game, I think today's game is coming back to how it was in the 1980's when you had Tim Raines, Rickey Henderson and all those guys that were stealing 100 bases every year. You would see how those guys created runs for their team and that kind of got lost in the 90's, I guess with the Steroid Era. Suddenly guys weren't going to steal a base, they were going to hit a three-run homer. Now we are seeing the body types come back to the speed and defensive side of the game and we are getting back to how the game is meant to be played.
On whether a Major League player can have another season with 100 stolen bases: I think that might be tough. You may see someone get into the 70's or about that. It takes a special guy to play 162 games and hit at the top of the lineup and control the on-base game. The funny thing is that offensively I think we have seen the transition back to a running game but I don't think we have seen that transition with pro pitchers. I listened to Brian Roberts of the Baltimore Orioles speak at a baseball convention and he was talking about how so many pitchers are 1.5-1.6 to the plate and there are free bases out there. He was just going and getting started before a pitcher would do anything. It was a 1-2 count and then go.
December 16, 2008
On the annual V Club auction: The online auction has proven to be one of our top fundraisers of the year and the money from it goes specifically towards our Spring Break trip to Florida. These trips give us a chance to go down and play a good, solid week of baseball against a lot of different teams. Although not all of the proceeds have been tallied yet, I am confident to announce that we will surpass our goal of raising $20,000 for the third consecutive year.
We thank the V Club for their support of the student-athletes and the baseball program and also want to say that none of this would be possible without the help of the generous baseball alums and friends of the program. Many of our alums went out and bought auction items but most importantly a number of people donated some personal things, from golf courses to summer homes and different types of memorabilia. We have been able to build each year on the auction items and proceeds and a simple thank you is certainly an understatement for all of the support we get.
On the youth clinics being held on campus during the holiday break: During the holiday period we offer a youth holiday clinic and this is our opportunity to give back to the local community and get young kids involved with baseball. In this day and age, baseball has become a year-round sport and we use these clinics as a start to the year and getting back into the swing of things. We are always excited to see some of our alums start to send their sons and grandsons to the holiday clinic. That helps to bridge the generation gap in the program with not only the coaching staff but more importantly with some of the current players working the clinics and getting to know our alums.
On the high school prospect clinics held at the same time: We are working with our partners at All Star Baseball Academy for our high school clinics, which have been very pivotal for us in our recruiting because they offer a first look in a Villanova setting at players who we will follow in next year's recruiting. We have been doing very well and have signed many players out of these camps. They give us an initial look at some guys and help us put together our recruiting calendar for the coming year.
This year in addition to the clinics at All Star Baseball Academy, assistant coach Chris Madonna has also put together a satellite camp in Long Island. This is a major area that is part of our recruiting in the Northeast and we will be going out to New York much in the way we went out to Chicago for one of our blue chip prospect clinics in August.
On former pitcher Brian Slocum signing with the Pittsburgh Pirates: Brian is one of the highest pitchers ever drafted out of Villanova and last week he signed a minor-league free agent contract with the Pirates. Brian has had some major league time with the Cleveland Indians but I think he fell victim somewhat to an organization that drafted him while it was a major league power and Brian kind of got caught in between the changeover from a veteran ball club to a younger team. He is going to have a great opportunity in Pittsburgh. The Pirates are a ballclub that is searching for success at the major league level and Brian's major league experience will be valuable to an organization that is in the infancy part of building its program. Brian should have nothing but opportunity in that organization to have success at the major league level and to hopefully grow as a pro player and continue to get better.
On Slocum's ability to be a starter and reliever: Brian was invited to major league camp and the Pirates need help on all levels of the pitching staff. That is one thing that Brian brings to the table. He has been a starter and has some major league experience starting games but he also has experience in the bullpen. He has worn many a hat on a pitching staff and hopefully that will help him carve out a role with the Pirates.
On the team naming captains for the 2009 season: For the past four seasons the coaching staff has turned over the naming of captains to the players. The players are who the captains represent and the captains are the team's picks for who should take charge of Villanova baseball from the standpoint of responsibility, accountability and leadership. This was the most competitive vote we have had in the sense of a lot of different nominees and each of the picks being made after a lot of conversation. The three captains will be seniors Josh Eidell, Wesley Borden and Joe Rosati. Eidell is a second year captain and I know that all three of these guys will do a great job.
On Josh Eidell: Josh has established himself as a leader not only of the pitching staff but on the overall team. He was nominated as a captain last year as a junior and I thought that was unique with such a senior laden team. Josh has had a very special career at Villanova and we hope to see him expand on that in his senior year.
On Joe Rosati: Joe is a four-year starter and the type of player who wears Villanova baseball on his sleeve. He is a lunch pail guy and an intense player. I can't think of a better person to represent Villanova in terms of what we are trying to do with being a blue collar team at a white collar school.
On Wesley Borden: Wes is a catcher who came in and for two years played behind two upperclassmen. He has really climbed the stairs with his contributions to the ballclub. Last season he went out and caught almost every game and probably would have been in there every single game if we needed him to. He will be in a position to that again this year. The catcher is the captain on the field and certainly the title fits him as well.
On the upcoming holiday break and start of practice in January: As we turn our guys loose for final exams this week and then the holiday vacation the one thing that stands out in my mind and the other coaches is just how hard this team worked and how committed they were not only individually but from a team standpoint to continue the success we have had and build on it. When you play fall baseball there is so much practice time in September and October without really playing any games that sometimes there is a tendency to maybe drift off into that month of November. I didn't see that at all with this club. We have a young team and a number of guys who are away from home for the first time. We want this holiday break to be a chance for them to go home and spend some time with their families and then to come back with excitement for getting started. When the players get back on January 12 it will only be five weeks until we get on a plane and get ready to play our season-opening series at LSU.