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June 27, 2010
THE MODERATOR: Joining us up on the podium are members from the UCLA and South Carolina baseball teams from South Carolina Jackie Bradley, Jr., Whit Merrifield, head coach Ray Tanner, UCLA head coach John Savage. Trevor Bauer, Gerrit Cole and Niko Gallego.
At this time we'd like to have South Carolina Coach Ray Tanner make an opening statement.
COACH TANNER: It's a tremendous honor to be a part of this national championship field of two teams. We start out with almost 300 teams, or thereabout, and it's down to the east and the west.
We have great respect for Coach Savage and his players and their success. They're an awesome team. They've done everything that you could do to get here. Tremendously balanced team. Pitches defense, timely hitting, and we're excited to be playing right now. It was an uphill battle for us after losing the first game.
I'm very happy that there's a day off. The last time we were in this situation we played just a few hours after we finished the last elimination game in a one-game shoot-out. It's a little better scenario for us.
We know that we have our hands full with UCLA. But we're tremendously excited to be playing for a national championship.
THE MODERATOR: Coach Savage, your opening remarks.
COACH SAVAGE: Certainly echo Coach Tanner's feelings. Very honored and humbled to be in this position. Like he said, it's a grind. It's 300 teams coming out of the Pac-10 conference, a lot like the southeastern conference. Two of the best baseball conferences in the country. Very challenging nonconference schedules and certainly very challenging conference schedules.
We're very proud of our team. Our team had to go through a lot. We had some injuries at the end. We battled back and got through the Regional with LSU and Irvine, and then we had to go through Cal State Fullerton, which is very tough. But our guys are very honored, like I said, to be playing at Rosenblatt during the last year of the College World Series currently at this ballpark, and it couldn't be a better opponent than South Carolina. Got a ton of respect for Coach Tanner and his program.
Been to Omaha four times. Been to Regionals I think 10 straight years. A bunch of Super Regionals. Really a good group of players. Very well-balanced team, very athletic. Bunch of good, young position players mixed with some older position players.
Tremendous pitching. Their pitching reminds us a little bit of ourselves. Very good ERA. They have a ton of depth. They strike some people out. They don't walk people. They pitched the right way. I think their batting average is like .220 against. So we know we have a tremendous challenge against South Carolina and we are very excited about the opportunity.
THE MODERATOR: Questions. John, you were a couple games under 500 last year, didn't make the tournament. Here you are in the finals this year. What transpired to get you guys over the hump?
COACH SAVAGE: Well, I think a couple things. I think Coach Vanderhook and Coach Pearse, their second year. I think the offensive players, it took a year to get their mentality and their approach. Coach Vanderhook is one of the best offensive minds in the country. He was at Cal State Fullerton for 19 years. Been to Omaha 10 times and knows how to create offense. I think that was a big deal.
Our two pitchers, Cole and Bauer, have grown up. They're sophomores now. Very young staff last year. So I think maturity on the mound. The assistant coaches, and then I think we brought in a bunch of good, young, left-handed position players. We needed to get much more left-handed. We needed to get much more athletic. So it was a combination of things.
But the guys have played hard all year. And we needed to turn it around after last year.
Q. Ray, just after the excitement of last night beating Clemson, do you think it will be difficult for you or your team to flush that and get ready for the championship series?
COACH TANNER: God, I would hope not. I mean, the fact that we're playing -- certainly the rivalry was mixed in, the South Carolina rivalry. But we got past that. Today off, we get a little bit of practice in. We've had an opportunity to watch UCLA and how good they are in all facets of the game.
These guys certainly will be ready to play. We know that our opponent is very difficult. But these guys will be excited about the opportunity, as will the Bruins. So it's a great opportunity for both of us.
Q. Both coaches, every team that gets to this stage has faced elimination at some stage. But probably no teams have walked to the edge of the cliff as close as you two did. Ray, you here against Oklahoma, and John against Fullerton in the Super Regionals. Could you talk about being that close to being going home and now that one of you will be national champion?
COACH TANNER: Well, you know, I've got a chance to watch UCLA on TV in the Regionals and Super Regionals. And just happened to see them because of the time difference in the East Coast and the West Coast. And I'm not sure that they had as much difficulty as we've had the entire season.
