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June 26, 2016
THE MODERATOR: We'll start with Coaches' comments.
COACH JOHNSON: It's great to be here, obviously. Very proud of our team, very proud of these two guys sitting next to me right here. I think when you point at us and how is this happening, why are we here, it starts with these two guys, their leadership, their competitiveness, and really living every day what we want the foundation of our program to be.
And there's nowhere else on the planet I'd rather be than right here right now. Looking at Coach Gilmore and Coastal, this is a long time coming. This is not a surprise to me, knowing what that program has stood for for a long period of time; the way they're coached, the amount of good players that they've had, and I'm very proud to say, when I look at their team, just initially, I see a lot of characteristics I see in our team and think it's going to be a great series, and we're very excited to be here.
THE MODERATOR: Gary.
COACH GILMORE: During this period of time it's incredible. Obviously he's a whole lot smarter than I am because he got here faster than I did.
As far as my team, I've said it all week, it's just a unique bond of young men that have a lot of talent that truly care and love one another, and there have been moments in these games where I shake my head, the hours we spent on base running and some things we've messed up while we've been here.
But it's a testament to who they are. The next guy steps up and somebody picks them up. It's just an incredible thing, and I've watched it pretty much the whole entire year and it's grown and grown.
And there are probably a lot of talented teams here, possibly more talented than Jay and my team, but the two teams that have played the best are here, and there's a tremendous amount of similarities between us. Should be a great series before it's over with.
Q. Connor and Zach, I think it was Tyler last night was talking about your team's ability one through nine to adjust to the situation and maybe a little bit about how this team that leads the country in home runs is willing to sacrifice to move guys over and then thump when guys are in scoring position. Can you talk about what you guys have kind of done to approach it that way and maybe how that ability to do what's necessary has helped you in this ballpark here this week.
CONNOR OWINGS: I think it just starts with that mindset from day one when we got on campus, Coach Gilmore and the coaching staff preached relentless selfless attitude to us. That's how we genuinely play on the field and feel about one another. We trust the person behind us, and if we're asked to bunt, we'll bunt and expect the person behind us to pick us up.
It's an attitude instilled in us from day one. It's just how we play baseball and how we've done things, and I think it's just continued to be successful for us. So we're going to keep sticking with it.
ZACH REMILLARD: We've been an offense all season that's been able to drive the baseball, but we've also been able to get down our sac bunts and steal some bags. Regardless of the ballpark, we're just going to tailor our game and just continue to play the game.
Q. For all the student-athletes, what do you admire about the other team? You've had a chance to watch them play a little bit. So for Arizona, what do you admire about the Coastal student-athletes; and for Coastal, what do you admire about the style of play for Arizona?
ZACH GIBBONS: I think our style plays the same. They do small ball and they drive the ball, too. I'm excited to get going. It will be a great couple of great games. So I think our style of play is the same.
CODY RAMER: Like Zach said, their style of play is similar to ours. They play hard, just like we do. They hit a lot more bombs than we do. It's going to be a fun series to get going.
CONNOR OWINGS: Echo what they said. Very similar styles. We like to both play small ball and we trust in our teammates.
I think the other thing that goes unnoticed is we're both just out here having a great time playing baseball. We all love to just play the game and have fun. You see that dugout, they're all having a good time. And the kids in our dugout last night had a shark for some reason. And I think that just shows, echos what kind of people they are as well as we are.
We just really enjoy playing this game, and having a good time doing it.
ZACH REMILLARD: I think that's going to be the most exciting thing. Watching their dugout before we get to the ballpark, they're a pretty emotional team and like to get after it. I think that's going to be the most fun part of it, aside from the actual game itself, is both teams like to get after it.
Q. Zach and Cody, what was Coach's message when he took over? And while you have a lot of talent, obviously, what did he do to help you guys get here so fast?
ZACH GIBBONS: Right when he took over, he told us seniors he wanted it to be the best last year of our lives, to go out and grind and give the other team the best nine innings. Even if they got our best, they're going to get the best nine innings we have.
