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June 16, 2018

Mike Fox

Ben Casparius

Zack Gahagan

Cooper Criswell

Omaha, Nebraska

North Carolina - 8, Oregon State - 6

THE MODERATOR: We'll start with a statement from coach Fox and have questions directed to the student-athletes.

COACH FOX: Thank you. I think we all feel like we've been in a heavyweight fight. We probably have.

That was just a gutsy win for our club. Contributions from a lot of guys. And they happen to have such a great team.

I think the key to the game was if you look at the box score we had 12 assists. I think we really defended well. We needed to with their offense. Obviously we took advantage of some of their mistakes there in the top of the third.

You don't expect to have that kind of inning against a team like Oregon State. But we took advantage and we did just enough on the mound. I thought Cooper was sensational.

He had no idea he was going to pitch today, this morning, I'm sure. And he was sitting there, hadn't been in a game for us since May 13th. So you get some unlikely heroes out here. I'm proud of all my guys. Good win for us.

Q. Zack and Ben, what was the approach at the plate going against a pitcher like Luke? Seemed like you were patient and able to get to him early. What was your approach coming into today?
ZACK GAHAGAN: Our coaches spend countless hours, put in work on film and watching guys, and they give us good feedback on what we should do in the box. Our approach is dealing with the fastball and just be ready for it. I think we did that well. And we got him out pretty early and that was the goal.

BEN CASPARIUS: Like he said, countless hours go into the preparation. And obviously a good pitcher like him, we had to really control the zone, which we did. We didn't really swing out of the zone at many pitches, which is what gave us the upper hand.

Q. Obviously with Delatri going down there in the first inning, not what you would like to see; hate to see an injury like that. For you guys, what was the mood like in the locker room, in the clubhouse when that happened, and how do you respond from something like that?
ZACK GAHAGAN: That's never what we expected, but we got a lot of guys in the pen that can throw well. And I don't think anything changes in the dugout, just kept playing. We got good guys in the bullpen, so we don't really worry about that.

COOPER CRISWELL: Yeah, similar to what Zack said, you know, it kind of happened earlier in the year when he went down. And I feel like that's our team, that's how we are. One guy goes down, the next guy steps up. And that's how we've been all year. And we just pick each other up, and like he said, the bullpen, they did great today. Caden, I thought he did great coming in, him and Joey, two freshmen coming in there and pitching big-time innings for us.

BEN CASPARIUS: It stunk for Luca. We expected him to go a little longer, obviously. But it happens, and this year it's been the story with our bullpen being excellent throughout the year. And we have a lot of faith in Caden and Joe and obviously Coop coming in, Brett Daniels has been great all year. Our bullpen has been awesome. So it says a lot today.

Q. Cooper, your coach mentioned you're probably surprised you pitched today. When did you find out you had to go, and how much did your work earlier this year coming out of the pen help?
COOPER CRISWELL: Actually, I was on pitching chart duty today because I was planning on starting on Monday. And then once Luca went down, Coach Woodard came up to me and said, hey, man, we may need you today, so just be ready. When the opportunity came, I just switched my focus over to, hey, let's get into the zone and went from there.

Q. Ben, first game for you in about a month. Just kind of what kind of allowed you to kind of get back, and was there a point where you thought you might not be able to make it back?
BEN CASPARIUS: I felt healthier the last couple of weeks or so. And as things got better I started to get more reps in the field and hitting and taking lots of swings. And I think it was more mentally than physically; I just needed to be ready to play today and I felt really good all day.

Q. Cooper, talk about the first batter you faced. You came in, I think the bases were loaded and you struck him out on three pitches.
COOPER CRISWELL: Yeah, just all year I mean my goal is to go out and get ahead in the count. I was able to do that. And I think he was a little froze on the second fastball I threw him. I think he might have been expecting something else. And on the slider for strike three, B-Mart did a great job framing that pitch and getting that one for me. Coach Woodard called a great name and he always does.

Q. Cooper, this is obviously your first year with the Tar Heels. You've played a huge role whether it's out of the bullpen or starting on Fridays. When you transferred here were these some of the moments you were envisioning, coming here to Omaha and everything that you've done this year?
COOPER CRISWELL: Yeah, I guess it was always a dream. Obviously, as a little kid you dream about it. And I mean to be able to make it a reality it's that much more special. And it's been a great year. And gotta thank the coaches and teammates for believing in me and giving me this opportunity.

Q. For all three of you. I know it gets hot in North Carolina. But today the conditions, the heat, was that normal hot or was that a little bit beyond what you're used to?
ZACK GAHAGAN: Yeah, it got pretty toasty there in the middle innings and at the end. But we've played in hot weather. So we knew what to expect coming in here. We just kept battling. The heat, it is what it is. And you've got to deal with it either way. I think we handled it well today.

