Louisville took a 4-1 lead over Auburn on Tuesday before play was suspended due to weather. The Cardinals led 5-2 entering the final inning after play resumed on Wednesday and held on through an Auburn homer and double to beat the Tigers, 5-3.
Here’s everything Dan McDonnell, Tyler Fitzgerald, Drew Campbell and Adam Elliott had to say after Louisville’s win over Auburn. You can see a .PDF of the press conference here.
DAN McDONNELL: It was a hard-fought game, so I give a lot of credit to Butch Thompson, that coaching staff and Auburn baseball. Got a lot of respect for Butch and those guys. I coached against him for many years. We were assistants in the same league, and always had the most respect for him, knowing that he’s doing it the right way.
And I think how hard his kids fought today says a lot about their program. They just didn’t make it easy, and it was a hard-fought game.
I’m really proud of our guys because I thought our bullpen did what we needed them to do. Offensively we’ve put together some rallies. We’re close. We haven’t exploded yet; that’s the exciting thing. But we played defense, and when you pitch and you make some plays the way we did, some diving plays in the outfield, some great plays in the infield — we played well enough to win.
— Louisville Baseball (@LouisvilleBSB) June 19, 2019
And as I’ve learned, it’s not easy winning out here, and they don’t give you anything. You’ve got to earn it. So I’m really proud of these guys right here and their teammates for how hard they fought.
Q. Drew, Coach kind of talked about the defense piece of it, and thinking back to yesterday, a long time ago, you had that — I think it was the third inning you threw that guy out at the plate and made a diving catch. How much of a big part of the success do you think that defense piece has been for you guys?
DREW CAMPBELL: I think defense has brought us a long way this year. Last year we had a pretty — we did pretty good defensively, and I think this year we definitely stepped it up, and it’s been a huge part of why we are where we are.
Q. Tyler, yesterday just to hit that first-inning home run kind of set the tone in an elimination game. How important do you think that was to settle you in?
TYLER FITZGERALD: Yeah, I think it was really, really important. It’s something I wanted to do as a 3-hole hitter, is get our lineup started early, and something I wasn’t able to do the game before. So just to get the momentum in our favor, top of the first inning was huge for us and just set the tone early on.
Q. Tyler, you’re here in 2017 when Nick made his start. Obviously that was the game you guys lost, but Nick has been great for you guys all year. How much have you seen change from Nick from that freshman year to now?
TYLER FITZGERALD: Just maturity. Nick is a great pitcher, and he’s been able to handle ups and downs tremendously his whole career. You know, if he has a rough start, he’s going to come back even stronger. But he’s had a great postseason so far, and we expect him to come out here and throw well tomorrow, and we’re really confident in him.
Q. Adam, it was almost like a start. Can you kind of take us through your morning, what Coach Williams — or when he told you, and then your couple innings?
ADAM ELLIOTT: Yeah, well, I kind of treated it like I was coming out of the bullpen. I didn’t really find out I was pitching until about 10 minutes before I started stretching, so I tried to treat it like I was coming out of the bullpen.
Me and Coach Williams talked, and I had warmed up about 10 minutes before the first pitch, and I treated it like I was coming straight out of the bullpen. Henry caught me, and we just went straight into the game.
Q. Did you feel like you kind of set the tone for the day? What was kind of the overall mood for you guys heading into this thing after having to sit around for a while?
ADAM ELLIOTT: Yeah, Coach Mac talked about it. He talked about how the bullpen kind of set the tone, because Bobby only got to go four innings. So, yeah, going out there, the first pitch, I was just trying to throw strikes, keep the ball in the zone and just kind of let our defense work and kind of get the game going.
🎶 Yeah, I’m gonna take my horse to the old town road
— NCAA Baseball (@NCAACWS) June 19, 2019
Q. Just kind of the backs to the wall mentality you came out with today, how do you take the momentum now into the rest of the week?
TYLER FITZGERALD: We love each other, and these are our brothers, and we’re just playing for the guy next to us. Just because we win one game we’re not going to change anything. Knowing if we lose a game we’re done just makes it play harder. Just fighting for each other.
ADAM ELLIOTT: Yeah, I agree with that. I mean, going into today, I was big on kind of bringing the energy and just trying to get this team going. I mean, it’s obviously an elimination game, it’s going to be tough, but obviously if we go out there every day and we bring the energy and play like we’re supposed to, we’ll be okay.