So it's really going out, playing loose and loving the game that you're playing.
CODY RAMER: Yeah, Skip mentioned to us he had guys on the roster that could play better than what they have. He wanted to get the best version of ourselves. It's something that he stressed to us and really helped us on our improvement stage.
Q. Can you remember what your feelings were a year ago at this time or just a little more than a year ago at this time as your school was going through a coaching change as you both prepared for your senior seasons and what kind of uncertainty there was and how quickly it took -- how short a period of time it was before you felt good about the direction of what your last year was going to be?
ZACH GIBBONS: Definitely a different feeling. I've never gone through a coaching change. But right from the get-go, when I was driving out to summer ball, Coach Johnson called me, introduced himself. Not too many coaches would do that, just tell you the plan he has for the team, tell you the plan that he has for you as an individual.
But right when he called, I knew it was going to be a great experience this year coming up. It kind of stunk watching the College World Series at home for three years, but I'm glad we're here for the final season.
CODY RAMER: Like Zach said, it was definitely a quick transition. He called maybe a couple days after he got the job and just built a foundation over the phone that we players really believed and trusted in him. So it was definitely good.
Q. Connor and Zach, you all have gotten a lot of support from the local fans here in Omaha, and it's almost like y'all have developed sort of a select status, people asking for autographs and really kind of jumping on to what you're doing at Coastal Carolina. What's that been like for y'all getting so much support even from people who may not necessarily be affiliated with Coastal?
CONNOR OWINGS: Well, I think everyone out here kind of gets treated like that. They deserve it. There were only eight teams left in the country when we got here, and I think that's something that comes along with it.
And just getting support from the local people is very -- we're very grateful that -- probably just because we got a cool color they don't really get to wear a lot. But we're just happy for their support.
And we just really like to go out and compete, and I think people like the way we play baseball, the way that everybody likes the way Arizona plays, and we like to play with one another and we like to have fun. I think it attracts people, just like Arizona has done.
ZACH REMILLARD: I think it's a tribute to this town and the event. We came here and they told us it's one of the best events in all college sports, and it's been nothing short of that. So, I mean, it's great to have that, and I think all teams have had that because it's a great community.
Q. For Connor and Zach, you've been through a number of these moments, but they keep getting bigger. What was it like for you guys last night when you left the ballpark?
CONNOR OWINGS: It was a surreal moment. I don't even remember how many texts or Twitter, social media things I had on my phone. I assumed everybody has gone through that, the same guys on the stage.
But it was just a moment that we were able to share with our teammates. We genuinely love one another, like Coach Gilmore says. It's a brotherhood we've created. We've been with each other for almost a full year now every single day, and it's one of those things that when you get to celebrate stuff like that with people that you put so much work in with, it's a very good experience. We're excited to do that.
ZACH REMILLARD: It was an incredible feeling. I mean, everyone was really excited. And like we talked about before the game as a team, we're just trying to win a couple more days as best friends together. So to be able to do that was nothing short of amazing.
Q. Zach Gibbons, at what point in the season did you start to believe that something like this was possible?
ZACH GIBBONS: I definitely think the Oregon series. Coach got us -- we weren't playing our best baseball Friday and Saturday. Coach got us together Sunday in the dugout after I believe the first inning, said: You guys are a lot better than you're playing. You guys know that. I know that. We need to go out with a bang and get hot at the right time and ride this thing as long as we can.
And I feel like that's why we're here. We kind of believed in ourselves and believe in one another, whether it's getting a sac bunt down, driving a guy in. So I feel like that was the turning point.
Q. Cody, you guys had a special relationship with Josh Weaver. What does this mean to do this year after everything that happened earlier in the season?
CODY RAMER: I mean, I feel like this season is definitely attributed to him. He was with us every day for the whole practice. He was hanging around us in the clubhouse, in the dugout. He was a big special part of this team. And he's still with us now.
Q. Connor and Zach, for the opportunity you have now, have you guys considered what a national title would mean to this school, this program?
