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June 4, 2017
Baton Rouge, Louisiana
LSU - 5, Rice - 0
THE MODERATOR: Coach, an opening statement?
COACH MAINIERI: Well, obviously the story of the is this young guy sitting right next to me here. We're not surprised anymore. He's done it so many times for us. That's the third time in three weeks that he's pitched us to a championship, and basically just putting the team on his back and was the leader. He did have great defense behind him.
Kramer played the 8th inning, that start of the 8th inning I thought was very key. Then, of course, Zach Hess at the end of the game. I think we got a couple of dandy young freshmen there in Walker and Hess, it will be really good for LSU baseball looking forward as well.
We didn't hit the ball as well as we have been hitting it, but we played fairly good defense, I thought, and had a few timely hits, with the way Eric was pitching, it turned out to be enough. So really proud to have won the Baton Rouge Regional. That's our fourth championship this year. Fourth of six possible championships, and now we're excited about moving on to the next step, which, of course, will be the next weekend at the super Regionals. So three games down, two to go to get to Omaha.
When you start the NCAA Tournament you know it takes five. We're three-fifths of the way there. And I think you're going to see a team come out next week and play nice and loose and aggressive and confident, and we'll get after it. Hopefully have some success next weekend and then go on to Omaha after that.
Q. Eric Walker, talk a little bit about your night?
ERIC WALKER: Like Coach said, great defense is the key. Being a contact pitcher with great defense behind me really helps. I think that starting out 8th inning play, that was really a game saver. You look back, and I don't en even remember what inning it was, but Greg making that diving catch sliding in. That's a leadoff hitter not getting on, and it makes a big difference as a pitcher.
So it's just little things that people don't really realize that really helps you out. You know, float around the zone and make the put-in play, with this defense that we've got, it makes it a lot easier.
Q. Josh, two for three, big double in that second inning to get the inning started. Talk about your night at the plate, please?
JOSH SMITH: It's easy to come out and hit behind Eric Walker. When he's pitching like that, you just focus on each at-bat and when every guy gets on third with less than two outs, you just try to do your job. I wasn't trying to do too much. I was just trying to put a ball in play towards the middle of the infield and get a ball down the line and stay fair.
From there on out, we had some really big hits, timely hits. It's just really easy to play behind a guy like that when he's pitching.
Q. Big double in the third inning. Nice, defensive play. Talk about the night, please.
KRAMER ROBERTSON: Like Josh said, when you play behind Eric Walker, he works quick, pounds the zone. It makes it easy for the defense. He played every pitch, and we were really focused in. Offensively wanted to come out and set the tone early. Didn't get to them in the first inning, but we had some big at-bats in the second inning to get it going. And it was enough.
There was enough there tonight to be right where we want to be. We've gone through everything, everything we've gone through this fall and preseason, and the ups and downs of the season, we're two wins away from Omaha. We don't have to talk about it all year, and now we're right there. We have the opportunity to reach a dream of ours. It all started a couple years ago (Inaudible) and it begins next week.
Q. Kramer, so far there are nine No. 1 seeds have lost. Can you talk about your focus in this Regional and just the focus you've had to take care of business?
KRAMER ROBERTSON: Yeah, I think it speaks to our veteran team. They're very mature, they think that they can do it. Nothing is guaranteed. We've experienced it in the past, and we used it to motivate us this year. We'll continue. So regardless if we're a No. 1 team, as you just saw, anything can happen. It's important to take one pitch at a time, and not look at the overall. We'll be ready to go.
Q. Eric, Coach said you pitch with a purpose. What does a statement like that mean to you?
ERIC WALKER: It means a lot. The only way I can describe it is pitching for a championship really fired me up. I love that situation. I feel like I tend to thrive under pressure. I think that's something that I like to think about myself. It's not always true, but I like to think it.
I try to go out and do my best in most pressure situations, and that's what I like to do. It was really good to go out in Game 3 and try to seal the deal and not think about tomorrow.
Like Kramer said, it's baseball. Anything can happen. These teams are good, so we got to be fortunate and move on to the next week, and like he said, it's a great honor.
