Brian O'Connor and his adversaries got together and spoke about their respective seasons and their hopes for this weekend's Charlottesville Regional. Here's some highlights of what the Wahoo coach had to say, as well as some telling tidbits from Army's Joe Sottolano.
On Branden Kline, who will start against Army:
O'Connor: Last year I felt Branden was one of the best closers in college baseball. I think he had 17 or 18 saves and did a terrific job in that role. I knew there would be an adjustment period moving to the starters role and he pitched a little relief for Team USA last summer and once he got into his second or third start in conference play he really started to put it together. He's had some ups and downs at times but he has a really good arm. He's very athletic and I felt like he's made the transition very well. He's been our Friday night guy all year long and this weekend will be no different. He's very deserving of wherever he goes in the professional draft because he's done some really great things in our uniform over the past three years."
The announcement that Kline will start game 1 was a bit unexpected. In past years, O'Connor has opted to roll the dice on Friday and save his ace for a tougher matchup on Saturday. This season, it seems like Coach wants to leave nothing to chance and obviously likes how Branden matches up with the Black Knights.
O'Connor spent a good deal of the press conference emphasizing how the Hoos evolved over the course of the year and put it all together in time to host a regional:
O'Connor: "There was a point when we were 11-8 this season and about the middle of the conference season the four or five freshman we had in the lineup really started to gain some experience and some consistency. At that same time we started to figure out our pitching and what kind of roles our guys would have. That was really when we started to take off. Early on we had that sweep against Clemson but I think the three game sweep we had down at Miami was certainly a big sweep for us that looked like it was all starting to come together. Our pitching was in order and we were starting to do the job at the beginning and the end of the game. This season for us has been more different than anything in my nine years here. I think that because of the uncertainty coming into this year. We lost 75 percent of our innings off our pitching staff last year and lost five or six every day starters in our lineup. That's a significant amount of players. It takes time to figure out where to put guys to be the most successful and consistent. Over the last four or five weeks we've shown the kind of ball club that we've matured into."
Army's Sottolano addressed the 2-week layoff Army has endured since the team's last competition:
Army's Sottolano: After our conference championship ended we had graduation and if anyone knows anything about graduation at West Point, it is not normal. Trying to keep a senior and the team focused throughout graduation and then as soon as finals end they have to move out, get ready for military obligations, cleaning out the barracks, doing certain things. The break was somewhat rewarding. We practiced through it and figured things out. We stayed focused and did some intrasquad games. It's not optimal-to try to get a senior to practice during graduation week with what's going on, for some reason baseball is not on the top of their mind at that point. It's pretty darn close, and it better be, but it certainly comes second to that graduation."
(Hey, UVA's graduation is important too!) Here's some of his general thoughts on Army's season as a whole:
Army's Sottolano: I don't know if we were prepared to do what we did to be honest. We lost a lot of good ballplayers; some of them signed some contracts and are doing some good things. We have a lot of youth-we aren't an overly big ball club and we realized that we had to play a different brand of baseball then what we've been playing. It was going to be a team effort. What we've been trying to do is have the sum be greater than the individual. Our focus is trying to stay with the philosophy of trying to be the best team we can be and try to slow the game down and minimize defensively."
On an interesting note, Appalachian State coach Chris Pollard grew up a UVA fan. If we matchup with them this weekend, it would be a good time for him to prove himself as a true Hoo...
App State's Pollard: "We're excited to be here and on a personal note we always said that we would be happy to go anywhere and be a part of this group of 64, but to grow up 45 miles down the road from here and to grow up as a fan of Terry Holland and Ralph Sampson and be a UVa fan growing up-when I found out this was where we were coming, this was pretty special."
VirginiaSportsTV also has some press conference snippets.