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June 19, 2018

Gary Henderson

Jordan Westburg

Konnor Pilkington

Omaha, Nebraska

Mississippi State - 12, North Carolina - 2

THE MODERATOR: We're joined by Mississippi State coach Gary Henderson and student-athletes Konnor Pilkington and Jordan Westburg. Coach, an overview.

COACH HENDERSON: Well, obviously really pleased to get the win against a really good UNC club, a game obviously that is a much different game than the final score reflects.

Obviously we got the big number there in the eighth inning. But you're talking about a 4-2 game through seven.

I thought we did a really good job making pitches when it mattered. When the game got tight Konnor did a great job through six of making pitches when the game was in the balance or the inning was in the balance.

We did a really good job defensively, really proud of how we played defensively as well. Obviously we lost the ball in right field. That didn't help. But we minimized it. We kept our poise and I thought that was one of the big turning points early on.

And then obviously the hitter of the game, the player of the game is Jordan Westburg. Taking advantage of opportunity there in two instances, running the breaking ball out of the yard and then getting the fastball down the line for a total of seven RBIs. Great day for us and then obviously a day he and his family will remember forever.

THE MODERATOR: Questions for the student-athletes.

Q. Jordan, after your game on Saturday night, you and the rest of the freshmen seemed to shake that off and just came out and attacked a really good pitcher. Was that the game you expected out of yourself?
JORDAN WESTBURG: I don't think so. But I did expect to go out there and compete every at-bat in the box. I just fought well today and took advantage of a few miscues.

Q. Jordan, you hit a grand slam in the College World Series. I mean, what was that moment like for you? Did you imagine earlier this year as a freshman that you would do something like that?
JORDAN WESTBURG: I think it's something you always dream about. But imagining that, just with the way the season went, is kind of hard to imagine something like that. But it was unbelievable. It's a moment that every ball player wants to go through. And I was lucky enough to experience that.

Q. Be remiss if I didn't ask you how much credit the banana gets for that. The banana, did you guys have some mojo today?
JORDAN WESTBURG: I think we had a good banana today. I think that's all I can say about that, yeah.

Q. Jordan, you've been at the center of the rally banana thing but more for your in-the-dugout contributions to the team. How did it feel today to really put that into effect on the field and see it translate into what you put out there?
JORDAN WESTBURG: It felt great. I think, you know, if you're going to do all the shenanigans in the dugout, might have to step it up on the field and back that up. So it's always nice to do that today.

Q. Konnor, they had some chances earlier in the game. Runners in scoring position. You're able to minimize. Did you feel like after you got through those first couple of threats that you kind of found your groove a little bit? And what was your mentality when they kept coming at you early on?
KONNOR PILKINGTON: Yeah, I felt early on I was just trying to throw it and I guess the atmosphere kind of got to me a little bit. I will admit that. In the first two innings. I feel like I left some balls up got behind in the count and they had opportunities and I was lucky to get away with some pitches.

There to the sixth inning I told myself I'm going to back off a little bit and sink a couple of pitches here stay black to black and stay down in the strike zone. And I guess that really succeeded me.

Q. Jordan, the freshman really struggled on Saturday. Did you feel it was a matter of time that you guys broke through in a game like this?
JORDAN WESTBURG: Absolutely. A lot of freshmen have contributed all year. It was just one bad game. I think we bounced back and just knew that it was going to happen the way the season has been going. We were always locked in every game and we're not going to carry one bad game on to the next.

Q. Konnor, I guess just what's the pitcher's reaction to seeing a grand slam in the second inning, from a freshman nonetheless, and I guess just kind of take us through your emotions watching that from the dugout?
KONNOR PILKINGTON: Honestly, it was a cushion. I gave up one in the first, he comes in the second and says I got your back. I don't really consider our freshmen freshman anymore I consider them first-year players. This time of the season, everybody's great. No matter if they're a freshmen or a senior. He stepped up in the job today and really gave me a lot of cushion going from the second on.

And a guy like that, you can't ask for more.