CONNOR OWINGS: It's one of those things I don't think that we've thought about yet. But every time we get to go out and compete and play for that community and that university, it's just a pleasure to do that because it's such a great town and those people just care about that university and us as people so much, not as just players, but as people.
So to be able to go out and just compete for them on a national stage and -- just really gives us pleasure to do that for them because they believe in us and they just support us the whole way here. So to maybe achieve something like that for them would be very special.
ZACH REMILLARD: It's all about the community and the Coastal family. We've had a lot of support since we've been here. And to bring a championship home would be awesome.
But like he said, we're going to focus on the process and pitch by pitch. We're not going to get ahead of ourselves.
So, yeah, it's an exciting opportunity, but we're getting ready for pitch one right now.
Q. Connor and Zach, it's rare for a team to or even a program to come to Omaha and have success the first time. And I think a lot of that probably has to do with the emotions, the pressure, just the joy of being here. How have you been able to sort of discard that and play your game despite sometimes there are other distractions that can prevent you from doing that?
CONNOR OWINGS: I think it's just a testament to all the preparation, the hours that we've put in in the fall leading up to this moment. We came out here and we really enjoyed ourselves, and we like to enjoy ourselves when we play. But when we step on the field in between the lines, we just get lost in the process.
And like we talked about yesterday, the process doesn't know where we are, doesn't know where we're at. We just really like to stick with ourselves, stick with our game plan and try to win pitch by pitch. Whether it's in Conway or Lynchburg, Virginia, or in Omaha, we just decided to do what we do on the field as a team.
ZACH REMILLARD: I think that's where character comes in. I mean, this team has a bunch of talented ball players but also a lot of good people. It's a testament to Coach Gilmore getting us prepared all season. Kind of getting us in the right mindset and all the leadership we have on this team to get the guys focused and staying in the moment.
Q. Connor and Zach, it doesn't happen too often, but other mid-majors have won national titles in college baseball before. Do you all ever draw inspiration from hearing stories about other small programs that have won the title, and what would it mean to join the list of programs that have done it?
CONNOR OWINGS: I don't know if it's so much inspiration as it is just the capabilities of being able to go out there and compete on this stage just because you know it's baseball. Anything can happen. And like you said, it would be an incredible achievement to add our name to that list.
But you guys hear us talk about it all the time: We like to stay within ourselves and within the process and focus on pitch by pitch. And it's all a result of the process, and we're just trying to focus on pitch one right now.
ZACH REMILLARD: If we're drawing any inspiration from any other team, I would have to say it was from past Coastal teams. They laid the foundation for us and gave us amazing facilities, and we have that blue-collar lifestyle to put us where we are now. So that's definitely an amazing thing.
THE MODERATOR: Now we'll open it up for questions for our coaches.
Q. Gary, you had mentioned last night that you didn't know if you were dreaming or if you needed to pinch yourself and so forth. You kind of gave reference to the long road to getting to Omaha. What were the conditions like at Coastal Carolina in '96 when you took over?
COACH GILMORE: I don't know if we have long enough time to go back that far. I mean, it was a program that I think it won, I don't know, 15, 17 games the year before.
I mean, it was a challenge. I really -- having played there and the talented group that I played with and for several years after that, even though it was NAI or whatever, it was a lot of really good players and stuff back in the day. And to walk in there, where it was, the facility, it was on campus but it was an old minor league facility, it really had been somewhat neglected and it was really hard to describe, to be very honest with you.
The batting cage was unusable at the time. And just some of things that I laugh about with my coaches and my wife and things that I've actually laughed about since I've been out here because several of those players have actually shown up here. And it was just kind of a different mindset.
Just to kind of give you an idea, heck, when I had the first -- we had our first weekend practice, at our first team meeting, I said I'll see you guys at 9:00 on Saturday morning. I had two kids sitting there at the end of the meeting, and they came up to me: Coach, I can't be at practice. I go, Huh? What do you mean you can't be at practice? Well, I'm a bartender down here at the beach and by the time I get off, I won't be able to make it to practice at 9:00. I said, Well, you have to make a choice, young man. We're going to play baseball here.
