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June 29, 2010
South Carolina Â– 2
UCLA - 1
THE MODERATOR: Now joined by members of the University of South Carolina baseball team, Whit Merrifield, Jackie Bradley, Jr., Mike Roth and Matt Price, along with Coach Ray Tanner who will give an opening statement.
COACH TANNER: It's not usual that I'm at a loss for words, but I've never been -- I've never had the opportunity to sit in this position before.
I just want to take a moment to recognize Coach Savage and UCLA. Tremendous team. Great pitching staff. It was a great effort on our part to be able to win the series against them. Last night we got a few runs and tonight we played uphill for most of the night. Our pitching staff gave us a chance. We battled.
You start in February with 300 teams and you get a chance to go to post-season, and maybe to a Super Regional, and then you have things go right for you and you go to Omaha. And you get to play in the national championship series. And you're the last team standing.
Just a wonderful, wonderful time for our players and coaches. The University of South Carolina, our great fans, and a lot of them made the trek out here to Omaha, and looking forward to getting back to Columbia tomorrow and sharing this championship with our great university and the city of Columbia and our many, many wonderful fans.
THE MODERATOR: Questions.
Q. Whit, Trevor Bauer was warming up in the bullpen, did you think this was your best chance or last chance to get the game-winning hit?
WHIT MERRIFIELD: That never really crossed my mind. The guy was throwing pretty well. He was throwing four pitches and he was locating them all pretty well. I was kind of upset with my at-bat in the bottom of the 9th to lead off.
I feel like I tried to do too much. And I just -- I was hoping to be put in the opportunity again to make up for my first at-bat.
Q. Whit, first of all, were you surprised they didn't walk you? And, secondly, what's your game plan when you step into the box in that situation?
WHIT MERRIFIELD: Yeah, I was a little surprised that they didn't walk me and Jackie to load the bases and maybe force a double-play ball. But, you know, when I saw the catcher squat down, I knew I had something to prove. They wanted to get me out.
And in that situation, you're trying to get a pitch elevated. And you're trying to drive it deep into the outfield. And I worked the count in my favor and got a fastball. Even though it was kind of down, I got the barrel on it, and it finally went the other way and shot it into the gap. And it fell for me. And it was a great feeling.
Q. Coach, what does it mean for South Carolina to finally win a title and, B, to win the last one here at Rosenblatt?
COACH TANNER: Without question, it's very, very special. The history of the College World Series and Omaha and Rosenblatt, I was sitting out by the third baseline for opening ceremonies with the other teams thinking what a venue, what an atmosphere, what a history, to be able to come in the last year, to be part of the College World Series and the closing of Rosenblatt. And it dawned on me, it would be wonderful to go deep into this thing and be around at the end. And to be able to survive and win the last game is really incredible.
I know the new stadium will be very special and a great facility. But this is history. And we'll be a part of the College World Series and Rosenblatt for a long, long time.
I can't say enough about what Rosenblatt means and the city of Omaha. It's got to be the most special post-season tournament in all of the NCAA championships. So it's an incredible journey and incredible ending.
Q. Coach, first for you, talk about the strikeout when Matt came in, the bases were jammed, runs were at a premium, it was 1 to 1, and he was able to strike out Gallego and how big a strikeout that was. And then I want to ask all of you guys how much would you like to be in Five Points tonight?
COACH TANNER: That strikeout Matt had, I've seen him do that before. When you've got the stuff that Matt does, he's going to make some pitches. And it's not easy to lay off, especially in that situation. And I think that when TCU left town, we got adopted a little bit by some fans here in Omaha; that was very much appreciated. And there was a fevered pitch when he was getting ready to deliver to Niko in that situation.
It was huge for us. Matt Price and the entire bullpen have been very special for us the entire year and toward the latter part, he's been sort of the guy we get on his back there at the end and either keep us alive or win it for us or save it for us. And he came up huge again tonight. And they're not going to be in Five Points.
