Can you give your impressions of the last week for the Diamond Heels?
“Well it was a good week for us certainly in the win/loss column coming out of exams and playing a game during exams. To get a win over Gardner-Webb in the middle of exams was probably a little more difficult than people would expect. Then navigating the weekend with Maryland and graduation and finishing up exams on Friday for a number of guys. It was a good week and we didn’t play as well - especially offensively - as I would have liked but you know we got done what we needed to and put ourselves in a position to control our own fate down the stretch.”
Can you discuss the week that freshman third baseman Colin Moran had?
“I don’t have the stats in front of me but he had a sensational weekend. I know he got four hits yesterday and he continues to play at a high level. I know he went through a stretch where he did not feel like he was swinging the bat as well as he was capable of and he has worked his way through it. He is a tough kid, tough mentally and tough physically. We needed every swing of the bat and every RBI and every extra base hit from him this weekend.”
What was it like for the seniors on the team to have a series at home with their families in town for Commencement Weekend then race over to the Bosh for the final game in a sweep over the Terrapins?
“It is a very special weekend for those young men. I am so glad we were playing at home. There have been some years where we have not been and it is never a good thing to miss graduation. It is a big milestone in their life in addition to it being Mother’s Day and a beautiful day in the afternoon and the rain held out. Those guys got a chance to graduate, get their diploma and then play and get a win and be with their families and their mothers. It is one of those days that are a perfect day and one that they will remember I am sure for the rest of their lives.”
What did Patrick Johnson have working on Friday that enabled his performance?
“He had great stuff with a good live fastball. He just made some critical pitches when he needed to, when he got behind he would come back and make a great pitch, he was able to pitch inside on occasion and his breaking ball was working well. He just really competed and he has made such a progression from his freshman year to his senior year. You can tell his arm is 100 percent and physically he feels great and is prepared. He is pitching with a lot of confidence and our team has a lot of confidence with him on the mound. He snuck his fastball by a few of those guys and that is how he got a few of his strikeouts up in the zone just above their hands. Just a complete game pitcher for us. He just got it done. He was sensational.”
In your opinion in what areas does the team need to improve on heading down the stretch?
“There is no question right now when you look at our week we hit .250 as a team this week and we won four games because we pitched and played good defense. We only made two errors and our team ERA was 2.00. If you just look at that you can tell that we have to be better offensively down the stretch - there is no question about it. We are putting too much pressure on our pitchers and we had a chance in a couple of these games just over the weekend to get a big hit and extend the lead early in the game. We had a chance yesterday right in the first inning with the first two guys on. It makes such a big difference when you get a lead early. You can expand on it and you can run and take pressure off the pitching staff. We have to get some of our guys going. We have to be able to move the ball a little bit better with people are in scoring position and again that comes when it does but we have to put ourselves in a good position with the count and putting a good swing on the ball to get a big hit. Obviously two-out RBI are important and we did get some of those over this weekend but we did not get enough of them in my opinion. We have to get back on track as we will be facing some great arms down the stretch.”
How has the depth of the pitching staff been an asset down the stretch heading into the post-season?
“We have five games this week and we need two mid-week starters for Tuesday and Wednesday then we are at Georgia Tech. We have been pitching eight or nine guys - our top eight or nine guys - and for the most part we have put them out there fresh and when Patrick [Johnson] goes deep into a game on Friday it really saves us. When we get good starting pitching our bullpen depth shows. We can run healthy guys out there whether it is an inning or a batter. That has been a big help to us. Our bullpen has been such a key for our season. They had a little rough spot there for a while and that happens. But now I feel like [Andrew] Smith, [Shane] Taylor, [Michael] Morin, [Greg] Holt, [Tate] Parrish, [R.C.] Orlan and [Cody] Stiles are all pitching well for us. We are going to have to use these guys down the stretch to keep games close.”
Have you seen mental toughness from Ben Bunting this season while struggling with the bat?
“Ben is a veteran. He has been through this before and you are going to have ups and downs and you are going to hit a rough spot. We talk about this all the time. We try to prepare these young men. It is coming. It is part of the game of baseball. Fortunately or unfortunately Ben has had to persevere through injury or slumps or good play or bad play like most players do. The ones that don’t let it get to them mentally and keep plugging and working hard and not lose their confidence and realize that things are going to turn around for them -- those are the guys that don’t let those periods extend for more than they should. We have great confidence in Ben and he is about as tough as they come mentally. He is a rock and he stays with it and does not let anything phase him and he has worked his way through it and we needed him to. He had a good week for us.”
What is the state of the team’s morale now that academic concerns are over for the semester and the players can just focus on baseball down the stretch run?
“Our team morale has been great all year. I love the team in that respect. We have 32 guys who are all on the same page and all together. We don’t have cliques on the team and everybody gets along and they pick each other up and encourage one another. It really takes a lot of pressure off of the coaching staff. I commend our leaders for that. Our team leaders set a good tone. Certainly at this point I hope that baseball is the only thing that is on their mind. You have to remember these are 18- to 21-year-olds so they do have other things on their mind. They just don’t have academics right now and that is a big plus. This is a fun part of the year. We get to manage their day and their time and have some fun together. We will do some team things together hopefully and make sure they get their rest and work out a little bit and just play some baseball. It does not get better than that.”
The Diamond Heels have two other seniors associated with the team in student managers Cory Jones and Michael Hollowell. Can you discuss their roles and what they bring to the table?
“Managers are invaluable. You cannot do without them. Those two guys have spent countless hours at the stadium - sometimes more than the coaches or players - staying afterward with Tyson [Lusk] and doing what needs to get done. There are so many things that go on behind the scenes with our program. Michael Hollowell has been behind home plate charting almost every pitch that has been thrown at Boshamer Stadium. You can imagine the time and effort that it takes to do that. That has been so important. Every swing and every pitch in a scrimmage and in a game and all our fall scrimmages and some of our practices recorded on video. Right now we are searching for somebody to continue to be involved with that because Michael has been so good at that part of what he has done for our program.”