Q. Eric, when did you know that you had good stuff tonight and you were going to come out and pitch the way you did? Was it before the game, during?
ERIC WALKER: You never really know if you have good stuff or bad stuff until you get out on the game mound. You can be really bad in the bullpen and really good in the game and vice versa. But really just going in the game, you get that first out, and you feel like you can settle down and settle in. But you don't really think, "I've got good stuff tonight." Because it's a long game. It's nine innings and each inning is different. So you've got to compete each inning.
Q. Eric and Josh, Kramer talked about the maturity of this team. When you guys were coming on to it, did you sense that you needed to mature in a hurry or maybe conduct yourself with a little more confidence and composure than you might have otherwise?
ERIC WALKER: Yeah, I really think it makes it easy. As a freshman coming in with this veteran presence that we have, you really feel like you don't have to do too much. These guys are leading the way. If you just follow behind them, quietly do your role, I think everything will take place for itself.
JOSH SMITH: Yeah, it's a lot easier coming in and playing with Kramer and Cole. It takes a lot of pressure off of you, not to play the game too fast, just kind of slow it down and breathe a little bit. Whenever you make a mistake, these guys are here to pick you up. They've been through it. That's the best part about us. That's what's good about this team is when one person makes a mistake you have the veterans there to help pick you up.
Q. Kramer, in that same vein, how have you seen all these freshmen grow at this point? Whether it's these two or Watson in the first two rounds or the first two games? They played a pretty solid role in this week.
KRAMER ROBERTSON: Yeah, since day one (Inaudible) since he stepped on campus. He was always there and very poised for a freshman. It really stuck out to me. The moment never gets too big for him. He's very calm. I guess you never really know until they step on the field. But he's done that. He's gotten better and more calm as the year has gone on.
For Eric, I had no doubts in him. He's a Texas high school quarterback, so he's played in front of big crowds and a lot of pressure. So he has that poise, he can go out and do that. He's really competitive, and he's focused. Absolutely right, he seems to do better when the moment is bigger.
He's been a winning pitcher in two championships now. Every time he steps on the mound, I have confidence in him. These guys aren't freshmen anymore. They're veterans now. One day they'll be sitting here leading the way just like I am, and they'll be filling the shoes. One day they'll be showing the freshmen the ways in a couple years.
Q. Offensively you guys didn't have the offensive production you had recently but still managed to close it down.
COACH MAINIERI: Well, I think we had some real clutch hits, but with another freshman Jake Slaughter had a big RBI and hit tonight. We had some big hits there early, and I thought we did a really good job. It looked like we were going to have one of those big offensive games. Then Kramer came up with the bases loaded and hit the ball about as hard as he can. We were very fortunate that they didn't turn the double-play because the third baseman was covering on second and third with the force out.
Then I thought Cole Freeman hit that ball about as hard as he could hit it to the left centerfield gap, and (Inaudible) I think we hit a lot of balls hard. And I think that kid that came in in the last five minutes or so, I don't know, he had something about him that his ball was really sneaky on our hitters. We had a tough time getting around him.
I understand he's actually a really good pitcher that's coming off of Tommy John surgery. I was a little bit concerned. I thought they were either letting down. I kind of analyzed it. I think we hit some balls hard and had some bad luck, and the kid did make some really quality pitches. Fortunately we got the runs early and it was enough. I was a little bit nervous that it wasn't enough. But Eric just pitched so magnificently it turned out to be fine.
KRAMER ROBERTSON: Yeah, I think you can't go out and expect that you're going to score ten runs every game. Seven of the last eight games we did, but you can't get used to it. By no means is five runs bad. It's just not exactly what we've been doing. Like coach said, we hit the good amount of balls hard. And guys made some good plays (Inaudible). He has to earn everything he got. I like where we are offensively. I liked our bats. We're still swinging at balls hard.
Q. Eric, do you remember the last time you threw a game like that?
ERIC WALKER: No, I honestly didn't even know I did that. I didn't keep that stat. I guess they do keep that stat, but I but I didn't know that until we were here.
