Press Conference: UVA after Game 1 CWS loss

college world seriesTHE MODERATOR: Representing Virginia, head coach Brian O’Connor, second baseman, Branden Cogswell, outfielder, Brandon Downes, and starting pitcher, Nathan Kirby.

Coach, if you’d begin with an opening statement?

COACH O’CONNOR: Yeah, thank you. Wow, that was a tough one, but I’ll say first that, yeah, I’m really, really proud of our guys. The fight in us just did not stop. We had even opportunities in the 8th inning to tie the ballgame, and got both McCarthy and Fisher put good swings on the ball, and unfortunately we could point get that tying run in.

But, you know, the game was defined in the third inning. Nathan Kirby has done the job all year long for this team, and I thought he was pretty sharp the first couple of innings, and the third inning, you know, it just kind of came unraveled and the two doubles by Campbell I thought were pretty big. Certainly the first one, and the bases-clearing double down the left field line to tack on three more runs was just too much to come back from. But, you know, just really proud of the guys that battled at the plate tonight and kept grinding and then our relief pitchers just kept the game in check and gave us a chance. It was just too much to overcome.

But this is why it’s a national championship series rather than a national championship game. Our guys, if we come and play with the heart like we did tonight, we’ll have a chance tomorrow night.

Q. Brian, you brought your guys together in the dugout, I think, after the top of the third. What did you tell them? What was kind of the message there?

COACH O’CONNOR: Well, I think on this stage when you give up nine runs in an inning you can be a little shell shocked, be on your heels a little bit. I just reminded them of what they play for. That they need to have a lot of pride, and that they need to be proud that they play for the University of Virginia, and they’re going to show the rest of this game what they’re capable of doing and the heart that they have.

I didn’t need to say anything, quite frankly, because I know what they’re made of, and I know they weren’t going to quit and pack it in. I knew they were going to keep fighting, and they responded and we had a chance, but just not quite enough.

Q. Nathan, I guess you were kind of cruising there and all of a sudden things kind of came apart. From your standpoint, what happened there, do you think?

NATHAN KIRBY: I just couldn’t find my release point. It hadn’t happened all year but it happened tonight. I thought we did a great job with the bats and I think if we carry that into tomorrow, we’ll be fine.

Q. Branden and Brandon, I guess it would be pretty easy to get discouraged after a nine-run inning, but you guys came right back out there and put up some runs on the board. How did you kind of keep your heads up and be able to keep battling like that? You’re looking up and it’s 9-2?

BRANDON DOWNES: Like Coach said, we have heart. We have a special set of guys on this team, and whatever happens we’re not going to give up. We feel like we were in the game, and we’re just trying to do the best we could to make it a ballgame.

BRANDEN COGSWELL: I mean, I’m really proud of these guys. I know Coach O’Connor said it. It was the third inning, and we had six at-bats left. We had the mindset of kind of chipping away. We had been putting good barrels on balls all night. We weren’t really going to change anything, and we didn’t really want to ball back and pack it in, we hadn’t done it all year. This is the championship series, and there is no reason to do it now. We had a lot of fight tonight, and even though we didn’t come out on top, I’m really proud of these guys.

Q. Nathan, you talked about not being able to find your release point. Was that something you noticed in the first inning or did it just suddenly come up in the third?

NATHAN KIRBY: No, it kind of hit me in the first inning, but I tried to fight through it, and it got to me there in the third inning.

Q. Coach, you alluded to Campbell’s doubles that inning. I don’t know if you know this, but coming into the game he had five hits all season and three RBIs. He doubled his RBI total in that one hit. Obviously an unlikely hero, perhaps, or a guy that you hadn’t figured could beat you like that? Is that fair?

COACH O’CONNOR: We were fully aware that he’s just been placed in there three games ago and aware of his statistics. But it seems that every year there is somebody that rises up in certain moments that maybe people didn’t expect. We didn’t pitch him differently than anybody else. We didn’t look at his stats and say, you know, we’re just going to groove the ball to him and we had respect for him like we did the rest of the hitters. He just got a 2-0 count on the first one, I believe it was, and put a good swing on the ball and hit it over Fisher’s head, then the one off Mayberry was just down the line. We weren’t trying to do anything different with him than anybody else. You have to credit the young man. He’s been thrust in there on the biggest stage in college baseball, and he performed.