Q. Konnor, this team's obviously had a lot of weather delays in postseason play. They lock it down and focus where they need to. Where does a team like this with so many young players find the maturity to handle those things well and be ready when they're called upon?
KONNOR PILKINGTON: I think this year's class, the JUCO guys really understand they need to be mature if they want to play on this team. Being able to come out there after any weather delay like that, like we had the last three levels of playoffs, coming in like that that and just staying locked in and making plays.

Q. Jordan, you're sitting 0-2 in that at-bat. You take a pitch. And then I mean you get pretty much all barrel on a breaking ball that was left way up. What did it feel like coming off the bat and did you know it was gone?
JORDAN WESTBURG: Yeah, he went fastball, breaking ball, fastball breaking ball I think the fourth pitch I think I had an idea what he was trying to do. Like you said he left it up. I put a good swing on it caught a lot of barrel. And it's just an unbelievable feeling.

Yeah, I think I knew it was going off the bat. But with the wind blowing and bases loaded, just making sure it got out.

THE MODERATOR: Thank you. Questions for Coach.

COACH HENDERSON: Before we get into the questions, let me say one more time how much we appreciate our fans of Mississippi State. They're awesome. They were with us the entire time. We feel them. They were there. They impact the game. They impact our kids. And we all appreciate them a great deal.

Q. You mentioned Westburg and the way he performed today. It seemed like all your freshmen stepped up a day after struggling. Seemed like all your freshmen you had in the lineup stepped up a day after they struggled at the plate. Can you comment on that?
COACH HENDERSON: Just in terms of Rowdey and Tanner, I thought the game was a little fast. You've got to give credit to Austin Bergner early on. Those are real pitches. Those are really, really good pitches.

You start mixing that type of velocity with that type of changeup that makes things difficult. Obviously proud of Rowdey in terms of where he was from the first two at-bats to where he was the last three.

And in-game adjustments, after short-term failure, is a tough thing at times for those young guys. Did a really good job. Obviously happy with Tanner.

But Jordan Westburg, my goodness, double and gone and seven RBIs. You're proud of him. Not surprised. They're tough kids.

I thought the environment was a little bit big. I thought the stuff was good. But they got right back to where they needed to be. They're quality kids.

Q. Westburg, I think from the outside, everyone thinks the banana thing and some kind of a goofball but seems he's pretty grounded here. How have you seen his mentality translate to this big stage here with a game like this?
COACH HENDERSON: You know, we know those guys in a real way in terms of who they are and how they respond. And the things that he's had to in my opinion, the things that he's had to make adjustments on are areas that he's needed to grow in. He's done a wonderful job. He and I have had those very, very specific conversations five or six times. If you're going to play here if you're going to be successful here, if you're going to get on the field, then you need to be able to do these things.

So I think where we are now you need to be able to let those guys have some fun. They've got to be able to do that. He's got to make the phone call on the banana. Right? You gotta be able to do those things and become somebody different when you're in the box. Same thing with the guy on the mound. Konnor is going to be a little different kid Friday in the dugout than he was today pitching. That's the nature of our sport. And that's kind of a responsibility that I think that you have as a coaching staff to make sure you find that balance where those guys are free enough to enjoy who they are and the differences in personalities.

We've got a really diverse group of personalities. I think that's extremely important in baseball. You have to. You gotta have guys that are like the coach and you have to have guys that are a lot different than the coach, in my opinion.

And he's an intense kid. Super intense. He's not a goofball. When he finds a way to let some of the air out a little bit and enjoy it and have fun, and not maybe not grind, grind, grind, I think it's incumbent upon us to notice that and respect that that's important.

Q. Even though you've praised Konnor for how he's put up with so much this season, struggled through it, it's still rewarding to see him finally, I think first time in several months, to get a winning decision after all the labor he's put in?
COACH HENDERSON: Well, yeah, I look at that before the game, and we get the lineup, I look at that, I see 2 and 6. That's just the nature of it. A.J. Reid went winless in 2013. There's things you can't control from the starting pitching position.