DREW CAMPBELL: Yeah, I feel like losing one game, nobody wants to — you don’t want to come out and lose at all, so being down already, it shouldn’t matter to us, we just need to go out there and play some more baseball.
Q. Drew, after the game, obviously you guys are happy, celebrated a little bit. It wasn’t this over-the-top celebration. What does that say about this team’s focus?
DREW CAMPBELL: I mean, we’re looking for the next game. Like we’re not done yet.
Q. Dan, Adam, kind of when he went on, he treated it as coming out of the bullpen, but those were two huge zeros for you guys.
DAN McDONNELL: No doubt. We obviously started talking about it yesterday during the rain delay. You could go to Nick Bennett because it’s like a start, and you’ve got five innings. You’d be happy if he gave you five innings and you win the game.
But then you look at the rest of the week and you’re like, man, we just burned up two starters in one game. And we trust our bullpen. And I asked Coach Williams. He said Adam Elliott was the guy. Elliott has got that toughness about him. He’s like a — he’s a position player, so he’ll love hearing me say that about him. He’s been a two-way player in his career. He’s just had some back issues, so we didn’t let him swing this year.
But he’s just got that ballplayer mentality, and I just like the way how Coach Williams, no sense telling him last night, no sense telling him at breakfast this morning, don’t get him all worked out, wait until about an hour or so before the game. Not that we’re trying to keep a secret from anybody. I think I had told other people we were going to go with Elliott, but just letting him know in obviously plenty of time where he wouldn’t overextend himself early, and we’ve got to trust our bullpen.
Having the extra day, I guess, we played Sunday and here we are Wednesday, we felt like we had a full fresh bullpen, and we were champing to get to McAvene. We probably could have got another inning out of Elliott, but just felt like we got a fresh McAvene, let’s not take a chance. Looking back, we probably could have left Elliott in there for one more.
Q. You mentioned McAvene. Everything he’s gone through the last two weeks, he didn’t come until 2017. What was it like to see him get that bases-loaded strikeout, and did you ever think about taking him out before the last batter?
DAN McDONNELL: No, they had a right-handed hitter on deck, they have some — I won’t say unusual splits, but some of their righties hit better against righties and their lefties hit better against lefties, which is a sign of just good program, good hitters. We wanted to give Michael one more batter there, and obviously all the emotion it took that inning not having pitched in the last couple weeks, we thought that was plenty, and let’s give the ball to Kirian because Kirian has closed.
It’s been one of our advantages this year. We felt like all along we’ve had two closers, and we needed one when we lost McAvene in the regionals, and Kirian has always stepped up and did a nice job.
For me, for head coaches, you’re looking at these stories as knowing he got hurt in his freshman year, he doesn’t get to come to Omaha with us. You don’t want to leave Omaha without him pitching, now you don’t want to leave Omaha without Nick Bennett pitching, either, so you’re sitting there going, all right, we’ve obviously got to win one of these first two games because that guy deserves to pitch. He pitched in Omaha as a freshman, gave us a really good start against TCU, and knowing he’s champing at the bit, we feel like we’re in a good spot now because we have Nick Bennett, Luke Smith, guys that started in the regionals, and we obviously need guys to step up in the position we’re in.
Q. With the suspended game, it obviously condenses your schedule a little bit, throws you off schedule with the pitching staff, taking Bobby out early, but how do you approach your continued run in this tournament even though it kind of throws a little extra adversity at you despite the fact that you’re also in the losers’ bracket?
DAN McDONNELL: Yeah, we kind of — the weather is something we cannot control, and we talk about toughness all the time, and for us it was — my message to the team when we found out the game was not going to resume last night, let’s look at it this way: We’re going to show up on Wednesday and play a game, or we could have finished the game Tuesday night and we’d be practicing on Wednesday. Which would you rather do? Well, obviously the kids want to play the game.
I love to practice, and they know that. I just love practice because it’s just — it’s usually easier to win a practice. But the kids would much rather play the game. So I just spun it as a positive, like, look, we’ve got a chance to play this game three or four days in a row now, which is what they want to do, and they’re going to do at the next level, many of them.
I mean, you want it to be easy and you’d like to be 2-0, and yeah, every coach would choose that, but that’s just not the way it is. We talk a lot about what’s real, what’s real. What’s real is we’re 1-1 and we’ve got Nick Bennett to start with a really good bullpen, a really good team, and if we’re fortunate, we’ve got Luke Smith to start with a really good bullpen and a really good team.
