Youngstown State head baseball coach Steve Gillispie and senior players Alex Frey, Phil Lipari and Patrick O'Brien spoke with members of the media following the Penguins' pre-regional practice on Thursday.
The Penguins practiced for just over an hour at Bart Kaufman Field in preparation for the Bloomington Regional. Youngstown State faces No. 4 overall seed Indiana at 7 p.m. on 1390 WNIO and ESPN3.
Below are quotes from the press conference:
STEVE GILLISPIE: I want to open by saying how excited we are to be a part of this. I want to thank Indiana University for their hospitality and the people that we have met so far have been so gracious and really helped us to get setup as well as the tournament committee. For our first experience here at Youngstown State, we couldn't ask for anything nicer or anything better.
We are excited about it, especially for our seniors and our older guys that have been in the program for multiple years and that they have the opportunity to experience this kind of success at the end of their careers.
We couldn't be happier and we are glad we are here.
Q. Just in general, what changed last week and what came together for the tournament? What all came together in the tournament that maybe had not been there much of the year?
PHIL LIPARI: We played together. It was fun to be a part of. Our dugout was in it from pitch one to the last. Our pitchers came to the mound, it was unbelievable to be behind and play defense for them and hitting from the left side, had a lot of confidence and jumped on them and got ahead and I think that was a big key.
Q. In general, how do you carry the success last week over to this?
PATRICK O'BRIEN: I think we are going to take the same approach as Coach always says, slow the game down and take it one pitch at a time and I think it will be good if we do that.
Q. Obviously the pitching was a lot better than it had been all year. Was there anything you guys did differently or did anything work better for you than had for most of the season?
ALEX FREY: We were pitching all year and running ‑‑ right now it's all about repetition and just keeping focused and making sure we are hitting our spots and working with things like that.
Q. How do you maintain that level of focus without being in awe of the event that you are now participating in?
PHIL LIPARI: It's going to be great to be out here. The crowd is going to be awesome tomorrow. We are going be out there the same as we were in the Horizon tournament. We are not going to be awestruck. We are just going to go out there and nobody is expecting anything of us but ourselves. No pressure on us and we are going to have fun and try to get it started and see what happens.
Q. I saw you got a tour of the ballpark toward the end of your practice. What did you learn from the ballpark when you were wandering around?
PHIL LIPARI: We were just seeing how the ball ricochets off different parts of the field. Not playing here all year, we have to get used to if the ball hits here where it is going to go. More behind the outfielders, backing up, seeing passed balls and when you can go and when you can't, and that's basically what we were doing out there.
Q. General, for hitters or pitchers, what do you know about Indiana? What are maybe the talking points at the top of the scouting report?
ALEX FREY: We know Indiana is a good baseball team. They are hosting the regional and we are playing in Game 1 tomorrow night.
We are excited. I know that everybody in the dugout, everybody is excited to get after it. I think we are all confident to play some baseball and play as a team and keep everything together.
Q. Kind of a follow‑up on that, last year at the regionals, Valparaiso came here and had a pretty good game against Indiana. Do you guys take anything from that, another Horizon League team doing well here?
PATRICK O'BRIEN: Yeah, we are not too worried about the name written across the chest, we have full confidence that we are bringing from that tournament into this tournament and I think we'll be good.
Q. Ask you the same question I asked them: What changed between the rest of the season and the tournament?
STEVE GILLISPIE: The last 20 games, we played pretty well. Early on, we ran into some awful weather, like a lot of the country experienced but we had ten of our first 25 games lost to weather, and we had some major injuries.
We returned an all‑conference left fielder. We returned a center fielder that could really defend. Right fielder I think was third in the team in hitting from a year ago. All three of those guys missed multiple weeks of play in the middle part of the season. Our catcher was an all‑conference return, and he missed five weeks. Two‑thirds of our weekend rotation from early on has not pitched in six to seven weeks.
So we are really a little bit of a hodgepodge. We played a lot of young guys that had to grow up and then there was a learning curve in division one baseball. Finally got to where we settled in. I'm sure you've seen the game notes that we've had 41 different lineups in 41 games. That's almost impossible to do.