We went through a period of time where we really did have trouble scoring runs. We weren't giving up a lot and we were playing good defense. But we took the mentality that, you know, we've got to win some games late. We're going to have to win some close games. We're going to have to get a big hit. We're going to have to bloop one in or make something happen. We played like that a lot, certainly going down here to the last pitch and the season being over, and we were able to survive that.
It's part of the game. It doesn't work out for you all the time. I tell the players all the time it's a game of percentages. It's going to get you. But if you play it the right way and have a good approach, you're going to get yours, too.
And you gotta believe it's going to even out. At some point, you know, you have to understand there is going to be a tremendous amount of adversity. And they've been through some and we've been through a lot. And maybe it's a credit to both teams and the players that have been able to survive it and move on.
COACH SAVAGE: Well, we feel the same way. Our backs were against the wall. We had two outs, nobody on against Cal State Fullerton. We lost the first game. And Blair Dunlap battled and walked on a 3-1 count and Rahmatulla got into a 3-1 count and hit the two-run homer to extend our season.
So we were literally one out a way from being two and out in the Super Regionals. And I never sensed any quit. I didn't sense any panic. I didn't sense any, you know, over -- the season being over. The guys just kept on battling. So it's a credit to the character of our team that we're here.
Certainly we went through tremendous challenges, as did South Carolina, to get here. I think any team that gets here, the final eight, has earned it. To get to the final two, I think you've really earned it. South Carolina loses the first game and comes back and is in the position they're in, says a lot about certainly their character and their players.
So, you know, we're very fortunate to be here.
Q. Ray, you kind of touched on it earlier, but the best of three series wasn't the case last time you were here. How much of, I guess, almost a relief is that? And is it a more fair way to finish this thing after such a long season, particularly with what you've gone through here?
COACH TANNER: Well, I think it's good for the game. I think you're talking about a national championship and eight teams get here, two teams survive. I think it's the right way to do it.
Back when we were in this position before, we had finished on an early evening on a Friday. And we had a noon game on Saturday. It was set up for television. And, you know, we were excited. We were energetic. It was a short turnaround and it wasn't the best of three. Is that going to make it easier for us? Absolutely not. But I think it's the way that it should be done.
Two teams left. Best of three. You get a variety of pitchers out there in the games, whether it's a two-game or three-game set. We're all used to the series mentality.
And I think that it's the right way to do it.
Q. Both coaches, how well do you know each other, and are there any ties from your past?
COACH TANNER: I don't know Coach Savage personally. I think we crossed paths -- he may not remember this -- we crossed paths in the Cape Cod league a number of years ago and just exchanged a greeting. But I've watched what he's done on the West Coast and how the UCLA team has really made tremendous amount of progress.
I know he's a great coach. He's got great assistants that he's mentioned and an outstanding group of players.
COACH SAVAGE: Certainly looked at what Coach Tanner has done in his career. North Carolina State and certainly South Carolina. All the things he's done, whenever you win, I think, almost 70 percent of your games as a coach, I mean, it's those numbers just aren't out there. So we have a ton of respect for Coach Tanner and his players.
But, you know, I have some friends that are on the West Coast, have coached with him on Team USA, speak very fondly of him and have a ton of -- they admire him very much as a person as well as a coach.
Q. Whit, how sore are you today? And, number two, was there anything this team did after what happened to you against the Florida Gators in the regular season and then you were quick out of the SEC tournament, and what got you going in the right direction again?
WHIT MERRIFIELD: I'm a little sore but I'm fine. I feel like I played a football game yesterday. I'm used to feeling like this after playing football.
But the Florida series was rough knowing that we win two games and we win the SEC and winning the tournament and going two and out, it was a tough time for our team. But I think it just shows the character of this team. We're a team that never gives up and never quits. And after we got done with the tournament we came back and we had some two-a-days, and it wasn't kind of the grueling two-a-day. We were very energetic and very excited about the opportunity at hand.
And we knew we had a lot of season left. And sure enough, we were going to be here until the last day of the college season.
Q. Jackie, Whit, Trevor and Niko, we all know in this championship in college baseball when you start fall camp and Omaha's etched in your mind, and this is the goal to get here and you're here now playing in the championship the last one at Rosenblatt Stadium, your teams have worked hard, you worked hard, just your thoughts on being here playing at this platform?