And one of those young men was in the stands last night. And he ended up being one of our best pitchers that year.
It was just a mindset difference. But, I mean, to go through the things that we've gone through to get here is incredible. And what Zach said about our former players and teams. I mean, it's -- as unbelievably inspiring as this is to know that they know the other kids set the stage for them to have this opportunity, I've been preaching that to them for a long time; that where we started at and where we're at now, there's been a lot of building blocks going on. And there's a bunch of Major League players and there's a whole bunch of All-Americans and just great hardworking blue-collar baseball players that have gotten us to where we're at.
Our facilities for college baseball are some of the very best in the country. And, I mean, it's incredible what this group of guys that we have now have been able to accomplish having had the building blocks set for them by other guys.
Q. Jay kind of alluded to it, Gary, that your program's been kind of on the cusp for a while. It's not necessarily a surprise for those who have followed you, but still there was a lot of postseason gut punches, like you had to take some heartbreak to get here. Were there moments of doubt? Were there times that you thought, man, I don't know how we're going to be able to get over the hump?
COACH GILMORE: Absolutely. Losing in 2010 was the hardest gut-wrenching loss of my life. I mean, this team and that team, not that you single out groups or whatever, but those two teams, there was a brotherhood and there was a connection between myself and the coaching staff and those players, and they were very talented.
And to lose on a walk-off with South Carolina and just watch them win the national championship and us not get here, you know, to be very honest with you, I've laid awake many a night wondering if I'd ever in my life have this opportunity, to be very honest with you, to get here, much less to get to this stage right here.
And it is something. I mean, we've been banging on that door a few times. But the '10 group and this group, it was just unbelievably special.
Q. What would be the best way you could describe your guys' brand of baseball?
COACH GILMORE: If I compare us to what I think we are, I think we're a Kansas City Royals, Tampa Bay-type style. Athleticism. Some power. This team just happens to have matured into power. And defense, base running, pitching, those types of things. It's just who we are. Very similar to Jay's team, honestly.
I think, like I said, just because of the maturity of my group being majority juniors and seniors, we've hit more home runs. And, I mean, being honest with you, I think we've hit one out here, but we've probably hit seven or eight that go out of our ballpark easy, probably hit three or four yesterday that would have gone out of our ballpark and most of the parks we played in it would have gone out of.
So I think that's just what's kind of fueled that whole thing. It's just, I think, a well-rounded -- I feel Jay probably feels the same way. If I can put a team together every year, if you give us the opportunity to beat you with a home run, we have enough of those guys that can do it. If we can't beat you that way, we can steal some bases and do some things to help beat you that way.
And then we can also short game you and pitch you and play defense. And, I mean, you've seen us do all those things since we've been here. We've done a little bit of everything. The same as they've done.
And I think that's -- anyone in a perfect world can put together a team, that's the way you put them together. And I've been fortunate enough in the last 20 years at Coastal, been able to put two of them together with my coaching staff that resembled that type of team, that 2010 team. I think they had 120-some home runs, stole 170 bases, and we could pitch it and catch it as well. So those teams -- that team was very fun to watch, just as this team is. This team's very similar.
Q. Jay, when you took over, obviously the players have mentioned you saw potential there, but what was your reasonable expectation for this first season? If somebody said, Jay, you're going to be playing for the national title with this team your first year, would you have believed that?
COACH JOHNSON: Depends when you ask me, but for the majority of the time I would have said no. When we talk about expectations, for us it means two things: There has to be maximum effort towards preparation; maximum effort towards executing the task at hand.
We've not gotten into the result thing. The Coastal players mentioned staying in the moment, in the pitch. When you walk out of our room, there's no pictures of Omaha, there's nothing other than it says "one pitch at a time." And really trying to get them to live that, breathe that was the first task.
And just improve. And our goal throughout the fall was improvement on a daily basis. And some of it was slow. And it's weird saying that now, but it took some time. But their buy-in to that is probably the single most important reason that we've had success. Because there's good players that just needed a foundation to look to to get the most out of their ability, and there's a lot of guys that I'm really proud of that have been able to do that.