Q. You're in the same place you were a year ago. Going into this week, do you change anything about the way that you prepare for this? And what will you say to the young guys about what they're about to get into next week?
KRAMER ROBERTSON: I've been preparing for this weekend since Coastal Carolina walked off with the win. I've been preparing for this. I've thought about it every single day. (Inaudible) you try throughout the year not to think about it, and you can take care of the job at hand, but this is the job at hand now.
There is nothing more that I want than to win two more games. It's something I've dreamed about as a kid. I came back to school for my senior year as well as a few other guys, so I'm not going to do anything different because I've been preparing myself for the last 350-something days for this weekend.
Q. Paul, with the way Eric pitched, you kind of emphasized the fact that he has this determination for big games and championship atmosphere. Does that reinforce the idea that the tournament is really important for situations like that to mimic that scenario?
COACH MAINIERI: I got exactly the way I had hoped. He threw in front of 13,000 plus last Sunday. We pitched a magnificent game against a great hitter. Make no mistake about it, Rice is a great hitting team as well. You look at them statistically, the athletes they have in their lineup, that was a very good team. They scored really good today. I think they scored 40 runs in their first two games here, if I'm not mistaken.
As we know, Arkansas is one of the better hitting teams in our league, and they shut them down the same way. So I don't know that he needed that game to prepare himself for this game. I think he still would have handled it fine, but I'm just glad he had that experience.
He had the experience the week before against Mississippi State on Saturday and he got into the SEC regular season. He's answered the call every time. He's pitched one of the best games he has pitched.
Q. Paul, when you look back at Eric's form tonight (Inaudible) and the first Regional starts as freshmen, where would you put this along the better performances by a freshman you've seen?
COACH MAINIERI: ULM? Oh, that's right. He pitched a great game that day. This one might have been better. I don't remember him going this deep into the game. I don't remember him going this deep into a game. They got a two-run single. (Inaudible) was pitching against us. I guess he pitched, I don't remember how long it was. Eric pitched so many great games, I can't remember the exact games or how he pitched. But I think what Eric Walker did today was show everybody, if they had any doubt at all, about how ready he is to pitch in big games against top competition, what he's capable of doing.
This is why we recruited him. What we expected he was going to be able to do. I've said it so many times, it's like a broken record. When we recruited Eric, we saw something special. A great leader, great composer, great competitor. I think he's 18 years old, and can prepare. But he really had that style of pitching where he was going to rely on (Inaudible), changing speeds and making big pitches in big times. He's been everything we've hoped that he would be. I have as much confidence in him as I have in anybody.
Q. How much of a luxury is having a number three starter that can do that at this stage?
COACH MAINIERI: You know, everybody's into one starter, two starter, three starter. For me the most important pitcher is the guy that's on the mound at that time for the team. Your number one starter only pitches 14 regular season games. Your number two starter, and number three starter. So everybody has to be the number one guy when they're on the mound. I don't think Eric feels in any way that he's the third guy.
Jared and Alex are great role models for him. They've helped him, and I'm sure he would tell you that, every step of the way. But he's out there on the mound, I feel like he's the ace of our staff.
Q. (Inaudible) tough times over the course of the season. How do you repeat what he did the last couple days?
COACH MAINIERI: I think he did a great job. He got two big RBI hits yesterday, one yesterday, and one today. The great play that Kramer made to start the 8th inning, he made a tremendous pick on that ball. Kept his foot on the base. Other plays seemed fairly routine, but with the pressure of doing this and what this game meant, he made the plays.
He wasn't perfect. He had a couple of (Inaudible), but I'm proud of him. He hasn't gotten discouraged. He's continued to work hard, and you never know when your opportunity's going to come. He was ready for it. I think he did a great job.
Q. Eric, a lot of us were watching it talking about your pace, and how much that helps you. Can you speak about that approach, why, and where does that come from, your pace, and how that helps you out there on the mound?