COACH TANNER: It's amazing. It's a blessing. It's like an honor. Every college athlete dreams of being here. And to say you're in the final two, I mean, how better could it get?
WHIT MERRIFIELD: You know, this stadium has such a presence, it really is an honor, like Jackie said, to be playing in it. And at the beginning of the fall, we set out to get here, but we didn't set out just to get here. We wanted to do something that our university has never had, and that's a national championship.
And we're in position now, and we know we've got to play really well to beat a great UCLA team. But our team is excited for the challenge.
COACH SAVAGE: Yes, setting out in the fall, obviously it's every team's goal to get here and play for a national championship. And to have it be the last year in this stadium, just the memories that there is in this stadium. I've grown up watching the College World Series since I can remember. And just some of the moments I've seen, to actually be here and playing for a national championship and be the last year, it's pretty special.
GERRIT COLE: It makes all the hard work in the fall, in the winter, worth it. All the sacrifices and the going to class when you have a ball game that day, you know, it makes it all worth it. It's a good pay-off. And it's just an unbelievable opportunity. And something that every college baseball player dreams of.
NIKO GALLEGO: Well, it's kind of hard going last. You guys took all my answers. But it's a surreal feeling. It's awesome, too. We're having a good time out here. I know Whit pretty well. I just met Jackie. I told Jackie over there in the corner he's my favorite player to watch. We're a bunch of boys having a great time. It's a good time.
Q. Gerrit, how do you describe yourself as a pitcher and how hard was it to turn down the New York Yankees?
GERRIT COLE: It was an extremely hard decision. When you're put in that situation with that kind of opportunity, you know, you have to really sit down and think. And my family and I had a goal, and that was to play college baseball. And I've always dreamed about coming here to Omaha and playing in the College World Series.
So in terms of that's what I really wanted to do. That's where my heart was. What was the second half of the question?
Q. [Off microphone]?
GERRIT COLE: I'm an emotional aggressive pitcher. I wear my heart on my sleeve. I like to pound the strike zone, attack with the fastball. Pretty basic three-pitch mix kind of guy.
Q. [Off microphone]?
COACH SAVAGE: Next question, please. (Laughter).
GERRIT COLE: Pretty straightforward.
Q. Ray, your starting pitching stepped up huge. A couple of them on short days rest, talk about the job those guys did, and also discuss how you feel your rotation is going to set up this week.
COACH TANNER: I'll answer the last part first. I don't know. And I really feel that, you know, the fact that we were able to bring Dyson and Cooper back on short rest and Matt Price as well is a compliment to Billy Anderson, the strength and conditioning guy, and the work they put in. As Gerrit mentioned the off-season, the winter, the amount of work you put in, I always tell the guys you have to put some hay in the barn. And these guys grind it out. They take a lot of pride in their conditioning.
A lot of times I'm thinking I don't know if I want to be a pitcher. That's too much work for the amount of time you get to play. But that's where you are, I think, in this world of athletics right now. You have to make a tremendous investment in your body and conditioning and you try to be in a position that you can turn it around.
Guys throw 125, 130 pitches, but they're really preparing to throw 200, not that you'll ever do it. But you're trying to be physically fit to withstand the kind of pressures you have coming your way.
So I'm grateful that these guys took their conditioning serious. We've talked about it many times, about Blake Cooper last summer, about how hard he worked going into a senior year. He's not a big guy. And he might have been a little bit heavy for his size. He lost some weight.
He's just had a workman-like year. Did a lot of the innings for us. Never missed a turn, never felt bad. So I think that's a real tribute to those players and Billy Anderson for keeping them in great shape.
Q. Coach Savage, have you set up your pitching rotation for this series or at least have a Monday starter in mind?
COACH SAVAGE: Yeah, we'll start Gerrit Cole on Monday. And after that, we really don't know what direction we're going to head in. So he started last Monday. So in terms of that, you know, he was up in the bullpen yesterday. He was possibly coming out of the bullpen yesterday, but he did get some work in, and as of Tuesday and Wednesday, you know, we're not that far ahead.
Q. Coaches, how difficult is it to get a complete scouting report on each other with the limited connections that the programs have?