And I think it's a real credit to Konnor Pilkington, that he's not complained once about anything in terms of run support, bad luck, anything at all. Not one.

And I think that's a testament to how he was raised, who he is. I think he's a total winner. I think I'd like him to be more efficient pitching. That's a discussion he and I have a couple times every week.

We're working on it. And you saw a lot more secondary pitches today than you saw a month ago. I think we're moving in the right direction. But three wins in my opinion does not represent what he has meant to this club or the contribution that he's given us. And that guy is a total winner and he competes really well and I think he's got enough maturity to realize that even though he can't get through a lot of innings from 12 to 15 pitches, he's more of an 18 to 21 guy, I think that you gotta respect that and you gotta make him feel comfortable with who he is.

And I think once you can really establish that they are who they are and it's okay, some guys don't hit home runs. And I think that that has helped him in my opinion.

Now, throughout his career he's going to have to become more efficient.

Q. You've got a couple days before you play again. What will you do as a team over the next couple of days?
COACH HENDERSON: Well, we'll practice each day. And I'll give them some free time. They'll be in bed by ten. At least they'll be in the room. And I'm going to do a really good job of making sure they understand this thing is not even close to being over, that we've got to show up and we'll play the Beavers or Tar Heels on Friday, and they're two really good clubs. And we'll do the absolute best we can as a coaching staff to make sure that our kids are ready to go on Friday.

What time is game time on Friday, does anybody know? Two. We'll do the best job we can to get the kids prepared.

Q. Another follow-up on Jordan. You talked about the mental adjustments he's made. But for a guy that came in kind of a big projection guy, big body who spent some time I've seen in the lineup early and was out for a while out of the lineup and back in. I'm curious how you've seen him develop as a player to the point in the postseason he's starting every game and usually getting a couple hits for you?
COACH HENDERSON: You want to know about his path?

Q. Yeah.
COACH HENDERSON: Well, you know, he's like a lot of guys. There's some short-term failure there. And he doesn't handle it any better than the average guy. So he's got to get better at that.

And a lot of the conversations revolved around that. And I have significant input with him because I'm not dealing with him every day from a hitting basis. And so I have the position of being the head coach and when the head coach comes and talks to you about something that you've got to do, you've got to make an adjustment, it's impactful.

Not that it's not with the pitchers but it's a different relationship that you have. He and I have had that conversation a few times. He's got to learn to imagine emotions. He tries really hard. He's a really good competitor. He's going to play baseball for a long time. In terms of not being in the lineup, that's a hamstring issue. And I think it was -- I could be wrong but I think it's the second Gator game. So that cost him some time and if there was stuff in there before that, that's just a contact issue. He's a good player. But the only significant time that I remember him missing was related to the hamstring.

But those guys, I don't know if it was Konnor. I guess Konnor said they're not freshmen anymore. And there's a lot of truth to that. You can be a freshman the first three, four, SEC weekends, you better grow up or the game will pass you by. And I think our guys have done a really good job.

Q. Seemed like multiple times this game your guys kind of capitalized on North Carolina's mistakes. Is that kind of a mentality that you guys have in the dugout of you gear up a little bit when North Carolina, and especially Datres is at third base, made a couple of errors, is that an attitude change for you guys when you're like, all right, it's time to bury them after they kind of make a mistake like that?
COACH HENDERSON: What I think and I think I'm dead on, I think everybody that's here is capable of taking advantage of the other team's mistakes. I think that's how you get here. I think absolutely we are better at that piece of the game now than we were early in conference.

You're talking about the ability to narrow things down, get really specific. And what that means is I've got to put it in play hard as opposed to maybe necessarily trying to hit the big ball when the matchup doesn't suggest that that's the right goal.

But I think everybody here, Carolina is a really good team. They won 44 games. They had a bad inning they kicked a couple balls. He got in between there a couple times the one ball jumped up got him in the chest. That's a really good player. They had a bad day.

If we play them again on Friday I certainly would not expect them to play the same way. It will be a tight game. We'll have to win late.


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