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May 23, 2016

Monte Lee

Durham, North Carolina

MONTE LEE: Obviously we've had a very good regular season, 38-18. Our guys finished very, very well towards the end of the season. We won our last four weekend series in a row, three of them being in ACC play to finish strong in conference play.

Had a number of guys that had great years, offensively, Seth Beer, one of the best freshmen in the country, along with Chris Okey, both of those guys had outstanding years pitching-wise, Pat Krall had an amazing year for us.

Overall our guys have had a great year, and playing good baseball coming down the stretch here and hopefully we can carry that into the ACC tournament.

Q. The team you're facing first has been playing well down the stretch. What do you see in Virginia that's allowed them to turn it on again late in the year?
MONTE LEE: Well, obviously Virginia has got very good starting pitching. They have got a very good team, extremely well coached. Virginia is a team that has been very, very good in the post-season.

So I think the biggest thing with Virginia is we're going to have to execute pitches. Fundamentally, they are very good at the plate. They worked themselves into good counts to hit. They execute in a lot of different areas. Kevin McMullan runs their offense, does as good a job as anybody in the country. They will steal, hit-and-run, bunt, manufacture runs.

Pitching-wise, depending on who they throw, Connor Jones is one of the best pitchers in the country, potentially a first-round draft pick and Karl Kuhn is one of the best pitching coaches there is out there.

They are very well-coached and they are very prepared. I know their head coach and their assistant coaches very well. All three of those guys come into any ballgame as prepared as anybody. I think that's the biggest thing. You've got a team that's strong in all facets of the game. They are going to be very good defensively.

Offensively they can do a number of things; they have some power, they have some speed and they can execute offensively. So the big thing for us is we have to throw strikes and execute defensively and find a way to score runs when we get opportunities against a very good starting pitcher.

Q. I don't believe you've played them this year. Is there an advantage one way or the other?
MONTE LEE: I don't necessarily think so. I think by this point in the year, yeah, the familiarity of playing somebody does probably help you a little bit but also, teams change over the course of the season. Players change over the course of the season.

Everybody is going to have scouting reports on everybody. Everybody is going to be prepared and have a game plan going into each game on how we want to attack a lineup or how we want to attack a starting pitcher.

So I don't know if there's necessarily an advantage or disadvantage to not playing somebody or playing somebody, because when it comes tournament time, it's a new season.

Q. You guys closed the year by winning 12 of your last 16 games, and I believe in those 16 games, 21 days -- you played 16 games in 21 days. Can you talk about how you guys came together as a team and how playing that many games made the bond a little bit better?
MONTE LEE: I think it's a combination of a couple of different things. I think one of the things that helped us was our guys stayed the course throughout the year. We had obviously a great start and then in the middle of the season, we struggled for a number of weeks.

I think the biggest thing is our guys just stayed the course. We never got too high or too low, and we stayed confident. We kept plugging away every day. We tried to make the best of the opportunity that we had to play and find a way to win. Our guys stayed very process-oriented and goal-oriented and just kept competing.

I think that's been the name of the game for us. I felt good about us going down the stretch simply because I knew that we had not lost any confidence in each other as a team.

And I think the series that really helped us I think kind of get it going was the Florida State series. When we won that Florida State series, I think it helped us tremendously, and then we beat NC State and then we kind of got on a roll. We beat Georgia southern in a non-conference weekend and then finished strong at Notre Dame, swept Notre Dame.

I think more than anything it was just the combination of our guys just kept plugging away. Our pitching staff did a really good job over the course of the last 15 games. I think in every game we won, we gave up five runs or less so, our pitching staff became more consistent starting pitching-wise.

Defensively we played better. We limited our walks and free bases over the course of the last 15 games and I think that was the recipe for us finishing strong is pitching and defense got better, and we found ways to win games.

Q. When you have a strong arm like Pat Krall that can set the table from the bump, how much does that let the offense relax and not try to do too much when they face a strong pitcher like you mentioned with possibly seeing Connor Jones in that opening game?
MONTE LEE: Well, you know, Pat Krall is a guy that just -- I don't know if I'm going to answer your question here or not. Basically, Pat Krall is a guy that we use to win games and to win series.

Pat has experience as a starter. He's got a lot of experience as a reliever. We've brought Pat in in the middle of the game. We've brought him in early in the game out of the pen. We closed with him; we started with him.