COACH SAVAGE: Well, you know, there's all kinds of scouting reports. TV, for one. You know, there's a ton of video. They're on TV a lot more than we are. I mean, the Pac-10 baseball, I think there's like -- there's a couple of games on TV. I mean, we were on TV against USC, Dodger Stadium, earlier in the year. We played at the Urban Youth Academy against Bethune Cookman on TV. I think videotape is the best answer to that question.
And then we watched the teams here as much as we can and so there's ways certainly to get scouting reports and to look at hitters and look at pitchers and so forth. But our main focus is really ourselves. We certainly do scout the opponent and try to find out as much as we can.
But at the end of the day, it's really about your team.
Q. Jackie, can you describe the emotions of this past week? You guys have been on the edge, you've been on the brink the entire week, four straight elimination games, going down to the final pitch when you got the big hit against Oklahoma. What's it been like?
JACKIE BRADLEY, JR.: It's just been amazing. From day one, even starting out with the loss and having to climb back uphill, my team never gave up, we never gave in.
And I'm proud of them. And I was just glad to be in that situation against Oklahoma, and it happened to turn out good. Put a good swing on it. But I mean, we're trying to move on from that now. We got to where we are. And we're going to try to win a national championship now.
Q. Ray, in light of the previous results, what role do you see for Michael Roth the rest of this series?
COACH TANNER: He's gotta be a factor for us. I know he threw that complete game, something I don't know that he's ever done at any level. It was just a tremendous performance.
He was working awfully hard to get his body back yesterday. And we've got to get him out there for an appearance. They're going to have a lot of lefties in there, some real difficult outs to get and we have to try to match up and neutralize the best we can.
We'll have to see how he feels tomorrow. But certainly we hope that he can play some sort of role for us.
Q. His traditional role, situational lefty?
COACH TANNER: I would think so, that that would be what we would do. But never say never.
Q. Coach Savage, your athletic department has been very successful over the years also with the passing of Coach Wooden recently. 100 plus national titles. Talk about the high standards that your athletic department has and do the baseball teams face any special pressure because you have not won a national title yet?
COACH SAVAGE: Well, you know, you're right. It's the athletic department with the most national championships in the country. You know, it's obviously known for a basketball school with Coach Wooden and everything he did at UCLA and all the national championships and all the NBA players, and then certainly football has a rich tradition as well, and softball and gymnastics and volleyball and golf. There's all kinds of traditions there.
And baseball, you know, never have won a national championship. Our players know that. I mean, every day we go in the Hall of Fame room and we go in the weight room and you see all the national championships, and baseball doesn't have anything underneath it. So it's I guess a gut check every time you see it. And knowing that you could do something special and put it up there.
So we take a lot of pride in our athletic department. I know the student-athletes do. But we know that baseball has never got to that pinnacle of college baseball, and now that we're in position, you know, we look to be ready for that opportunity.
Q. For each of the UCLA players, you guys are used to playing a USC not this USC, what do you know about this program and what do you know about the state of South Carolina in general?
TREVOR BAUER: Well, I don't know too much about their program other than the fact that they've been extremely successful. They have a great team. And obviously they deserve to be here. Have had an outstanding run through the playoffs this year. And tough opponent to play and looking forward to it.
GERRIT COLE: I've watched them throughout the World Series. They're an extremely resilient team, I think is a good word to describe them. They have quite a few tremendous players. A lot of big-game players. That complete game that Roth pitched was unbelievable. That base hit that Jackie had to keep them in the World Series was just -- you know, those moments are priceless.
You know, so they're obviously an outstanding program or else they wouldn't be here. They're obviously a bunch of hard workers, a bunch of non-quitters. And you just have tremendous respect for any program that gets here and even gets in this final two.
NIKO GALLEGO: I doubled up on the people I know on South Carolina by meeting Jackie over there. I knew Whit a little bit from summer ball. But we know they're good, and we're excited to play them.
Q. Gerrit and Niko, I think Trevor said yesterday that the program kind reset and tried to establish a new culture in the fall. Curious if you guys think there was a new culture, a change in the fall and how you were able to bring that about.
GERRIT COLE: Yeah, there was definitely a whole new mindset. We tried to create a new identity for our team after last season. We've been working a lot with Ken Revisa who has helped us out quite a bit. We kind of got together and bonded as a team. There are no individual players on this team. Everybody is a part of the Bruin baseball.