The consistency came at the end of the season, especially with the pitching and that allowed us to play better ball. We have always been a pretty good defensive team and some of our younger hitters got to where they were a little more confident but ultimately we pitched well, and in that conference tournament, I think it was a 1.30 ERA for a four‑game stretch or somewhere in there. We finally were able to set in and got into a sense of consistency with our play.
Q. Talking about, particularly, coming off of that, I guess how do you manage coming off of the high of that kind of emotional run, getting into a setting like this and not letting those guys, even if they have started to find some of that consistency and comfort, not letting guys get carried away with the emotions of what I would imagine, from coming to the back to win the Horizon League, and obviously coming to a setting like this.
STEVE GILLISPIE: Yeah, absolutely. It's going to be something that we'll have to stay focused with and pay attention to our team; that we continue to play against the game and not so much against the opponent; and that the game will unfold before us and we don't try to make too much happen that we are capable of.
But as far as the way we played, at the end of the year, the intensity was immense. The energy was fantastic, and one of the biggest things was, there was a little bit of a chip on their shoulder because we knew we were better than many of the teams in the league from a talent standpoint, and we knew we were better than a 12‑win team from a regular‑season standpoint.
So I think they went in with something to prove. And the way they played is easier to repeat in this type of setting than if we had just kind of rocked along pretty steady from Game 1 to the end.
So the fact that is we were that focused and how we played and who we were playing and what we were trying to do, that's much easier in my opinion to repeat in this type of setting, but it's going to be unique. We have not been on this type of stage too often for sure.
Q. They seem to have embraced the underdog role, but at the same time, do you get the feeling that it's still the, we have got something to prove at the regional level, too?
STEVE GILLISPIE: Yeah, I believe so, because I just don't think anybody within our league and within our conference. Even the front office, really understands quite what happened up in Milwaukee. And I'm not sure I even understand quite what happened up in Milwaukee, because it was impressive.
It was ‑‑ you know, team in that tournament, when that absolutely wasn't the case during the course of most of the year. I think they enjoyed that underdog, us against the world kind of thing, and they have embraced it.
But I think they are also very confident in their skill level and kind of where we are right now.
Q. I want to go back and talk about pitching a little bit. What was different for those guys do you feel like you had a group that always had the stuff and found control, or what got better for those guys individually during that run?
STEVE GILLISPIE: Our bullpen, we had four or five guys out of our bullpen that were very solid and we tried and keep them together. We had some guys that were at front ends of games that were starting games that were not having success that maybe they were hoping for, that we were hoping for.
And we didn't want to break up the bullpen because I kept thinking, they are going to come around; they are going to come around. But with that weather, we lost two weekends series. So we had pitched both starters and had a week off, lost a series, lost a series, and then pitched.
So really they didn't get any kind of consistent work in a three‑week period. When you're not throwing well and when you're not getting out there for a chance to redeem yourself ‑‑ they were not a very confident group with our starting pitching. But I felt they would come around.
And because they were older, they were a little more experienced; Pat O'Brien, fifth year senior, had an ERA, you know, low fours, maybe, if I'm trying to remember from a year ago. And just for him to be hanging around .08 and opponents hitting .350, I know he was wanting to do something special for the team.
And when he does that ‑‑ I think when he was able to do that, and some of our younger guys, the freshmen started getting opportunities to start some games and gaining a little more confidence, I think it kind of allowed the bullpen to relax and do what they do.
So it all kind of gelled at the same time when the starting pitching got good.
Q. Playing an Indiana team that went to the College World Series, obviously won 30 of the last 33 games, but a lot of teams here seem to have said that they are more focused on worrying about themselves rather than the other team. Is that the way you are, as well?
STEVE GILLISPIE: We are, because we are ‑‑ we are who we are. There's limitations that we have as a team that are not going to turn around. We are not a big power‑hitting team. We are not all of a sudden going to start dropping three‑run homers everywhere this week because it's a regional.
So we have to do what we are able to do and not try to do anything more and just, you know, be able to repeat kind of the things that we are able to do well as often as we can, and when they present themselves. I think this time of year, it's kind of the way you go about and you win tournaments is the consistency and the day‑to‑day approach, because you have to be good, you know, right away, and maintain and sustain good play for four days.
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