Q. Michael, when you arrived here in Omaha, did you even think in your wildest dreams you would end up starting two games, including the game that won the national championship? When the game started, how long did you think you could go, you ended up throwing 77 pitches.
MIKE ROTH: I was planning on going nine innings again. You know, never would I have ever thought that I was going to start a game here in Omaha. But, you know, it's been great. I'm honored that they called upon me.
And, you know, it's wonderful. It's a wonderful feeling to be a starting pitcher of the final game in Omaha.
Q. Matt, you've had to be used so much in this series, did you feel fatigued? Was it all pure adrenalin being asked to pitch inning after inning?
MATT PRICE: I was a little tired the first game. And I got the day off that game. And when they called for me in this game today, I mean, you gotta go out there and give it all you got and that's what I did.
Q. Coach, can you talk a little bit about what Baylor Teal meant to your team and why you thought it was important to recognize him?
COACH TANNER: You know, the fact that what we do in the athletic arena, you know, regardless of the sport. We battle. We compete. And a lot of times you put too much into it and we lose perspective.
And our players do a great job of reaching out to people in our community and volunteer work and hospital visits and Baylor -- Baylor just came to us. We visited the hospital. Coach Holbrook had an experience in his family. And it just -- it was one of those situations that this felt right.
And he really became a part of our program. And he was always in our thoughts and prayers. We would get updates on how he was doing when we traveled. His dad would stay in constant contact with Coach Holbrook. So he really was a part of who we are, and we thought about him so many times.
And I gotta believe right now he's probably smiling right now and a happy camper looking down upon us.
Q. Before the game, you said this World Series would be a coming-out party for Jackie. You feel like a prophet now based on how everything went?
COACH TANNER: No, not really. I probably jinxed him. He didn't get enough passes out there tonight. But we've got a lot of guys that are comfortable. I think that was one of the keys for us and getting deep into this thing.
You're not going to be -- you're not going to win all your games. To get where we are right now is just a wonderful journey that ended up on top. But these guys have great -- they have great resolve. They have great respect for the game. And we talk about it. They take ownership.
They care about each other. They pick each other up. I don't know if you guys noticed last night or not. But Scott Wingo sort of had a tough night defensively last night. And his teammates were razzing him the entire time.
Now, I'm thinking: Here's a guy that's struggling to pick up a baseball and all they're doing is getting on him every inning, and he started laughing. And it's a different way to do it. But I know this: When you have anxiety and tension, you can't perform.
And I think my teams have been that way at times because of me. And I try not to be that way anymore. These guys have been great for me. And they approach the game every day the right way. We didn't win them all, but we won a large majority of them.
Q. Coach, last month, back in early May, I talked to you. I did a little short phone thing with you. And I asked you, Does this team compare to the 2002, 2004 team, some of your better teams? You honestly answered and you said, I don't really think so. I wonder if you had changed feelings now. Has the team grown since that point when I talked to you then?
COACH TANNER: The teams back in the early part of the decade, you know, we would try to hit a three-run homer, and anybody that thought about bunting would be penalized. So the game changed quite a bit. And this team has really been about pitching and defense.
Now, we hit it okay. We ended up hitting close to 100 home runs and around .300 as a team. So I don't want to act like we can't hit at all. But there were times when we had trouble scoring runs, but really there was never a time that we didn't pitch and play defense throughout the entire season.
I went back and looked, one day it was incredible that, you know, we played 40-something games and we had a chance to win 39 of them because our pitching and defense put us in position.
It's an entirely different team. And I've said this many times: I know that we've won some games, and the players and coaches on the other side of the field were thinking they're not that good.
But we were a good team. We probably, you know -- even after tonight we're not a great team, but we've been a really, really special baseball team that approached it the right way and found a way to win and never gave in, never gave up. And it was real. It wasn't just talk. And when we did have some adversity, they flushed it rather quickly and got back up.