We tried to establish a tough mindset, a no-quit mindset. We're hard workers. We put in the time and effort, and we're excited to play here and just have this opportunity. And it's been an unbelievable experience, just a complete turnaround, 180 degrees from last year. And can't express enough gratitude for the other 35 guys on this team to put in the same kind of emotions and just to be so driven to get here.
You can't thank them enough?
NIKO GALLEGO: Yeah, I think we have turned around the mentality on this team, clearly, by the way we ended last year and the way we're doing this year. So I don't know what it was that we did, but it clicked, and we've got a good group of guys, and we're just having fun.
Q. Ray, obviously first and foremost, you want to win a national championship for the University of South Carolina. But there's only two other SEC schools that have ever won one. Ever heard from any your opposing coaches, have they contacted you while you're out here, offered you any congratulations or anything like that as you get ready for this season?
COACH TANNER: A lot of well wishes to carry the flag from the southeastern conference. But I received some text late last night from some of my coaches in the league that have been a part of this deal. And just like I'm sure Coach Savage has from his colleagues out on the West Coast.
It's just a great opportunity for us. We're excited and I really like Niko's attitude. He's got it figured out. We're a group of guys trying to play baseball. Probably not comfortable on this stage so much, but just trying to have some fun here and we're down to the final two. They want to win, we want to win, and you go out and play and I really believe that the makeup we have and the makeup I've seen from them, guys are going to be comfortable. Going to go out and strap it on and see who can come up with a big hit, a big play, and make some big pitches. I don't think it's hard to figure out. We've got scouting reports. They've got scouting reports. Executing them is a different situation altogether. But it's a situation that we're playing for a national championship, and it should be a wonderful experience and a lot of fun.
Q. Jackie and Whit, what have you learned about UCLA's team this week and what has particularly impressed you about what they've done?
JACKIE BRADLEY, JR.: Have some arms, I'll tell you that. They can really pitch. But they're offensive, they've been putting it together this whole tournament and getting a lot of timely hits. Putting runs up on the board.
Sometimes we've been putting up runs on the board but then we'll struggle. And other times they've been doing it all tournament long.
WHIT MERRIFIELD: It's funny. I was roommates with Tyler Rahmatulla this summer, and I feel awful that he's not -- that he can't play. And we were talking about how cool it would be if we both ended up in Omaha and playing each other. And here it is.
And I've kept in touch with him throughout the year and asked how they were doing. And every time I've talked to him, it seems like Gerrit or Trevor is throwing a one-hit shutout.
And we know they're a very, very good team. And they've been hot in Omaha and they've pushed some runs across for their pitchers. And we got a tough task to accomplish, but like I said before, I think we're ready for it.
Q. John, your players talked about how you guys had to change your mentality from last year. What are they talking about there? And I noticed you didn't have team captains last year. Did you bring that back? And why was that?
COACH SAVAGE: Well, you know, we'd gone to the post-season three years in a row before last season. We lost a lot of players. We were pre-season ranked 1, I believe, in -- I believe in '08, and we obviously didn't meet those expectations. We lost a bunch of players to the draft. So we had a bunch of young players last year.
And we played probably a few too many road games. Went to Oklahoma, East Carolina Minutemade classic and these guys pitched a lot on the road last year. That had a lot to do with it. We finished first in the Pac-10. We were in the mix in the post-season. We just didn't do enough out of the league really.
So maturity has certainly brought that to a higher standard within our program. And like Niko said, it's just a mindset. Guys are bonded. Guys have bonded, welded with each other, and it helps to have very good pitching.
We're in a lot of games and it's really a credit to the staff. And I just think there's a lot of pride and a lot of emotions that go into a good season. And these guys have, so far, finished a deal and have played well.
Q. Coach Savage, being in the Los Angeles market, obviously have to compete for media attention with Hollywood and all the sports teams. How difficult is that and how difficult has it been to separate yourself from all the college baseball programs based in southern California?
COACH SAVAGE: Southern California baseball is as competitive as there is in the country. I mean, you're talking about Irvine, Long Beach, Fullerton, Pepperdine, USC. So there's 12 schools from San Diego to Santa Barbara that are very good. So it's very competitive in terms of players. Very competitive in terms of recruiting.