Q. For both of you coaches, what's your plan for pitching tomorrow?
COACH JOHNSON: I don't know how many times two teams have come out of the loser's bracket to make it to the finals, and I hope Coach Gilmore is as confused as I am right now.
COACH GILMORE: I'll tell you what, they give me a day off, I'm ready to go. That's about as far as I know, to be very honest with you. We've played three days in a row, and no secret we've burnt up a lot of guys to get here. So we'll try to figure it out today at some point in time.
Q. Jay, speaking of pitching, could you give us an update on Bannister and what maybe the diagnosis was on him after a couple of days.
COACH JOHNSON: He had an injury three summers ago in the Cape Cod League, and it was like a strained form. And to me, when I went out to the mound, he said it just didn't feel like he had anything on the ball and it felt a little bit tight.
I was encouraged he threw a couple of pitches after that when we were standing out there. And he looked okay. But we're not sitting here in this situation without that young man and what he's accomplished really from the first week in the season until now. And there was no way we were going to let him continue in that game.
Probably the most encouraging sign was yesterday he said he felt like he normally did after he started a game, which was good. So we're going to evaluate it again today, do the same thing tomorrow and Wednesday and figure out where he's at each day.
Q. Is he ruled out?
COACH JOHNSON: I've not ruled him out, no.
Q. For both coaches, you share in common it's your first time here. Has it sped up, slowed down your routine? What's it been like? And the second part of the question: Have you looked to anybody in specific for advice or input that's been here before?
COACH JOHNSON: Yes, as far as how it's gone and the routine, I had maybe a thought in my mind having a day off in between games you might have a little bit more downtime. In the Regional we played four games in 32 hours. Doubleheader, doubleheader, almost in one day. It certainly wasn't like that, which was good.
The best advice that I got was from Sean Miller, a basketball coach. And he said, You need to look at this like you've accomplished a lot already. And it's a great accomplishment in being here, and don't let anybody tell you anything different. And he said, Make sure your players enjoy or see you enjoying this experience with them.
And I think we've combined really well, which I think reflects our team, is enjoying the opportunities in front of us and preparing and playing at an extremely high level while we're doing that.
COACH GILMORE: Yeah, I reached out to several coaches who had been here just to get their advice, not so much on anything tactical, just how to deal with the process of what goes on here, and got absolutely fantastic advice from all of them.
And kind of the resounding thing was just the same advice Jay got, is enjoy yourself. Don't get caught up in the moment, so to speak, and let your players know how relaxed you are. And if you can be relaxed, your players will be relaxed.
And feel like we've done a very good job of that. And I'm just living every moment. I never expected -- in all reality, didn't expect to be here two, three, months ago. As this has unfolded, it's just been -- just felt like it was God was going to give me this opportunity to get here. I'm just going to ride it out and trust that this is what I'm supposed to do. And it's worked out so far.
Q. Jay, I know you've talked a lot about the daily improvement, and you've referenced that Oregon series, but are there a handful of milestone games along the way that you deem to be significant in the growth of the team?
COACH JOHNSON: No question about it. And I look at that stuff and kind of break up the year into are we moving forward? Are we a better team in March than we were in February and April, May, and now June and so forth? And I think there's several points along the way.
It's hard to get into the NCAA Tournament, let alone be playing here. And so we label every game as a Super Bowl for that reason. You don't want to look back and go, gosh, if we had just done this in that mid-week game or in that series.
And it started pitch one, Cody Ramer against Rice. Had a good at-bat. Line drive up in the middle. We were off and rolling. Going into Rice, a team that played in the Regional final, we dominated them for two days. And I think that was a turning point in terms of confidence.
There was a comeback game against UCLA where we're down 5-1 in the ninth inning and had really struggled to get any type of offense going for the better part of two days, and next thing you know it's double-double, single-double. And you would have thought we won the national championship that day.
At Utah, we led for 24 of 27 innings and got swept. And then we played BYU on Monday, who was like 25-4 or 26-4 at the time, and played about as good as you possibly could play.