You know, it’s where we’re at, and guys like Reid, Bobby, these are strong, healthy kids that they’re champing at the bit to hopefully get another chance to run out there and pitch with this uniform on again this season.
Q. Dan, you talked last night to us about the two defensive plays that Drew made, but he came up with a big hit today, as well, to get you the extra run, and what he’s done in this game but also in the tournament.
DAN McDONNELL: He’s played really good the last month or so, and one of the reasons he was drafted, he’s a good player. He’s played center field for us, he’s played right field. And people who know our park, our center field and right field, you’ve got to be good defensively, man. It’s big in that gap, and with the sun and the wind. He’s played really good.
We say it all the time, you look at the bottom of the lineup, if it’s Campbell, Lavey and Davis, it’s .293, .293, .283, some good hitters, really good hitters. I’m mad at myself that I kept the bunt on probably in the 3-1 situation and should have let Lavey swing away right there. But I was most pleased that for a guy who doesn’t get the bunt down to know how frustrated I am because I coach the bunting and we work on that a lot, man, he ran out there and made a huge double play that inning and then he made the huge slow roller play on their speedy second baseman in the ninth. So Lavey stole Campbell’s shirt, kind of our MVP award, at the end of the game. I flipped it to Lavey because, looking back on the complete game, our defense was huge today.
Q. You guys haven’t had a lot of success in the College World Series over your time, but these guys didn’t overly celebrate today. It wasn’t some kind of crazy celebration on the field. Does that talk about the focus of this group even though their backs are against the wall?
DAN McDONNELL: No doubt, and for this group, the juniors and seniors, they won the first game two years ago, and really felt like, man, we’ve got a chance to win a national championship, and we ran into Brady Singer and a really good Florida team, and they were better than us, and obviously they went on to win the whole thing that year.
So we’ve got a lot of respect for these two teams that are playing right behind us, and looking forward to the opportunity that we get to compete again with one of them.
You know, like I said, we talk about toughness, and playing with an edge, and I thought our guys really showed that yesterday and today being in the elimination game.
We addressed it when we lost in the regionals. I mean, we talked about you’re allowed to lose one game in the regionals, one in the supers, one in the first round, and one in the Championship Series. So you’re actually allowed to lose four times in the postseason. Teams have done it before, so when we lost in the regional, I’m hoping that losing in Omaha just reminded them, hey, it’s part of it, you don’t have to be perfect. Yeah, there’s going to be teams that run the table and they’re perfect, but I think Oregon State lost last year and Coastal Carolina lost one in their year. It happens. So hopefully our kids still believe, and I think they do. I think they’re showing that.
But again, one game at a time. We’re going to be playing a really good team tomorrow night.
Q. Dan, I imagine Nick is going to be the guy on the mound tomorrow. Just from where he came, he had a really good freshman year, but he was the one with that loss against TCU. From there to now, how much has Nick grown on the mound?
DAN McDONNELL: I think — of course these guys have followed us so closely, Nick Bennett is a competitor. I mean, that’s the thing, for a freshman to be starting in the College World Series and be a weekend starter for the University of Louisville, I think guys love playing behind him because you know he’s going to compete. He might beat him. He’s not perfect. But man, he’s going to compete.
And what he did in the regional, he won Game 1, we got sent into the losers’ bracket, and he demanded that ball on Monday. I mean, it was after the Sunday game, he came by the office, and then Sunday night he sent a text, and then Monday morning at breakfast he walked up to the office. I mean, he was adamant: Coach, give me the ball today.
And Coach Williams is smart, and he’s all about arm care and said, okay, he could be throwing a bullpen on a day like today, so we’ll let him get the start. We only pitched him two innings, of course, and then we took him out. But I just think it lifted us up. I say Willis Reed moment, that’s maybe a little different. I’m showing my age. These young guys don’t — but you know Willis Reed. That’s us. And not that he was hurt, but when a guy like that steps up and says, just give me the ball and I’ll run out there and give you everything I’ve got, man, it lifts everybody else up.
For me in the big picture, I’m so glad Nick Bennett gets to start here in Omaha, and Zeke Pinkham gets to catch him because those two guys have been a good tandem for three years now.