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June 26, 2018

Dave Van Horn

Heston Kjerstad

Grant Koch

Blaine Knight

Omaha, Nebraska

Arkansas - 4, Oregon State - 1

DAVE VAN HORN: Well, we feel very fortunate to have won the ballgame. I think that just starting with their pitching, it was outstanding. We put together one good inning, and they walked a couple people and got a couple of hits, hit a batter or two, and we felt like we left a couple runs out there, but it ended up holding up.

On our side, I thought Blaine gave us another quality start, six pretty good innings, and got out of a jam or two. Loseke came in and kind of bridged it, and then Matt finished it up. But we played good defense, made a couple of nice plays. I thought Heston's play off that wall and making a perfect throw to second, who knows if that saved a run or not, but I thought that was a really nice play, and I thought the play that Casey Martin made when he kind of took a couple steps up and took a step or two back, had a big hop, threw the ball to second base for a force out, I thought that was a really nice play, a heady play, and just feel fortunate, like I said.

Q. Blaine, obviously those guys have a pretty explosive offense. Seemed like when they got something going you were able to escape. What was the key to holding them down?
BLAINE KNIGHT: I mean, the key was just trying to keep them from hitting pitches because that's what they like to do a lot. They like to fit pitches in certain counts. They're a really good team. They put good swings on balls. They battled, tried to drive up my pitch count, and I was able to execute pitches when the jams came along and just get out of them.

Q. Blaine, you had the opportunity last year had you wanted to to probably go pretty early in the draft and go out and play pro ball, decided to come back to Arkansas. Can you imagine this year going any better than it has for you?
BLAINE KNIGHT: I mean, this year has gone to everything I've wanted so far. I mean, that's a credit to this team. This team has picked me up all year long and we've battled together, so without this team I wouldn't be in the situation I'm in. All credit goes to them.

Q. Heston, in that inning where you broke through against their starter, he had been really dominant through the first four innings, but then in that fifth inning started missing some spots. Did you get a sense that he was rattled or did you get a sense that maybe he was gettable in that situation?
HESTON KJERSTAD: You know, he lost command of his fastball a little bit and was out of the zone, so as a hitter we're all just trying to be patient, see him in the zone, and he ended up also missing his spots a few times, walking a few guys, and also hitting a few guys, and that equaled a few more runs for us.

Q. Blaine, that fourth inning, the interference call there and the double play there, what was your reaction to that? Obviously it saved a run from scoring. Did that influence you on the mound at all? Did that help you, give you some momentum?
BLAINE KNIGHT: Yeah, I mean, that was huge. I mean, he slid in late, interfered with Jax and played into our advantage, so we ended up leaving a runner on third, so that was huge, and momentum-wise I felt like it gave us a momentum swing for sure because they were starting to get something there, so we stopped it real quick and were able to turn it back over.

Q. Grant, what's the mentality of a team getting this victory tonight, knowing you're one game away from a national championship? What's your mindset as a group?
GRANT KOCH: Yeah, after the game, Coach's immediate message was we have a lot of work to do and there's a lot of unfinished business, and we've got to come out tomorrow with a sense of urgency for sure. That was the message, and I think we all -- he didn't even really have to say it.

We all know that our season could end at any point, could end in two days. We all know that. We're just fighting for one more day, one more game with our guys, so we're definitely going to come out with a sense of urgency tomorrow.

BLAINE KNIGHT: Yeah, there's still a lot of work to be done, so just a little small taste of whatever, we've got to flush it by tomorrow morning because we've got to come out and get to work again.

HESTON KJERSTAD: Like they said, we've got to come out here tomorrow with a sense of urgency and play another good game with a great team that we have here, and that'll hopefully work out in our favor.

Q. Grant, you've been back there for a lot of these big games for Blaine. In your opinion, from your perspective, what is it about this guy that makes him thrive when the spotlight is the brightest?
GRANT KOCH: I mean, first off, I think it's his competitive nature. He never gives an inch on the mound. He's thrown any pitch in any situation, and obviously has amazing stuff.

Obviously the talent is there, but what separates Blaine is his mentality, his work ethic. So many things go into it. He's absolutely one of the best pitchers I've ever seen and I've ever caught.

But I think it's his mindset that sets him apart from a lot of people. You want that guy on the mound and you're going to fight for that guy on defense. We know that's what the team feels, and we know he's going to give us a quality start no matter what, so it's huge.

Q. When you're standing out there on the field, obviously you can feel the crowd, but I don't know if you look around and notice that with two outs in the ninth there's 20,000 hands in the air. What was it like to be playing in Omaha on a national championship stage?
HESTON KJERSTAD: You know, it's amazing to have the fans like we have in Arkansas. It's the best in the country. I felt like we were playing in Baum Stadium, just a lot bigger, with 25,000 Arkansas fans in it. You've got to love having support like that when you're playing college baseball.

