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May 22, 2017

Mik Aoki

Louisville, Kentucky

MIK AOKI: We're excited to be there. We had a year hiatus from this thing last year, and we're excited to be back down there. Excited that it's a bus ride rather than an airplane ride. Our team is looking forward to it. It's a very challenging start to the year. I thought we bounced back pretty well. Didn't finish the year the way we wanted to, but kind of looking at this tournament, it's kind of a renewed life, second life to see if we can't keep playing.

Q. Coach, you're obviously in the same pool, as it were, with Louisville and with Florida State. What kind of dynamics do you talk to your team about in playing the top seed and arguably one of the league's hottest teams here in the last couple of weeks?
MIK AOKI: Well, with Florida State, to me, I think it's always can you kind of control the free 90 game. They are as good as anybody over a long period of time of being able to draw walks and make your pitchers really work. So you've got to be in the strike zone. You've got to make quality pitches against them. I think that was a series that we played up here in which they swept us. But I think that was also pretty tight in some of those things. We went into extra innings, and they opened up a lead on us.

But I feel, you know, you never feel comfortable playing Florida State. But we feel we have some familiarity with them because they're a divisional opponent. So we play them each year. Same thing for Louisville. So with Florida State, I think it's trying to make sure that you don't add to their offense. You don't contribute to their offense.

With Louisville, it's a little bit different, but it's the same, I think, offensively, I think that Louisville, their pitching staff does a great job making you swing at pitches that present as strikes and they'll end up as strikes. If there was some sort of a metric like that kept on the Louisville pitching staff, I'd guess they'd be in the Top 5 in the country of getting guys to swing at pitches outside of the strike zone.

They're obviously an incredibly athletic team. They just kind of have that mojo. They're not, I wouldn't say, and I would think Coach McDonnell would probably agree with this, I don't think they're as super dynamic as they were a year ago offensively in terms of Corey Ray or Smith or some of the other guys that they have in their lineup. But with Ellis and Fitch and McKay, I mean, they still have tremendous length to their lineup. They just might not be able to -- they can't count on Corey Ray to hit a three-run jack for them this year. But they run. They just present a whole host of problems. So you've just got to go in there and play incredibly clean against them and pitch really well against them and see what happens.

Q. Coach, have you decided on how you're going to pitch this these two games yet?
MIK AOKI: We haven't. I heard Coach Avent talking a little bit about the short week. I mean, that's true. So I think with Mike Hearne, in particular, he's a guy having come off of Tommy John, even though it's two years ago, I think he's one of those guys that every day of rest that he gets is incredibly vital to him in terms of him being at his best.

So my guess is that we'll probably go with Brad Bass and then Mike Hearne. But Mike is going to be a little bit more of probably a game day decision. If it's not Mike, then it would be Brandon Bielak, I think. But we are sort of in the position, being the 12 seed with having to win two games. We don't advance if we're 1-1. To a certain extent, everybody's on board from Game 1 to hopefully Game 4. But even for Game 2, it's just kind of you've got to play it as though it's an elimination game.

Q. You mentioned very quickly, I'm sorry to add to this, it's a bus ride, not a plane ride. For most everybody else it is a plane ride. Is there some kind of benefit to that being a little closer this trip than maybe in the past?
MIK AOKI: I think it is, right? We don't charter very much. So we're always flying commercial. I think that takes a toll, right? It's kind of sitting around. You're at the whim of Mother Nature or whatever the airline wants to do. Just like everybody else in the league, we've got some pretty big guys that get smashed into some pretty small seats. I think it's just one thing that lessens the stress level. We can kind of leave when we want. It's not super comfortable in terms of it's not a three-hour ride. But a five-, five-and-a-half-hour ride isn't such a big deal to us. We get to dictate when we want to leave. We get to dictate pretty much everything about the trip as in having to be at the whim of the schedule of flights. I kind of do think for a team that flies a lot, us and BC are probably the teams that log the most frequent flyer miles throughout the course of the year. I do kind of think it's a big deal.

Q. Do you have any kind of a scouting report on Louisville Slugger Field and how it plays? It's been considered something of a pitcher's ballpark. Just didn't know what kind of adjustments that that might create for a team, particularly your team?
MIK AOKI: To be honest with you, I think a pitcher's ballpark is a little bit of an advantage for us. We're not, you know, a prolific home-run hitting team. We're not a power team. I think the strength of our pitching, the strength of our team probably does lie in our pitching. And so I think it's good to be in a place that's a little bit of a bigger park and a little bit of more of a pitcher-friendly park. I've been there. I've obviously also seen it a number of times. We've crossed the river in terms of come over the bridge and you see right into the stadium. But I've not -- I don't know too much about how it plays, what the prevailing winds are like, or any of those types of things. We'll see. I think we've been victimized a couple of unusual days here in South Bend with the wind blowing out. So, for me I'd be perfectly happy if the play was a little bit bigger.

Q. I guess your players see a Minor League park like that. Do you think it could kind of -- I don't want to say inspire them, but do you think it kind of adds a little more incentive for them for those who aspire to the Major League level that that might be a stop on their way up the ladder?
MIK AOKI: I think our guys, we were really fortunate and we got a chance to play in Comerica against Central Michigan earlier this year. You know, when you walk into those places, and I know that Slugger Field isn't Comerica because it's not, but it's the next step from there, right? So I think these guys, when we were in Durham a couple years ago, and when we played in some of these Minor League parks, like in the case of Comerica, the Big League park. I think absolutely these guys get excited about it. They get excited about the idea that this is a bigger stage that they're playing on. They get excited about the fact that all of these games are going to be on television. I think these guys get excited about the fact that, hey, maybe two years from now, three years from now, whatever it happens to be, maybe I'll have an opportunity to be playing here.

And so, yeah. I think playing in parks like this I think only adds to the experience of being at the tournament. It adds to the entire experience for these kids as they get an opportunity to look back on their college years.

FastScripts Transcript by ASAP Sports

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