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June 20, 2021

Brian O'Connor

Omaha, Nebraska, USA

Virginia Cavaliers

Postgame Press Conference

Virginia - 6, Tennessee - 0

COACH O'CONNOR: Well, just overall a great performance by our guys, for sure. Andrew Abbott was terrific. He made some big, key, clutch pitches with runners in scoring position multiple innings. And that's what your Friday night guy, your leader, your All-American needs to do to win here at Omaha. And he certainly delivered.

And it just felt after six innings, the jams that he pitched out of that he, it was time for him to come out of the game. And fortunately we were able to stretch the lead there and bring in Matt Wyatt. And I thought Matt did a terrific job. Matt's been throwing some really great baseball for us and can be overpowering at times.

And it was just, from an offensive standpoint, it was a total collective team effort. Capitalized on some opportunities in the big inning, in the seventh inning with some stolen bases and some big clutch hits.

And how about the day that Logan Michaels had? I'm so proud of him. To get his first home run of the year in Omaha and to get a couple of other knocks. That guy has been a rock for us in our uniform. He's a tremendous leader.

Zack Gelof was outstanding today as well, as was many other guys.

Proud we started off 1-0. I can't say so many great things about how we played in every facet of the game. We were prepared. They handled the moment very, very well. And I knew they would because of the situation that they've been in the last few weeks.

Q. You mentioned Logan Michaels and his performance. But to have him do this the way he did on Father's Day in Omaha, what's that like to watch as a coach?

COACH O'CONNOR: Proud. There was a time three years ago that I didn't now Logan Michaels would show up to campus because of what he was dealing with his father. And he decided to come. He was encouraged by his parents to be here. And I'm just so incredibly proud of him to be able to deliver like he did on this special day.

I know this day is special for all of us, certainly. But for him, you know, I'm just elated for him that he can perform for his team. And his father can sit there and watch him do it. I'm just really, really excited for their family.

Q. Tennessee had runners on first and third in the first inning with none out. Abbott worked his way out of that. How pivotal do you think that was, what Andrew was able to do? And looking forward in this tournament, to have only used two pitchers tonight, how well does that set you up for Tuesday and beyond?

COACH O'CONNOR: Well, I think it sets us up well. You know that I've been really, really excited about the depth of this pitching staff, the high quality depth of it. I feel we have some really elite arms and many of them. So to only have had to use two of them certainly excites me.

So the first inning, you know, this game is a game of -- it's emotional. And for him to show the poise, the calmness that he did in that first inning -- sometimes here in Omaha, that first inning can be a difficult inning for starting pitchers. And he handled it like a champion, handled it like a winner. He continued to make pitches and was fortunate to get out of it.

And I think those momentum swings that you can see in these games, when the competition level is so elite that you have guys that step up and do that, it's impressive.

Q. How do you as a coach handle a young man or approach a young man's situation, when he's going through a family crisis like Logan was? Do you give them space? How much counseling do you offer? And has your approach evolved over the years?

COACH O'CONNOR: It has. First and foremost, when you have children of your own and you see when things happen in people's lives you know, the impact that it has on young people. And these players that wear our uniform, they look to us as coaches and administrators as leaders that are looking out for their best interests and care for them. This is what this is about.

A lot is to be made about home runs and guys rising up and going on to the professional baseball. But when it comes down to it in its simplest form, it's about caring for young people. And if you have talent and you care for young people, and you're teaching them the right things you've got a shot.

And family is always going to be first. And so checking in with Logan, telling him certain times that, hey, listen, if you need to step away from fall baseball or things like that, you need to go home and spend a couple of weeks, you need to do that because that family's first and foremost. And encourage them, checking in with him, making sure that we're providing them the right support to move through a tough situation like he's had and other players have had as well.

Q. Can you talk about the seventh inning? What was the chatter in the dugout when you got to their starter and lit up their closer?

COACH O'CONNOR: Well, Jerry, we had been taking some pretty good swings. We had squared some balls up throughout the game. I felt like it was a matter of time before we were going to be able to capitalize on some of those opportunities. And then we just had some guys step up and get big, clutch hits. I tell the team all the time this is what this is about.

You've got to enjoy the moment. And you have to have calmness and poise. But then it comes down to individual players emerging and getting that big hit, that big pitch or that big play. And that's what they did.

And then they brought their closer in and we were able to run a little bit and get a couple of other guys in scoring position and get a few more knocks and that momentum started to roll for us pretty good.