COOPER CRISWELL: It was probably worse for these two guys. They were out there for all nine innings. But it was hot. But believe it or not, I think it might be a little more humid down in North Carolina at times. I think that helped us just be able to fight through the hot weather. Super Regional and Regional, we were super hot down there in North Carolina. So I think that helped us prepare and perform today.

BEN CASPARIUS: Definitely a hot day. Coach said since it was going to be so hot it would give us an upper hand due to the weather we experience in North Carolina. I know all the guys really take care of themselves and use what's around us. So I think it helps us today and we'll keep rolling.

Q. Coach Fox mentioned how well you guys played defensively today, specifically the plays where you made to kill Oregon State's rallies when they seemed to have some steam going in in certain innings. I think there were a few plays at third and one at second. How much juice did those plays give you guys in the dugout when it looked like Oregon State was pushing through?
ZACK GAHAGAN: We have a good statistician guy. He puts us in the right place along with the coaches. They just seem to know where to put us and we have to make the plays and the key for our team is pitching and defense, and as long as we play defense and pitch well we're a pretty good club to beat.

COOPER CRISWELL: All year we've been playing great defensively, and that just gives us more confidence. And I think ZG made a heck of a play on that ground ball and Busch made a heck of a pick, too. And also I think it was either the eighth or ninth, but when B-Mart picked the guy off at first that was huge to get me back in the windup because I feel more comfortable there. So that was no outs, runner on first, it could have turned into something there. I think that was one of the biggest outs of the game.

BEN CASPARIUS: No doubt. I mean, obviously Zack made a great play at second, which killed their momentum and. Then again when Josh Hiatt came in and Ike made that play at shortstop, that was huge for us. And I think our defense gave us the upper hand because, like Coach said, it was a heavyweight battle hitting-wise.

THE MODERATOR: Questions for Coach.

Q. Now that we're six games in, you guys scored seven or more runs five times now, seems like, at the plate, taking great at-bats. What have you seen on the team and how have you kind of tried to stress. Seems they're able to take advantage of other teams and score when they need to.
COACH FOX: We have seemed to have hit our offensive stride here since the NCAA tournament began. And gotta give credit to our kids. They listened. And they've bought in. And they know it takes all of them to help us score those runs.

And it is a little bit contagious as well. So the box score is pretty typical of kind of what we've seen down toward the end of our season with just different guys having big games for us or stepping up.

It's pretty amazing what Ben was able to do today, quite honestly, without seeing a lot of live pitching. Great credit to him.

So our guys are looking at the ball good, taking advantage of being in good counts. And it's helping us.

Q. What was it that happened with Luca when you all went out to the mound?
COACH FOX: Well, like obviously you saw Gianluca kind of called us out there and basically he said he just didn't feel right. And that's really all he needed to say, quite honestly.

Didn't get real specific on the mound. So I can't address exactly what. But basically he said he just didn't feel like he had anything on the ball. So with his past history, we needed to make a change.

Q. You pitched Cooper today. What are your potential options for Monday and going forward, if you can't have Luca?
COACH FOX: We'll figure it out. Honestly, we just knew how important it was to get Game 1. And honestly we actually went into the game -- probably misspoke earlier -- we weren't going to use Cooper. But in the back of our mind Coach Woodard and I talked about if we needed to use Cooper Criswell for an inning, we would.

And he could still come back, we thought, and pitch and start a game on Monday. Now that he's thrown 34, that's probably not going to be the case. But we'll see. We just want to try to enjoy this one for a little bit before we start planning for the next one.

Q. Along those lines, you may have just answered this. But seems like you did a pretty good job balancing out all your bullpen guys, everybody was within 20, maybe 30, pitches. Was that by design?
COACH FOX: No. That would have been fine for one of them to just go out there, finish the game. It was just circumstances and some of them ran out of gas. Some of them weren't as sharp the second or third time out. We have a history with Caden O'Brien. So we know when they've kind of reached their limit. And then Joey lost the strike zone. And it was kind of somewhat pieced together.

I'd like to say it was by design, but it's kind of how the game goes and what you see and then who you know you've got down there in the bullpen.

Q. Turning back to Monday, I know you talked about pitchers, but for position players, what factors into the re-coup when thinking about how he just played a four-and-a-half-hour game, how does that change your re-coup plans for Monday?
COACH FOX: Recovery is important here. And of course some of our guys are being drug tested. And some of them had to go do that. And they're starving. So we need food in the dugout.