BLAINE KNIGHT: Yeah, I agree. I mean, this place was rocking tonight, and there was a lot of Arkansas fans here. We really appreciate them making the trip up and giving us some really good positive energy to go off of. I know that's what I was feeding off of during the game, and I'm sure the other guys were, too.

GRANT KOCH: Yeah, talking about the atmosphere, you don't really think about it a lot, but there's definitely times where momentum shifts and you can feel it, and you know that there's a lot of Razorback fans that want you to win and want you to do well. I think that's what we're playing for. So many came out to see us, and we appreciate it. We really do. The support is everywhere, at our hotel, everywhere we go. We feed off it for sure because I think it's unlike any other fan base in college baseball.

Q. Grant and Heston, what is it about your lineup that allows you guys to string at-bats together?
GRANT KOCH: First of all, I think we all put together good at-bats. 1 through 9, no matter whether you get hits or not, you're always driving the pitch count, you're always having a good at-bat.

Then there's guys that get hot and guys that have really good games and that could be seven or eight people out of the lineup or that could be two or three and they can carry you one day. Doesn't matter the guy. There's no one certain guy. There's no pressure on anybody. When you start putting good at-bats together, putting pressure on the pitcher, he starts losing command a little bit, and as long as you don't expand the zone like we did the first few innings, we're in good shape as an offense.

HESTON KJERSTAD: Yeah, 1 through 9, everybody is a tough out and we're always battling pitches and fighting pitches. On top of that, everyone's got each other's backs. If the guy in front of you doesn't get the job done, it's your turn to get the job done. And if you don't get the job done, the guy behind you is going to step up and make sure he gets it done for the team, because at the end of the day we're a family and someone is going to step up and get the job done for one another.

Q. Blaine, on the night that you get a school record 14th win, Cronin gets a school record 14th save, can you address that? And the interference call, how big do you think that wound up being for the game, and was that something that fueled you?
BLAINE KNIGHT: Yeah, I mean, the school record thing, that's huge for Cronin, and I'm happy with it, too. It's been a long year. It's been a fun year, though, and it just shows that hard work pays off.

As far as the interference call, I think it was a little bit of a momentum shifter, especially for us, and still on defense, that gave me a little drive to want to get out of the inning without something happening. It gave me a little boost. And then offensively we started putting some good at-bats together after that, so I think it played out in our favor.

Q. Dave, the momentum -- from your perspective, how did you feel about the momentum carrying from the bottom of the fourth to the top of the fifth and what it did for your guys when they started to get something going against Heimlich?
DAVE VAN HORN: Well, you know, our whole -- one of our goals offensively tonight was to get his pitch count up. It was his third start in, I don't know, 11 or 12 days. We just felt like that early he was awfully good. He was getting -- it just seemed like he was keeping the ball down, he was getting calls, and breaking ball was okay, and we could kind of see it away. It just kind of went away. He ended up walking two that inning and hitting two that inning. Probably a little momentum. Instead of being down 2-0 we were down 1-0. But he came out and he walked Shaddy, and there we go.

We as a team felt like we left a couple runs out there, one for sure. Bases loaded and one out, and we didn't score. Give credit to Chamberlain, he came in and did a good job the rest of the game. We put together some good at-bats like the players said. The guys got real patient with him and didn't chase and got him out of the game.

Q. You brought a team here in 2001 and 2002, and you know you were probably worried about getting 27 outs tonight, but did you catch yourself looking around or feeling the energy, and did it feel similar to those years in terms of how much of an advantage one team had as the home crowd?
DAVE VAN HORN: It did. I actually made that comment earlier to someone that this is kind of how crazy it was back when we brought Nebraska here in 2001 for the first time. I just kept reminding our players to stay calm and save their energy because back in 2001 by the time the game started our team was tired, honest to goodness, just from what was all going on and up and down.

And I thought our guys did a nice job of handling it, and I told them walk around, walk from the bullpen, just save it. Save it for the game. It was a great atmosphere. The fans were incredible.

Q. It seems kind of appropriate, I guess, that Blaine's last start for you was here and ended in a win given his career. What do you tell him when he got back to the dugout, and how do you put what he's done into some context?
DAVE VAN HORN: Well, what I said to him, I just gave him a hug and he said thank you. It was pretty simple. He knew exactly what I meant. Having a guy like him that you can put out there every Friday or whatever, first game of the series, whether we started on Friday or Thursday, he just -- he gave us innings, and he saved our bullpen.

He got a couple no-decisions, got a lot of wins, and just a lot of stability. I appreciate him coming back this year. He felt like at the end of last year he was very tired. He had lost a lot of weight. He just felt like he needed another year. Obviously I feel like it was a good decision, but just for him to go out into professional baseball, I feel like he'll have a lot better success now than he would have last year.

But you know, it was kind of surreal knowing that that was the last time he's going to probably step on the mound for us. I mean, it is.