Zach mentioned the Oregon thing where we faced some really good pitching. And you run into that from time to time, when you play the type of schedule that we do. And I just had a feeling after that we survived and won the Sunday game 5-4 and had the winning run on second base in the ninth inning that in the outfield -- we just talked about it after the game -- it was like, okay, we're about ready to go off and we're going to play with great confidence and we're going to attack this thing this last week of the season and hopefully into the NCAA Tournament.
And they've done that. And that's probably what I'm the most proud of them about, is their ability to not just talk about process, but to actually live it and stay in the moment and be solid one game at a time.
Q. Jay, I'm curious, it's quite a departure from Arizona baseball. Usually there's a lot of home games to start the season. But you started on the road and played a lot of games on the road against really tough teams. How did that impact the rest of the season and you getting to where you are now, and then late in the season you played a lot of road games and did well and you're here now?
COACH JOHNSON: Well, I have a problem -- I guess you would call it an addiction -- I look at WarrenNolan.com like 17 times a day. And that is basically where I get my NCAA RPI information. And my team at Nevada last year was one of the best teams in the country, and we didn't get into the NCAA Tournament with an RP I of like 50. And it was a 41-win team. And I vowed that day I was never going to let that happen again.
And so I got the schedule. We moved two home series to the road. We added a couple of really good opponents. And people were like: Hey, you're in the Pac-12, you don't need to do that anymore. But I'm really glad we did it that way because it set us up very good for an at-large bid, potentially to host. And it has everything to do with that.
Now, I think there were some other benefits that came along with that. You get to go to a Rice and open the season and have some success. I think that did a lot for confidence. We went to the Tony Gwynn Classic in San Diego the second weekend and played Tulane who played in a Regional final. Played Nebraska who was in a Regional. It was a very NCAA-type deal. And for guys that had never played in the NCAA Tournament before, I feel like that was very beneficial for our team.
Q. Jay and Gary, just to pick up a little bit what Lou talked about being road warriors, it's really difficult to play and it's difficult when you go on the road. So I want you to both maybe share the experiences of going -- Gary, for you, going from Raleigh down to Alex Box and then for Gary going to Lafayette and to Starkville, to do what you had to do to get here. And did you notice some things happening with this process, pitch by pitch, the magic and mystery of everything that was building?
COACH GILMORE: You know me, contrary to what Jay did, we have early season tournaments at our school and very fortunate where we're at. We attract a lot of good teams, and those early season tournaments for us are killer, and then towards the end of the year we tend to be on the road more.
I think we've been on the road seven of the last eight weeks at this point in time. So I think that part has helped us just holistically -- for me the series that turned this team around, that made this team, was going to Georgia Tech and failing. We go there and have a three-run lead in the ninth inning of Game 2 and end up blowing the lead and losing and then having to play a second game of a doubleheader. And I think we had like five or six lightning delays.
It was probably as miserable a 24 hours as you could spend as a baseball player and coach. Play two innings, sit for two hours. Play one inning, sit for an hour. And we ended up losing the third game of that series.
And we went in there, and I'm not one -- all the kids do it and everyone else, I just refuse to look at all that mess on the RPI or whatever. I'm all about us playing. If we take care of business, it doesn't matter to me. The RPI will take care of itself. But everybody had made it a big deal that if we went down there and won at Georgia Tech at least one game we would for sure host. If we won two, we might even get in the national hunt.
And you go down there and you did that, and just had a meeting with our kids after that, and I just looked them in the eye. I said: This is contrary, completely different than anything I've ever preached to you, but you're an older group so I'm just going to flat throw it out to you. We've got 17 games left, and I don't think we can mess up one time if you want to host.
And they won 16 of them. The one we lost we dropped a ground ball at first base with two outs in the ninth inning on a road game in our conference, so with a one-run lead, and basically beat ourselves. And they still didn't get to host.
And the great part about all that was that it took about 30 seconds for them to get past the fact that they didn't host. And they looked at the Regional at Raleigh and said: We can do this. We can win this. And that series at Georgia Tech prepared us for all the weather issues we had, because we were on the field, off the field. Had to sleep overnight with the bases loaded and two outs.