The thing about Pat is I think our team understands is when we pitch Pat, we feel like we've got a really good chance to win the ballgame. So if we bring him in, whenever we bring him in, our team has a lot of confidence that we're going to win that game because the presence that he brings on the mound.

The thing about Pat, Pat is one of those guys, he beats you because he adds and subtracts. He pitches off of this changeup and his breaking ball and then he'll throw a fastball, and his 83-mile-an-hour fastball looks like it's 88 when he throws the changeup that he throws.

To me, he's a guy that adds and subtracts, and even for a guy that doesn't throw very hard, teams start sitting on the outer half of the plate and they start sitting on off-speed pitches, then you can locate a fastball in.

I think that's what makes him very effective is if he can pitch to both sides of the plate and change speeds, and he just keeps you out front the whole ballgame.

The one thing about Pat, is the offense has to be very, very disciplined if they are going to hit him on the barrel, and we can use him in a variety of roles.

I think the big thing is, he's a confident kid. We're a very confident team when he pitches and we use him to win games, and more times than not, it's worked out.

Q. There's a couple of guys in that lineup that really help Seth and Chris be more productive at the plate and make that offense more productive, as well.
MONTE LEE: Well, it all starts with Chase Pinder for us at the top of the order. You look at our offense, and when our offense is clicking, it's because Chase Pinder is getting on base. He gets on base at a high very rate. Even when he's not getting hit, he finds a way to get on base. He'll get hit by pitches. He'll take walks. He's a guy that understands his role and does what he does.

You know, we used a couple different guys in the 2-hole. Eli White; he has not hit as well as he'd like, but Eli has been getting on base. He finds ways to get on base. Our job as an offense with the one and two spot is to try to get on base so that Seth and Okey are coming up with guys on because both those guys hit really well with runners in scoring position.

But it all starts with Pinder. When Pinder is getting on base, we find a way to score runs, because you have to run through the middle of our lineup with Beer, and then with Okey and then with Reed Rohlman. All three of those guys hit pretty well with runners in scoring position.

Q. Your starting pitchers really got it together at Notre Dame. Did you see anything mechanically different that they did, and how do you now approach your rotation for Thursday, Friday, Saturday?
MONTE LEE: Playing at Notre Dame, like a number of fields in our conference, it's a turf field. The ball wasn't really carrying that well. To get a ball out of the park, you had to hit it down the lines.

Our emphasis going into the weekend, like it is in any weekend, but if you locate down in the strike zone and force them to hit the ball on the ground, it's extremely hard to get a ball through that infield because it's turf field.

Our big thing was just try to limit our walks and pounds the strike zone, and we were very, very aggressive this weekend. Charlie was very aggressive with his fastball. Clate pitched the best game he's pitched all year. And then Eubanks, Eubanks honestly wasn't as sharp as he's been at times, but he threw strikes. We had four walks or less, I believe, in each one of those three games, and we played very good defensively.

So I think the biggest thing for us over the last weekend and over the last couple weeks was our guys were just more aggressive with their fastball early in the count so we could get ahead and execute two-strike pitches.

And we pitch to contact; we've been trying to preach that to our guys all year long. But sometimes it's easier said than done. You start getting hit, you don't want to throw the ball over the plate.

But I think our guys, it's been a process but they have bought into, you know what, let's just be aggressive over the plate, and if we get hit, we get hit. But more times than not, because the law of averages in baseball, the hitters are going to get themselves out if they swing the bat. And I think our guys just became more and more confident over the course of this last month. We threw more balls in the strike zone over the last month and played better defensively.

Q. Do you plan on those three guys starting or do you put Pat back in the mix in Durham?
MONTE LEE: We are going to put Pat back in the mix, and then start with Barnes, and then after that, TBA, TBA. Just like we've been doing all year, we're going to wait and see what we do with Pat, whether we use Pat out of the bullpen in Game 1. And once we get past Game 1, then we'll start looking at match up wise, what we feel is the best matchup in Game 2, whether it's to short Schmidt, who has been throwing very, very well or whether it's to start Pat Krall.

And again, we are really not looking ahead of anybody but Virginia right now, and we will use Pat Krall out of the pen if needed but really it's more us trying to figure out after Game 1 who we feel like is the best matchup for Louisville in Game 2, whether that's Schmidt, whether that's Krall.