Q. Jeff Michaels told me after the game that Logan, that his swing isn't designed for power like that. What was your reaction when you saw that ball go over the outfield wall?

COACH O'CONNOR: Oh, I couldn't believe it. Right? His swing is not for that. But the ball was up a little bit. He put a good swing on it. I may have seen him hit a few balls out of the ballpark in BP, but just so excited for him.

History has told us in the last decade in this ballpark it's really difficult to hit balls out. But certainly in these first three games in Omaha, things have maybe changed a little bit. And when it finally left the ballpark, I just couldn't believe it. I was just so happy for him.

Q. You talked about this a little bit, about Abbott on Friday, but both he and Logan are guys who, if last year goes according to plan, they're not back this year. From that perspective, what's it like seeing both of those guys go out and perform like this on this stage?

COACH O'CONNOR: I'm happy for both of them, as well as others. This COVID, everything that was tough about it for all of us, there's a silver lining for these young men -- not just us, Tennessee, all the other teams that created an opportunity for them to kind of redo it for another year, to come back and get a chance to wear the uniform another year.

And for those guys, you know, they've got a tremendous amount of pride in this jersey. And they were ecstatic about coming back and seeing this through. So these are memories that they will have for the rest of their life that they're making here, that they made throughout the entire season, but that they're going to make here in Omaha. And I'm just proud of them and proud of the way that they're representing our baseball program.

Q. How big of a relief is it that you don't lose a game and you don't have to worry about having to face elimination or anything like that? And are you seeing this team hitting its stride, given the start of what the season was like earlier?

COACH O'CONNOR: Well, first, I'll tell you that you want to be in the winners' bracket, certainly. But if it comes down to you really don't gain an advantage unless you go 2-0. You're at the same spot. So that will play out on Tuesday night for us, but it's great to start off on a win here in Omaha.

Having coached in this event, played in this event enough, it's really, really important. And once we move past this game the next one will be even more important.

But I feel like this club is, hands down, there's no question about it. We are absolutely playing the best baseball of our year. And offensively we're a totally different team from where we were in the first half. The pitching is just really elite and doing some great things.

This is when you want to be playing your best. Everybody does. You had to play your best, all eight teams here to get here. But this is, right in these two weeks is when you want to be playing your best baseball.

Q. There aren't a lot of teams, a lot of pitchers who have been able to shut down Tennessee's offense. What did you see from Andrew just from a pure stuff standpoint today?

COACH O'CONNOR: You know the skill level of Andrew, for the most part, other than the two walks, I thought it was pretty special execution. He's able to elevate his fastball. In these baseball terms, he's got pretty special spin rate. He's able to throw it through the letters and get guys to chase. The breaking ball was good, the change-up to righties.

Tennessee's talented, very, very talented. They can beat you with one swing of the bat. And, so, limiting the damage from not walking guys and then just execution. You've got to execute it on them. Because they're very, very skilled. And you know that because of the runs that they've put up this year. And so I felt like he was going to be the best guy for us to be able to execute and give us a chance and he sure did.

Q. There were a couple of really big defensive plays from Max, another one from Nic Kent, a few during the game a big part of backing up Andrew and Matt. How big was that to see their ability to stay calm and poised in these big moments as well, seeing that defensively?

COACH O'CONNOR: I was proud of them. Again, having been to many, many games in this stadium and the other stadium and see, sometimes people don't handle the pressure in the moment real well. And they did defensively.

Max played great. Nic did in the middle. If you're going to win here in Omaha against these kind of teams, that infield defense has to be there. It has to be great. And they were certainly fantastic today.

Q. Just talk about, you mentioned depth of pitching. Andrew pitched very well today. And you got some young guys like Nate Savino. For you guys as a coach and staff, how fun was it for you to watch this team all year?

COACH O'CONNOR: It's been a lot of fun. Guys have developed. You see Matt Wyatt pitching his best baseball the last three weeks. You see a guy like Savino, who continues to develop and his best days ahead of him. You see the recent emergence of Griff McGarry. And Mike Vasil has been a guy for us all year. When we needed him he's stepped up.

It's made it exciting to be able to make decisions on who do you put out there, because there's a lot of great options. And so it's been fun for Coach Dickinson and I -- by the way, he's doing an incredible job with these young men on the mound, getting them to be aggressive and execute and developing their skill. And the hardest thing that we do is to make decisions on which guy are we going to give the ball to, because there's a lot of great choices. But I'd rather have that decision than the other.

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