I mean, we went through a lot to do that, and for our kids to find a way to win, getting just -- find a way. And then going to LSU. I've coached 21 years in Division I baseball. Never played at LSU before. And going to that environment for a program like ours, you know, that was unique.
I reached out to one of my best friends at Wilmington, Mark Scalf. He had played there in a couple of Regionals. We talked for an hour: Educate me. Tell me what I've got to tell my kids. Tell me what we've got to be prepared when we go into that place.
And I'm telling you, man, he was point on. Every single thing he told me we went through, and our kids handled it, honestly. We didn't get sped up one single time in arguably one of the toughest places in the country to play. They have fantastic fans, but if you let them, they can speed you up real fast, and it was great how our kids handled it.
COACH JOHNSON: We had a unique situation. We had a bye weekend the last weekend of the year. And we were in Hawaii, and we took a red-eye flight back to Denver. We actually watched the Selection show in the Denver airport. So we got some Wildcat fans in the airport that day.
I was so excited for that day because none of our players had ever experienced it before. And just the accomplishment of navigating a really tough nonconference schedule, the Pac-12, and getting to the tournament, that was a big day for our program.
And then going to Louisiana, you look at the bracket and you go: There's a 45-win team. There's a 45-win team there. And we won the first game, lost the second, just the same way as we did here, and then just put our head down.
Sam Houston State had the winning run on second base in the eighth inning of that game. We were able to get through it. Much like Coach, they came back and rolled a two-spot in their ninth, I believe, in their Regional.
And then the next day against Louisiana, we had to come back and play two games. And was the best day of baseball I've ever been a part of. Winning a doubleheader at Louisiana to advance out of the Regional.
And then we went to bed that night, and they said, hey, you're turning around and you're playing on Friday, after we just played four games in 30 hours. Got on the bus, drove eight hours to Starkville and trained for a couple of days.
And, man, I don't know if any of you have ever watched games there, but I couldn't wait to get to Omaha. It's like we're not going to have 14,000 people calling me a short guy or a midget or something (laughter). And I think it prepared us well for here, and it's been a great journey and one I wouldn't trade for the world.
Q. Gary, you talked about how relaxed your team is and how you wanted to be relaxed. Can you just talk about the evolution of your -- how have you evolved as a coach to the point where you're okay now with the shark in the dugout?
COACH GILMORE: Does it bite? If you would have told me a couple of years ago, I would have laid money against you. This team kind of just evolved into that, to be honest with you. They were looking for something, and Rafiki came along, and it just started to catch on.
And it's kind of interesting, this team, too, one thing they haven't talked about, and I don't think in any of the things that we've done, is even though they're an older group, I've always thought that they didn't have like a ton of true baseball old-school savvy.
My assistant, Matt Schilling, for the whole year, every single time when we go on the road, on the bus, he plops in "Bull Durham." So every great baseball cliche, every great one-liner you can think of is in that movie.
If it's a six-hour trip, as soon as it plays one time, he plops it back in and it plays again. If we've watched it once, we've watched it 25 times. And it's incredible. Every time we watch it, we win.
So they get to a point where -- it's been incredible, that whole mindset of that kind of stuff. And I think a lot of what they have going on now is a lot of that, just that old crazy baseball superstition stuff going on; that, hey, if it works, keep doing it. Keep doing it.
Rafiki has become a part of who we are, to be honest with you. Heck, those kids, they're not going to the park, they're not getting on the bus, they're not doing anything without that monkey going with us. It's incredible.
Q. Jay, first year at a program can often be a real whirlwind from the get-go. Was there any point where you allowed yourself to envision how and when this season would end for you guys back early in the process of getting ready? And I assume it probably never involved sitting next to that trophy.
COACH JOHNSON: You know, I've been asked about that a lot. I really believe in what we try to pass along to the guys and focus on the now and today. And, for instance, in the fall, it wasn't about getting to the College World Series at that point. Like Coach Gilmore, we invest a lot of time on the road and you're watching player after player. And I know how hard his staff works because I see them all the time. And then the late nights in the cages with guys and all those types of things.