So we need the NCAA to relax that rule a little bit, allow there to be some food in the dugout for these poor kids. Now that I said that we'll never have food in there. (Laughter).

But it's in the locker room. So it is. We're allowing our trainers and our strength coach and might need to get everybody together tonight and have a nice team stretch, yoga session or something, gotta do whatever you can to get into recovery. But you've got to remember, they're young; they recover quicker than most of us.

Q. You mentioned this in your opening statement, but some of the unlikely heroes who stepped up today, some of the freshmen like Ben and O'Brien and Lancellotti, seemed like you got a lot of that this year, a lot of guys stepping up and production from different parts of the team. How does the team stack up to other teams from that standpoint where you have almost a different player stepping up each day? Seems like it's unique with this group.
COACH FOX: It is unique. It's been part of our, just kind of the characteristic of our team down the stretch here.

A little unique, but now that we've seen Caden with 29, 30 appearances and Joey hadn't pitched in a while but you saw the kind of stuff he has, it was nice to get those guys out there, Game 1, get their feet wet and let them experience it for the first time. And have some success and then get a win. So all of that certainly played in our favor today.

Q. You seem to be pretty clear about Luca and how you felt about him today. I don't know if you can clarify any further about what you possibly think on his availability down the road. And also with that pitching dynamic, how does this tournament make it perhaps easier to absorb some of the stuff that you guys face today because if you win the games are spread out?
COACH FOX: Sure. I can't answer anything about Luca because I haven't spoken to him or our trainers. So I don't know exactly the extent of what, exactly what he was feeling. All he was saying was he just didn't feel like the ball was coming out of his hand like it normally does. And so I'm sure Terri Jo has already spoken to him and we'll just have to reevaluate that. But we want -- if there's anything at all wrong with Luca Dalatri, we won't pitch him the rest of the year, that's for sure.

Q. You've been in a number of these games, this having been your seventh trip. Now you have the distinction of having coached and managed the longest ninth-inning College World Series game. What was it like to be out there in conditions like that and is there anything to take from a game like that moving forward?
COACH FOX: I like being in the third base coaching box in the top for a long time. Felt like I was out there for a while. That's always good.

But we played a long game here in '06, Bobby Hundley reminded me, against Fullerton, almost 11 innings. For me, the more you're out there, the better. I don't know. I just love being out there and watching kids compete and playing the game. I get it, it was a long game. But they're not long for me. They're not long for the coaches and players.

I know sometimes it's agonizing for other people to watch because it's like really we're in the third inning and we've played two hours already. So it is what it is. But we're not trying to drag it out by design.

Q. You've mentioned this throughout some of your answers, but in terms when Luca goes down and you're thinking how are you going to piece nine innings against Luke Heimlich and the Oregon State lineup, what level of concern goes through your mind when you're changing pitchers that early in that game and at what point did you feel comfortable you guys were kind of regaining control of the situation?
COACH FOX: Well, to be honest with you, this team is -- the characteristic of this team I like the most is that we flush things pretty quickly. And eyes forward, eyes forward, we've said that a lot. Once he's out of the game we gotta -- it's the next pitchers, the next pitch. And our guys didn't really panic or flinch. We knew we have to keep playing it is what it is and sometimes that happens during the course of a game. You gotta make quick adjustments. You've got to give credit to our kids, our relievers and Coach Woodard for being able to piece all that together.

So I gotta give credit to our team for just continuing to play and compete under circumstances that are out of your control.

I need to go ahead and get this out there, because a lot of you know it's already been out. But we found out this morning before our game that a former player for us, Zach Attianese and his father were killed last night in a car accident.

And I know it's out there. There's some stories about it. And I asked our SID if I should bring it up, but my team played with a pretty heavy heart today. Zach was a great kid, left-handed pitcher for us from Old Bridge, New Jersey and Brandon Martorano's best friend. That was kind of our pregame meal this morning, me having to tell our team.

So I want to, first of all, just let the Attianese family know how much the Carolina baseball program is thinking of them.

And I just want to give a shoutout to Brandon Martorano because it was mighty hard for him to do, to go out there, because they've been friends ever since they were kids.

So life is fleeting. And it was tough news for us to hear. We didn't really want our team to know before the game but we didn't have any choice because of social media. I know some of you already know and you chose not to ask me about it. And I appreciate that respect very much.

But I just felt like I needed to say that because it just shows you how tough my team is but also how caring my team is.

And I thought Brandon Martorano made the biggest play there picking that guy off. Quite honestly I wasn't sure he was going to play today. So I just wanted to make sure I got that out there. Good bless Zack and his dad.


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