You always hear if you're going to play this game you better have a short memory. And these guys, they did that.
Q. Coach and the pitchers, how fitting was it -- as you've mentioned this was a pitching and defense team, how fitting is it that it went extra innings, 2-to-1 game?
COACH TANNER: Well, it was very hairied there for a while for me. I didn't know if we were ever going to scratch and we were able to tie the thing up and push it to extra innings. But it really was who we were this year. And to have an extra inning 2-1 game end this way is magnificent.
MATT PRICE: I mean, we play like this all year. And we battle. And we come out in big games and pitching is unbelievable. And the bullpen and the starters, I mean, Roth, Roth doesn't start that much but he comes through when he needs to.
MIKE ROTH: I mean, I guess it's perfect. We played great today. We left a lot of runners on base. But, you know, we had our guy come through in the clutch, and that's what counts. You know, we've been pitching great and our bullpen did fantastic today.
Q. One for Coach and one for Jackie. Coach, to follow up on what John said about it being a pitchers' duel, you also won in the bottom of the 11th by Wingo battling for the full walk, and then you had him sacrificed over by Marzilli, then you took third on a passed ball and then Whit goes the other way with a hit. Could you have possibly put together an inning that better defined who South Carolina baseball was this year to win it --
COACH TANNER: That was incredible. Even though Wingo's batting average is not extremely high, he's been an on-base percentage guy his entire career for us. I'll confess, he'll probably tell on me anyway, but with his count 3 and 2, I gave him the push bunt base hit to third base. Never have done that my entire career.
I just felt they had moved back to third. In that situation with Klein out there pitching as well as he was, I kept thinking it might be easier to push the ball toward the third base than it would be to get a hit. Wingo gave me a double take, a triple take, and he got a pitch low. He gets on.
He moves up with the passed ball, bunts to third and Whit goes the other way. Just gotta find a way to win.
Q. Jackie, obviously winning a national championship. Last game ever at Rosenblatt, and then being named the tournament MVP, you're kind of a quiet guy, haven't had a whole lot to say, but tell us about what's going on inside your head right now.
JACKIE BRADLEY, JR.: It's just an amazing feeling. God has really blessed me, and everything, my teammates backing me up all year. It's just not a one-man thing. I was struggling in the beginning with injuries, and they kept telling me to keep battling through; you'll get it back. Just an amazing thing. It's like a family to me. I thank them for everything.
Q. Coach, as you look to your left, almost -- possibly every one of those guys could be back here next year with you. What are the chances of getting back to Omaha and how does this win, this championship build off to another --
COACH TANNER: Are you serious? Are you really serious? I'd like to have all these guys back. I know Whit's got a decision to make. Maybe these guys will make it for him.
But it's so hard to get in this position, especially with the landscape of college baseball right now. The state of South Carolina and the Southeast, so many good programs and so many athletic directors who care. It's a sport of emphasis and it's incredible. The Regionals and Super Regionals to be able to survive.
I was telling -- Steve Fink and I were talking. We trailed in all three regional games, we trailed in Super Regional games, we were one pitch away from not being here today. It's just a great run. You have to have a lot of things happen for you and you have to have the right kind of people around you. But it's not impossible to be sitting where we are. But the odds are against you being here.
No matter how good your program is, there's a lot of great programs out there. I'll tell you one thing that really did make me feel good the last couple of days. I had so many colleagues, coaches in our conference and coaches I played against, sending texts and e-mails wishing us well. It's very sincere and genuine.
I think we have a good rapport among college baseball coaches, and those people weren't pulling against UCLA. They were just pulling for people they know and the relationships. And that was a great experience for me, especially as I was pacing and not sleeping in the hotel. It kind of kept me occupied for a while.
But I just can't -- I'm ecstatic to be a part of this program and winning the national championship.
THE MODERATOR: Gentlemen, thank you very much. Congratulations on your first national title.
End of FastScripts