I just believe in doing it that way and throwing yourself into it, ripping your heart out, throwing it on the field and going for it on a daily basis. And I just think if you do those things over a long period of time, you don't have to put any type of limitation on what you can accomplish.
With that being said, I don't think there was ever a time that said, hey, this team's going to Omaha. I know, just like he had to beat a bunch of good teams -- it's really impressive what they've done to get to the championship series and the big-name programs they've beat. We've had to do the same thing. And I feel like our players' ability to embrace only what's right in front of them is why we're here.
Q. For both of you, over the history of this event, it's been amazing to me to watch teams that go on the road in Super Regionals, or way back when when there was only a Regional, when they have to go into really difficult places like you did, Mississippi State and LSU, they do well here when you win there. And why is that? The final four teams here had to play the toughest road teams on the road to get here. Why do you think that is? Are they just mentally tough, or what do you think?
COACH JOHNSON: I'll take that back to the Regional. Louisiana, I mean, those kids, they're tough on you, as we both know. Man, that was quite a hostile environment. And then in Starkville, it's just you. That's it. There's maybe a few parents in the stands, but it's your coaches, your 27 players. And you just gotta keep your head down and try to keep throwing punches, basically.
And you get here, it's a little more neutral and a little more comfortable, to be honest with you. It's a lot easier to block out what's going on around you and just focus on the play. And I definitely think that helped.
COACH GILMORE: No doubt, the same as what Jay is saying. I think it just hardened us and made us even more close-knit, realizing we had to -- the only people we had to really help us was each other. And I think it made the kids really -- if there was a way to bond deeper and better, it really helps you a lot, there's no doubt in my mind.
Q. For both coaches, you all seem to both have teams that just have a lot of fun. They just like each other. They get along well. They have things like Rafiki and the shark, and I thought I saw some of the Arizona players shooting something in here with Spiderman and various things like that. How do things like that help a team stay loose, and how does that in turn maybe contribute to the success that you all have had?
COACH GILMORE: I think, if anything else, it just keeps the moment in perspective, to be very honest with you. Listen, anybody tells you every now and then it isn't hard to breathe out there, they're not being truthful with you. I mean, we all put a lot into it. And it can be nerve-racking at times. It's just great to have a moment to laugh or whatever in between a lot of all that stuff going on.
And, again, baseball is -- I don't think I've ever met a baseball player that wasn't superstitious to a certain degree. And you bring a monkey along one day, and we start playing better. And you keep winning, you keep winning, the monkey gets bigger.
And it's a crazy thing. I mean, all of us -- I'm sure Jay has his own superstitions. I have mine. It's crazy when -- it's one of the things we learned in "Bull Durham," don't mess with a streak. However you got dressed or showered, whatever you're doing, you keep doing it.
COACH JOHNSON: Yeah, I'm at a loss for words with our guys sometimes and some of the stuff they do. I just respect how much they do to prepare and how -- the professionalism that they've played with. And so my feeling on it is they should have fun. They earned the right to have our dugout be the place they want to be worse than anyplace in the world.
Q. Follow up to what you just said: A lot of players say it comes from you, though, not that you're designing crazy dances or whatever, but --
COACH JOHNSON: That is definitely not the case (laughter).
Q. But you sparked this idea that you want them to be relaxed. I wonder why, where does that message come from.
COACH JOHNSON: I just think the game is hard. It's very difficult. We both have good players that on occasion sometimes make it look really easy. And sometimes you can get fooled that this is as challenging a sport as there is. And what I want our guys to do is step on the mound or step on the box or on the field with a clear mind and focus on the task at hand. And by yelling at them or screaming at them and those types of things, I don't know that it helps them necessarily do that.
And a lot of this stuff they've taken and run with it, so I'm not taking any credit for it. I was a PE major and certainly not smart enough to come up with some of the stuff they have.
THE MODERATOR: Thank you.
FastScripts Transcript by ASAP Sports