Q. I think Jared Gates was kind of in the middle of the base path one time, the interference calls, just a lot of guys probably too anxious tonight. Did you see that at all?
DAVE VAN HORN: I didn't think so. Jared Gates did a great job on that because he knew no one was behind him, and if they weren't paying attention on a throw that went through the middle of the infield, he could take an extra base, and once he got out there, he knew nobody was behind him, he didn't panic, just slowly looked around and got back to first base.

The interference call, we didn't have anything to do with that. Obviously they did that. Really on that play, I was looking to see where my pitcher was. I didn't really see the play because I didn't feel like my pitcher got over there to cover first.

But there's always nerves and guys are always anxious, but it's just the way the game went.

Q. I was wondering how does it feel to win a game like this when you're out-hit 9-5, your extra base hits weren't into the inning, and you hold a team down that really hits the ball this hard?
DAVE VAN HORN: Yeah, like I told you, I feel fortunate to win the game. Baseball is a little different game sometimes, and you have eight innings where you don't do much and you put together one inning and you pitch good enough and play defense, you can win. That's kind of what went on tonight. Any time you can win a game when you get out-hit almost double, you feel pretty good about it.

Q. I asked the players kind of what the mindset was, and they said what you told them after the game, but can you expand on that after one win here and being one win away?
DAVE VAN HORN: Well, Grant is pretty smart. It was basically word for word what I told them. I just don't want them to get too wound up, I don't want them to think about it. I just want them to come out tomorrow with the attitude that tomorrow is do or die. I think we play a little better that way.

And take it to them. Don't wait for something to happen. Don't lay around in bed tonight thinking, oh, one more game, because that game will never happen if you think like that. You've just got to come play. These guys are in a good place mentally. It's not life or death. I've told them that three times this week; it's just baseball.

Q. We've talked a lot about the pitching, the hitting is great, but the defense tonight, Heston's throw and Gates' catch, the defense and what it's meant to this team down the stretch?
DAVE VAN HORN: Well, we played pretty good defense for the most part here, played pretty good in the Regional, Super Regional. We've had it where we've made three or four errors but we've run off a streak or two, four or five games without making one. Pretty steady team for the most part. Any time you have young players on the field there's going to be mistakes. But I just kept telling them when we got the lead, we don't have to turn a double play, just get outs. Make sure we turn outs, communicate, try not to make that mistake on the routine-type plays. You're going to boot balls, space balls. It's the way it works. You don't get upset about that. It's just the mental things that bother coaches and probably players that are standing around when it goes down. They're doing a good job of handling the ball so far.

Q. Can you just talk about the development? What has Cronin and Loseke done to get to the point where they're as dominant as they've been here in Omaha?
DAVE VAN HORN: Well, Loseke was good in the fall for us and got off to a not so good start come January and February. He was a little upset about his pitching time, but he wasn't pitching real well, and we gave him the ball against Texas Tech I think in the first or second inning. It wasn't going real good. We started a freshman -- might be the second inning, and I think he struck out like 15 or 16 that game. That was his "hey, I'm here" party.

He's been good ever since. And then Cronin, Cronin has just gotten bigger and stronger. He got mono during the season. That knocked him down for about four weeks, and he was down the stretch -- it may have cost us a game or two not having him to close it. Felt like we might have been able to win the division without tying for the division championship or maybe challenge Florida for the overall, but we just tried to survive until he got healthy again because he's been our closer. And he likes that role. He's not intimidated. He doesn't care if he comes in with the bases loaded with no outs. He just goes out there and lets it go. He's actually got his breaking ball working a little bit. He didn't throw any tonight I don't think, but he throws the first strike, pretty good pitch.

But having those two guys to pick up the slack in the middle and then until the end of the game, it does finish off a lot of wins.

Q. Can you speak to the defensive plays? There were a number of them tonight, in particular ones by Kjerstad where he threw the runner out at second, and the Gates catch?
DAVE VAN HORN: Well, I think you start with Gates. Gates is -- he is a blue-collar kid. Yeah, the catch was a great catch, but I thought the backhanded catch on the interference call, that was a fantastic play, semi-dive, ball his hit hard, but the catch, that's all about wanting to. He laid out pretty hard. He landed on his knee and hurt himself a little bit. But he's not fleet of foot, and he's not the greatest athlete out on the field, but he gave you everything he had right there, and all of his teammates really appreciate what he did.

Heston's play, I think Heston was still bummed out about not seeing the ball in the sun. Fortunately we didn't -- we give up that run there, and when he had a chance to make a play, he made an absolutely perfect throw, and it was on the line and had something on it, and right when it left his hand, we could tell that he was going to get him. Just a couple of nice plays. Like you say, you start to count outs, and we knocked down a couple right there because guys really went after the ball hard.

FastScripts Transcript by ASAP Sports

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