Prior to embarking on Louisville’s 5th trip to the College World Series in Omaha, Nebraska, head coach Dan McDonnell and select players were made available to the media for questions:
Q: With all the energy you had in your 8.1 inning outing in the regional, is that the mentality you have going forward or do you want to stay locked in?
LS: A mixture of both. I’ve been both a starter and out of the bullpen, so whatever coach wants. Whenever I’m not pitching I like being in the dugout giving as much energy as I can and helping out whenever.
Q: You began as midweek starter, became a reliever and then back to being a starter again for the postseason. Where do you feel you best fit is on this pitching staff?
LS: Honestly wherever they need me, I just want to be on the mound. I started 2 years before I came here and I loved that. But coming out of the bullpen, it’s a different type of role. I like the crowd energy that comes with that, and the pressure is right on you right away. I do like that.
Q: Do you feel like this team is playing the best baseball out of all the CWS participants, or are you guys keeping yourself humbled?
LS: We like to stay humble, but we are confident with the guys we have on our team and everyone believes in one another. Whoever’s on the mound or whoever’s at the plate, we have a lot of faith in them. Carrying that into Omaha is gonna be big for us.
Q: What was the message after the ACC Tournament?
LS: We really emphasized having good practice the week before the regional. We came in, obviously we didn’t perform the way we wanted to. After the loss to Illinois State, we realized that every game could be our last, so play as well as you can and good things will happen.
Q: What have you heard about Omaha?
LS: The guys that have been there have told me that you need to experience it for yourself. Playing in the JUCO World Series the last two years, I like to think that I have a little experience on the big stage. But they tell me it’s a brand new experience, so I’m excited for it.
Q: Do you feel more comfortable being the first guy on the mound for the weekend, or are you just as comfortable being the second guy put out there?
RD: It doesn’t really bother me, I’ll do whatever the coaches tell me to do. Just going out there and competing is my job, so I’m going to go out there and do my best.
Q: How do you try to keep Michael McAvene’s spirits up during his suspension?
RD: We just joked around and had fun with it. He wasn’t really that upset about it because he knew we would be fine without him. It’s all fun and games now.
Q: How much trust do you have in this staff?
RD: Everyone on this staff is very good. We all throw strikes, we all have good pitches. We’re good, we’re gonna be tough to beat.
Q: Do you feel like you’re playing like the best team in the nation?
RD: Yeah, we have all the confidence in the world right now. The past couple weeks we’ve been throwing the ball very well, hitters have been getting hits and doing big things in the field.
Q: Did something click after the ACC Baseball Championship? It seemed like you guys hit the reset button and took off.
RD: We didn’t have the best practice and it showed on the field. We wanted to get revenge because we had a bad feeling in our stomach over those couple days. We came out here with all the fight in us and we tried doing our best.
Q: Do you want the ball in that first game vs. Vanderbilt?
RD: Whatever the coaches want to do, they can do it. I’ll be fine. But having the ball would be a great feeling, I’d just have to go out and do my job.
Q: Does it help because this is a rivalry game?
RD: There’s definitely going to be a lot of people out there. We’ve faced them before and it’s been a great game every time in the past, but at the end of the day we’re in Omaha for a reason.
Q: At the beginning of the season you talked about how confident you were coming back after being drafted by the Giants. Well 865 picks later it seems like you’ve made the right choice.
BH: It’s been a special year coming back. This is part of the reason I came back, and I’m looking forward to making some noise in Omaha.
Q: Did you give much thought to your potential draft status as year went on?
BH: I didn’t really try to focus on it too much. I just wanted to come out here and help my team win. If you think about it too much, it definitely affects the way you play on the mound.
Q: How’d you feel when Coach Mac decided to give you a few starting opportunities to begin the season?
BH: I was thankful for that. That was one of my goals coming back. I didn’t do as well as a needed to, but going back to the bullpen I’m comfortable there. Ive had success there so we’ll see how it goes.
Q: Looking back on your final season here at Jim Patterson Stadium, how would you best summarize it?
BH: Special, humbling, all of the above. We’ve had a lot of ups and downs here at Jim Patterson Stadium, but going off like that against ECU is something I’ll never forget. We went out with a game. I didn’t pitch but I’m really proud of those guys.
Q: With McAvene’s suspension, the closer’s role fell solely on your shoulders. Did that elevate you to perform at a higher level?
MK: It would very easy to fall into that trap and think I had to be something that I wasn’t. I just tried to be myself. I was pitching a little differently but I didn’t want to be myself.
Q: How easy was it to stay focused during the ECU series even while you guys were winning handily?
MK: When I came in, obviously Bobby had thrown well and Reid had thrown well the day before. I realized I just had to throw strikes and let my defense play and it’ll all work it.
Q: Do you think the MLB Draft served as a bit of a distraction for the players who were drafted?
MK: It’s something you give a little bit of thought to, but I don’t think it really affected anyone. We pride ourselves on being professional here, and that’s part of the process. Our guys did a really good job of being professionals this year.
Q: You guy have strived to be the best team that Dan McDonnell has ever coached, how much of a drive is that?
NB: In 2017 when we left Omaha, one of our seniors yelled at Coach Mac at the front of the bus and asked him that same question. He kinda smiled and laughed and turned around. Obviously it’s something we talk about a little bit and that’s goal of ours, but our first goal is to win baseball games when we go to Omaha. We’re gonna focus on that and if it plays out like we want, then maybe we’ll ask Coach Mac again.
Q: You’re one of the handful of players that has been to Omaha twice, from a personal perspective does that give you any advantage?
NB: I think it can. It can help out a little bit knowing what to expect. Dealing with what we’ve already dealt with is gonna help for sure.
Q: What do you tell the players who have not been to Omaha what it’s like? Do you make it out to be this amazing place?
NB: It’s a grand place to anybody. I absolutely will tell them how great it is, but at the same time to stay on your feet and be where your feet are. But it’s a really special place and I think we’re going to have a lot of fun when we do get to go.
Q: It is hard to stay focused after getting drafted?
NB: I’m just putting that in the back of my mind right now. I’m obviously very blessed that the Milwaukee Brewers gave me that opportunity. But right now I’m focused on winning a national championship and having fun with my teammates and cherishing these last couple weeks together.
Q: Coach Mac usually has one or two freshmen that exceed expectations, and this year it was you. How does that feel?
AB: It’s unreal. Growing up watching this program after committing as a freshman in high school, I’ve been watching all the great freshman he’s produced. It’s awesome that my name is a part of that now.
Q: You started the season slow then went on a midseason tear, what was a key part of that?
AB: Changing my approach at the plate. I was trying to hit a home run every time. I was swinging as hard as I could, and it wasn’t working at this level. I could get away with that in high school. Getting my foot down early, catching a ball out in front, driving balls the other way. I didn’t change my swing at all, I just changed my approach.
Q: What have some of the upperclassmen told you about what Omaha is like?
AB: They said the fans and atmosphere is unreal. I’ve actually been there 4 times as a fan, so I kinda know what it’s like. I was that little kid down the first base line getting autographs thinking players were superstars. They we’re my heroes growing up and it was pretty cool.
Q: How does it feel to be that superstar now?
AB: It’s gonna be awesome, I just can’t wait to get down there.
Q: Are you excited or anxious for the trip?
AB: I’m excited more than anything to compete for a national championship with a team like this. We can make a good run at the title and I’m really looking forward to it.
Q: Having played Vanderbilt earlier in the season, does that give you any advantage?
AB: When we played Vandy, it was earlier in the year. A lot of different things can happen from now to then.