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May 23, 2016

Chris Pollard

Durham, North Carolina

CHRIS POLLARD: As some of the other coaches have reiterated, the ACC baseball tournament is a great event. We are proud to be a part of it. Very proud of what our team has accomplished this year. Particularly the way we've played over the second half of the season, since March 27, I think we are 23-8, have played very baseball down the stretch.

It's been fun to watch a very, very young team grow up as the season has unfolded. We're starting three freshmen and five sophomores in our starting lineup, one junior. We don't have a senior in our starting nine.

So to watch these guys mature and develop over the course of this year and being playing their best baseball at the end of the year has been a fun experience as a coach.

Q. You talk about that run that this team has made over these last 30-plus games. Do you play into account their youth when they get into the tournament atmosphere? Does that play for you or against because of the way they have been able to play so seemingly loose down the stretch; they continue to better their positioning through the tournament over the last couple of weeks.
CHRIS POLLARD: Well, it's a great question. Ultimately we've had to approach the last couple of weeks here, each game is more or less an elimination game with how jumbled up the ACC standings were, and we've had to play essentially elimination games on the road this past weekend at Pitt, and our guys responded well to that environment and they have done a great job of staying focused, staying loose, staying committed to the moment, which is something that we preach a lot.

So I think that even though we're young, we're well seasoned for the start of tournament play, because in essence, our tournament started about two or three weeks ago.

Q. When you look at your opponent's lineup in Wake Forest, they have been one of the better-hitting teams over the last stretch of the regular season. How do you combat them in Game 1, and what do you see them do so well at the plate that's made them so dangerous?
CHRIS POLLARD: Sure. Well, I think that Wake Forest is one of the best offensive teams in the country. We'll throw Kellen Urbon tomorrow, who has thrown exceptionally well for us down the stretch, and who pitched well against Wake at Wake Forest back about six weeks or so ago.

Wake has a tremendous amount of power in their lineup. They do it from both sides of the plate. You have got Will Craig and Fairchild from the right side, and then you have Mondou and Sheets from the left side.

Obviously Will Craig is arguably the best player in college baseball, and he's having another unbelievable season. I think when I last checked within the last week or so, he was leading the country in OPS.

There's not a part of the lineup that you can kind of catch your breath. Coach Walter has done a great job with his club. What we'll try to do is really what we try to do going into every game, and that is we harp on first-pitch strike percentages, we pride ourselves on getting ahead, we pride ourselves on pitching to the bottom of the strike zone and we'll try to induce a lot of ground ball contact.

Q. What was it like in 2013 and 2015 to have the tournament in Durham but not be in the tournament?
CHRIS POLLARD: It's not a lot of fun. It's not a lot of fun to be here at home, and know that just a few miles down the road that there's a lot of really good baseball being played and you're not a part of it.

It feels really good and I'm happy for our players that they get the experience of playing in this event in our hometown and playing in this event in the Durham Bulls Athletic Park.

Q. Any edge there, it was only a temporary home this year, but being able to play in Durham, I'm sure that will be something of a boost for you guys.
CHRIS POLLARD: We certainly love playing in the ballpark. It's such a tremendous stadium. It's such a great atmosphere for baseball, and our guys relish every opportunity that we get to play in that ballpark.

So to be a part of this tournament, and get a chance to play a few more games in that terrific stadium this spring is certainly something that we relish.

Q. Congratulations on making it. I wanted to ask about, you talked about March 27, but even going back before then, you guys had beat Clemson and a couple non-conference wins, and really it was the Wake Forest series that was the last really tough one for you guys. Does it feel like a full circle, getting a chance to play them again?
CHRIS POLLARD: That was sort of a tipping point for us. We had struggled with some injuries on the mound through that early part of ACC play, and we had a couple of guys that were just rounding back into health, Ryan Day, who has been a key contributor out of our bullpen was coming back from a hamstring injury.

Mitch Stallings was just rounding into shape from being out all fall with knee surgery and that was during the stretch where we had Trent Swart who has been one of best starters in our program, in the history of our program; he was out and has since been back and pitched exceptionally well.

That's when those guys were starting to round back into health, and that's what we made the decision to make some pretty dramatic changes to our lineup, particularly the insertion of Justin Bellinger into the four spot in our lineup, and that facilitated a move for Jack Labosky to move to third base.

And then we moved Jimmy Herron to center field. That was a spark for the offense and that was where we really started to take off.

Q. You guys had a couple close losses down the stretch, that really tough one to Clemson at home, but even a few one-run losses. How have you been able to put those behind you and conversely relied on your bullpen?
CHRIS POLLARD: The nature of the way we've played, we've relied on pitching and defense, so by virtue of that, we've found ourselves in a lot of close ballgames, and we've won a lot of one-run games and we've lost a couple of one-run games.

Ultimately I think we've played pretty well. We've got a very high winning percentage in one-run ballgames. So when you're constantly playing in close games like that, you have to be able to get rid of the losses quickly, flush them, and move on to the next ballgame. Because the way we play, the way we're built, we know we're going to play a lot of those kinds of games, and we've been fortunate to find ourselves on the right side of most of those ballgames.

Q. Given the success that your school has had, now recently football also. Is there a challenge to raise your game to a level to where you're in a position to challenge for championships and NCAA Tournament bids? How much has this season and what you've accomplished and been on the verge of been a step in that direction?
CHRIS POLLARD: I think you're spot on. We talk about it. We're open about it as a program. We openly discuss it with our players. Here at Duke, we're surrounded by excellence, not only athletic excellence; you mention basketball and lacrosse, and certainly the job Coach Cutcliffe has been with football. But you look at our men's and women's golf programs, you look at our men's and women's tennis programs; what Coach Church did with women's soccer this past fall. Our athletics department is one of the best in the country.

But it goes beyond that. But you look at the top students that are coming here from all over the world, there's academic excellence. We've got one of the ten best hospitals in the country right here on our campus. There's medical excellence, health excellence. We understand that there's a pretty high bar here at Duke, and we've got to work hard to strive to reach that bar like so many of our peers have here.

Q. How has this season been a step in that direction? You're on the verge of your first NCAA Tournament bid in a really long time.
CHRIS POLLARD: I feel like it's part of the progression, it's part of the plan. It's what we've been building for. We talk about it. We don't dwell on it. We don't obsess on it. But we do talk about it at the beginning of year and make it clear to be in this position, to be in this spot is something that we work very hard for, and it's something that we plan on each year when we start. At our opening team meeting, we openly talk about and discuss working to be in this position at the end of the year.

FastScripts Transcript by ASAP Sports

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