We get very little media coverage in Los Angeles, to be quite honest with you. Lakers. Dodgers. All the different schools. The USC football and UCLA football and basketball programs. So there's a lot to do in southern California.
I wish there would be more media coverage. Certainly these players deserve it. They're playing at a very high level. I think anybody would probably back my sentiments by me saying that. We get much more attention when we leave Los Angeles.
You know, outside of Los Angeles. I mean, that's why our players, I think, are so grateful of the attention that they're getting here. We don't have an SEC tournament. We don't play a PAC-10 tournament. So that's not a big thing at the end of the year.
And West Coast baseball, a lot of good players, a lot of good teams, but just not a lot of attention brought to them, other than the baseball Americas and the rivals and those people that certainly pay attention.
But it's hard to say. It's Los Angeles and there's a lot more to do than I guess come to a college baseball game. I wish more people would pay attention to it. We did draw very well. We love our fans that came out this year. But, you know, you have to win in Los Angeles for them to take a look at you. And this team has done that. So the media is a little better.
But it's just the life in LA.
COACH TANNER: I've got a lot of media guys I'd like to send your way. [Laughter].
COACH SAVAGE: We're okay, thanks.
Q. Coaches, you talk about East versus West. It does seem like both east teams are based primarily on pitching and defense. But are there some differences you see when you watch each other from a style standpoint?
COACH SAVAGE: I just see a lot of tools. I can tell you that, just by watching the players. They're fast, athletic, good arms. Power. I do see that. I see bigger, stronger players. And maybe that's the coach talking. I see tremendous talent over there. I see a lot of big arms, good pitching. They have a real good pitch plan. I like their pitch plan. I think they do a real good job of creating leverage on hitters and so forth.
So, you know, sometimes when we walk through an airport, I'm not sure what we look like, you know. We're not a big, strong, physical team. But it's a group of guys that -- look at these guys. They're getting -- you guys look all right. [Laughter] In your sweatsuits, but I'm not sure.
I just see a very well-coached team and a solid team across the field. Tomorrow night we'll see that. But that's kind of where I'm at on that.
COACH TANNER: I think there are some similarities, just looking at some numbers last night and this morning. You know, they've got the power arms. We've got some pretty good arms, and we pitch a little bit and that's one of the reasons we're still playing. But Niko and Amaral have been on base about 50 percent of the time in this tournament. Regis has five home runs in the post-season. They've got a good balance, right handed, left-handed in their lineup. They played solid defense. And they pitch up and down.
So if their guys at the top continue to be on base, certainly makes them very difficult to beat. And that's kind of how we are. If we can get some guys on at the top it makes us a lot better. It seems very simple. And the reason I think that we're both still alive.
Q. Coaches, just your feelings about playing the last one at Rosenblatt, and both of you have been here before. Any favorite memories?
COACH SAVAGE: Well, you know, winning a national championship in '98, my first year here, was a memorable one. One bigger than that, I was the pitching coach that gave up eight home runs against LSU in the first game and also won 21-14 in the championship.
So, you know, that's -- the biggest memory is winning the national championship with Coach Gillespie and being part of the USC program in 2000, came back. But it's been a cool college baseball. Every coach's dream is to coach at Omaha and coach at Rosenblatt Stadium. Being the last year is a dream come true for our players and our fans and our families and certainly the coaching staff.
So I can't probably put it in words what it means. I think we'll look back one day and look at South Carolina and UCLA and say, wow, I mean, that was the last series to be played at Rosenblatt Stadium. So we're very honored to be part of those two teams and hopefully it will be a memorable World Series.
COACH TANNER: Before I came here as a coach, I used to think that: Is it everything you dream of? Is it really? We all aspire from day one in the fall to have a team, players want to be in the College World Series because you're used to seeing it at the end of the year. And I thought about it many times. And then when I got out here a few years ago, it really was.
It's gotta be at the top of the list for NCAA championships. I can't imagine a Bowl game or Final four in basketball being any greater than this stage. It's wonderful. The television coverage. The city of Omaha. The people that come watch games at Rosenblatt. It just doesn't get any better.
And to be a part of the closing chapter here is very, very special. And I know that their guys are excited about it. We're excited about it. It is a great lesson in history for all of us. And we're honored to be a part of it.
THE MODERATOR: Gentlemen, thank you very much. Congratulations and good luck this week.
End of FastScripts