Q. You mentioned the relief pitchers. Given the situation is your staff in about as good of shape as it could be going forward after a game where your starter didn’t get out of the third?

COACH O’CONNOR: Yeah, I think we’re in a good position, Jeff. We certainly haven’t touched Artie Lewicki and Nick Howard and other guys. Mayberry did a nice job while he was in there, and so did Austin Young. Those guys didn’t give up any runs and they give us a chance.

Tomorrow’s a new day. We’re certainly going to need a quality start out of Brandon Waddell tomorrow, and we’ll have everybody that didn’t pitch tonight that will be available. So hopefully we get off to a good start tomorrow.

Q. Does it help you having been a pitcher yourself in relating to what Nathan went through tonight, especially because I know in your own experience here in Omaha, you were part of a pretty crushing loss with Wichita State. Is that something that can help you as a coach with working with a pitcher who goes through a night like tonight?

COACH O’CONNOR: Yeah, those of us who have pitched before, we’ve all been there before. I went out and told Nathan that he needs to walk off this mound with his head held high, and that this outing is not going to define who he is as a person or who he is as a pitcher. There will be many more opportunities down the road for Nathan Kirby, and he’s quite a competitor and very, very talented young man. Sometimes that just happens, and it kind of came up out of nowhere.

We did the best job that we could to try to get Mayberry ready as quick as we could, but we kind of got jumped, and it’s hard. Nathan was the freshest guy on our pitching staff. He hadn’t pitched in eight days, and last Sunday was his last start. So Coach Kuhn and I we were going to let him grind through it. We were going to let him try to continue to pitch through it, and unfortunately, it just didn’t work. He’ll be back. He’ll be fine. We’ve got a lot of confidence in him.

Q. The eight days that he hadn’t pitched, were you concerned about that at all going in?

COACH O’CONNOR: Not at all, really. I think it was a blessing that he’d had a full week off. But he did his side work to prepare, and it’s just one of those things. I can tell you it wasn’t because the young man was afraid, timid or anything. It’s just sometimes as a pitcher you lose that release point a little bit or you’re rushing a little bit, and it’s tough out there in the moment to make adjustments. He did in the first couple of innings have three times he went 3-0 on batters and came back, but just couldn’t do it in that third inning.

Q. There in the bottom of the 8th, you get two on and get Mike up. Was it simply playing the percentages and bunting him there? Did you see a better match-up behind him? What was your thinking there?

COACH O’CONNOR: It was. That’s a great question. Certainly Mike Papi has 11 home runs and driven in a lot of runs. But we’ve played this style of offense all year long where it’s opportunistic and the game tells us what to do. Joe McCarthy smokes that ball right up the middle, and if it doesn’t hit the guy, all of a sudden, it’s a tie ballgame. If you don’t tie it, looks like maybe you should have let him swing away. But those are decisions you make in the moment and you’ve got to live with them. We’ve had a philosophy that each player has a role, depending on what the situation is, and they need to do their job, and Mike did his job. Unfortunately, we just couldn’t – that ball just couldn’t sneak through.

Q. Brandon and Branden, speaking of Mike, you guys have seen him take a lot of home run swings in his career. When that went off the bat in the fifth inning there, did you think that was going out of this ballpark?

BRANDON DOWNES: First thought goes through your head, but you have to realize where you’re playing and how big this park is. You’re going to need a little help getting out of this park with everything that surrounds it. I personally thought rounding third might get a gap, but hung out there a little too long. He put great swings on balls all day, and it was unfortunate enough that he got under that one.

BRANDEN COGSWELL: I thought it was gone off the bat. That’s all I can say. I was jumping up-and-down, and I thought it was gone.

Q. How much does coming back like that take it into the ninth inning? Does that help for tomorrow night or do you have to start out fresh?

BRANDEN COGSWELL: You have to carry it over. We didn’t come out on top, and the only thing you can do is carry it over. We put 15 hits together and 8 runs, and 6 after the third. Like I said, I couldn’t be more proud of these guys. Like I said, we didn’t come out on top, but these guys realize we can carry this into tomorrow and hopefully play some good baseball.

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