ERIC WALKER: I think it's just really a mindset of being aggressive, attacking hitters. It's something that I kind of just learned when I grew up in high school. My coach always told me don't worry about the last pitch, just get on the mound. If you go up 0-1 in the count, you can make a bad pitch and then get ahead. So, yeah, you're ahead in the count. Every pitch matters just as much as the last one.
I'm just thinking, get back on the mound, attack the guy just like I just did, stay pretty even keeled. Don't get too up or too down. What happened before, what happened last inning, excited us. So I've just got the aggressive mind just moving forward.
Q. Josh and Kramer, lot of teams talk about one through nine or whatever belief they have in the guy on the mound. But you guys really are living that moment, I guess. What's that do for the confidence of the team?
JOSH SMITH: It's good when you've got your lead-off guy, Kramer always had good at-bats and your nine hole, whether it's Watson or Slaughter, it's good when all those guys get good at-bats and we pass it on to the next guy.
There's not a down spot in our lineup right now. We're hitting the ball better than most teams in the country right now. It's special when the pitcher has no breaks. He gets one guy out, and he's got to face a tough hitter. Even if the guy's not smashing the ball, he's having a good at-bat, walking, hitting the ball hard and just trying to get to the pitcher.
KRAMER ROBERTSON: Yeah, coach prepares that. He doesn't like it. So we try to put pressure on the defense by putting the ball in play, pitch base hits and have a lot of athleticism. So, (Inaudible) being in it, there is a lot more pressure. It's a very balanced lineup.
Q. You guys have outscored your opponents 118-38. Does it feel like that number? What does that feel like?
ERIC WALKER: Yes, it has. It really has felt the last few weeks pretty dominant at times. But that's just the confidence of this team. Baseball is a (Inaudible) game, as you saw. Anytime (Inaudible) I think that we're playing with a lot of confidence right now, as we have for most of the year. The last few weeks it's just been something special, and we feel really confident. We.
Q. Paul, getting off to a fast start so you can establish where you want to set the game pace, kind of like what you did tonight as well?
COACH MAINIERI: I thought it was really important tonight because we were the visiting team on the scoreboard. Each team gets 27 outs. It shouldn't matter, but sometimes it feels like it does when you're the visiting team if you let the other team get out ahead of you early.
So we didn't get much done in the first inning, but the second inning we put together a really nice rally. A couple of innings that we had, I felt strongly if we just hit it on the board across, that we could have won the game fairly comfortably. But we couldn't do that, (Inaudible) got a little bit scared.
But there is always room for improvement, and that's something that I'll talk to our team about this week as we get prepared for the super Regional. But getting off to a good start like that gives you confidence, and allows you to not press or feel like disadvantaged the whole game because we're behind. So it was nice to get a little bit of a lead.
I can't speak for how Rice felt. But it's a long day for them to have to play two games. The last thing you want to do is let them jump out ahead and feel the energy from that. So really happy and proud of our guys. Eric set the tone in the first couple innings, and we had that big inning in the second.
Q. Big arms in your rotation. When you look at the '09 team, is this group in that ballpark?
COACH MAINIERI: Really, I don't like to compare teams too much. Because each team has special characteristics. But if you look at that team, you had an all-American. We have a first round draft choice, and our third starter went six and seven that year with his record. And he's in Triple-A now and he's a quality pitcher.
So, really had three really, really good starting pitchers. Alex is probably going to be a first round draft choice here. Poche's is pitching better than (Inaudible) history, and we've got another guy that's going to make his mark on the LSU program. He already has and he's going to continue to do big things. We've got some good arms down in the bullpen. (Inaudible) had 16 saves, Chad Jones emerged and gave us the good left-hand option. A lot of guys coming out of the bullpen.
So I think when you look at the Hess and Newman and Bush, and Gilbert, I think we've got enough bullpen down there to be able to get the job done, particularly when these guys pitch deep into the innings.
So I see a lot of similarities with that '09 team when they got it done down the stretch. Winning ten NCAA teams. We're off to a good start 3-0. But I don't really want to talk about those two teams in the same sentence.
FastScripts Transcript by ASAP Sports