We could potentially use Eubanks in that start but we haven't really gotten that in depth past Game 1. We are just focusing on Game 1 right now, and once we get through Game 1, we'll try to decide based on how we use Pat Krall whether we would start him in Game 2 or just keep him in the bullpen and start Clate Schmidt.

Q. Do you feel like this is a team that deserves to host an NCAA regional?
MONTE LEE: I absolutely do. I think if you look at our wins versus top 50 wins versus top 100, the ACC is the No. 1 RPI conference in the country. I think as of yesterday, I think we were at -- we're ten today. If we're ten in the RPI, absolutely.

And if you look at our RPI, our RPI has been hovering around that ten number pretty much the whole year. We have been up there for a good portion of this year in the Top 10, the Top-12 in RPI.

We've got 38 wins, third most in the league, and another thing that the selection committee looks at is how you finish. It's how have you played in your last ten games, and we've played some of our best baseball here in the last ten games of the season.

Q. Y'all are second in the power five in home runs, I believe, just a couple home runs behind Georgia Tech. You hit a few over the weekend at Notre Dame. How do you think this ballpark sets up for the long ball for y'all, and obviously the pitching staff is good and you don't expect to hit many against them, but in general for the tournament as a whole, how do you think that gives your offense an advantage?
MONTE LEE: Well, I've never been to this ballpark, so just from my perspective, I really don't know.

But from talking to our folks here who have been there, from what I understand, it looks like it's a place where you can hit some home runs to left. But for the most part, it plays pretty true. It's a pretty true ballpark.

And I'll be honest with you, with our pitching staff, and I don't just look at it from an offensive standpoint. I mean, from a pitching standpoint and an offensive standpoint, it sounds like if you execute pitches, it's not a place where you can hit a pop-up and it's going to get out of there.

It sounds like if you hit it on the barrel pretty good, you've got a chance to hit it out of the park. To me, it seems like a pretty fair ballpark that plays well for us pitching-wise and offensively.

So that's the best I can tell you. I know they have got the monster in left. Besides maybe down the left field line, it looks like the ballpark plays fairly true to all other parts of the field.

If you look at the guys that have power in our lineup, the guys that can hit home runs, Pinder, Chris Williams and obviously Beer, Okey, those guys can hit balls out of any park for the most part. They are mostly pull-side power guys, outside of Seth. Seth can hit the ball out to any part of the park.

To me, the park plays fairly true and that bodes well for us pitching-wise and offensively.

Q. Seth Beer, you certainly coached your first share of great talents, even as freshmen going back to your days at South Carolina. Where does he rank? Does he remind you of anybody you've coached before? And also, coaching in pool play, how is that different from some of the other conference tournaments that you've coached in before?
MONTE LEE: I'll take the second question first. As far as pool play, this is my first experience as a coach in pool play. So I don't really have an opinion on it, just because I haven't been through it yet.

I'm looking forward -- honestly, I'm looking forward to experiencing it myself, just because I've never done it before to see kind of what I think about it. Every conference that I've ever coached in has been a double elimination tournament. So I'm just not familiar with pool play and can't tell you.

But from talking to our coaching staff, our coaches like it. It seems that most of the coaches in our league like pool play. So I'm just looking forward to experiencing it myself just because I've never done it before, so I don't really have an opinion on it.

As far as Seth goes, comparing him to some of the guys that I've coached over the years in the past, I think the one thing that stands out about Seth as a hitter, if he's got power, but he's also a very good hitter. He does not strike out very much. If you look at his wall and his HBP numbers versus his strikeouts, he's very, very hard to strikeout.

So he's one of those guys that not only can he hurt you early in the count if you make a mistake, but he's hit a lot of home runs and extra base hits with two strikes. He stays on off-speed pitches very well and he covers the whole plate and he can hit the ball to all fields.

He's one of those guys that I haven't had anybody that's as disciplined as he is and also hits the ball with power as much as he does; taking all the way back to say like a Justin Smoak who had an unreal freshman year back in, I think it was 2006.

Those guys are very, very similar as hitters. I would say Seth may be a little more disciplined in terms of he's harder to strikeout. Justin Smoak was a well of a player, too; he's na unreal hitter.

This kid is as good as anybody I've ever coached. And the fact that he really should be a senior in high school says an awful lot about him and the adjustment he's been able to make from high school baseball to ACC level pitching.

He's unreal and he's playing for Team USA this summer, and for a reason. It's because I think he's one of the best hitters in the country.

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