If we told you last week that your starters would combine to go 6 1/3 innings in Super Regional play, what would you have thought?
“I would have thought that is not good and it would be tough to win a weekend series against a team like South Carolina. On the reverse side of that, I did think after we somehow got that win that we got it. Kent only threw 62 pitches. All the heat they’ve been taking with the pitch counts and all that stuff... obviously I voiced my opinion on that. It was basically like he was a reliever so worst case scenario we’d have him ready like we did. Now the extra day obviously helped him but you say ‘Hey, somehow we found that first one.’ When we got through the second one without using (Trent) Thornton again and (Chris) McCue. We got another day so that helped us a little bit but I would’ve said it was going to be tough to win this series.”
Coming into Tuesday's finale, what was the thought process in handling Benton Moss and gauging when to insert Trent Thornton?
“I thought Benton looked great this week. I think Benton’s really tough. I’ve been coaching Benton for two years and I knew what I was looking for. I thought he had really good stuff but he was up in the zone a little bit. South Carolina hits mistakes. They’re a mistake hitting team and an aggressive hitting team. I thought he was up in the zone early. I thought he got away with some mistakes.
"They had (runners) on first and second. He hit a guy because the ball was up and he struck out (Grayson) Greiner on a slider up in the zone. I thought hopefully he’d settle in. When he was up again in the next inning, I thought I wasn’t going to look back when Thornton’s down there. At least he gave us two full innings and that allowed Thornton to give us close to the end of the game.”
How beneficial is it to have a guy like Thornton in the bullpen?
“You know we talked about that earlier in the year when we moved him into the closer role. He’s going to be one of those guys that we can’t be afraid to go to in a clutch situation early because he has started and he’s been extended. He’s done that. He did it against N.C. State in the ACC Tournament and Thornton does a great job of using his body and using his mechanics. He doesn’t tax himself too much and that’s why his velocity stays up. Then you get a kid like that. You don’t get many freshmen that are that tough. You can just see no fear and he really wants the ball in that big situation. That’s why he’s been the guy for us at the end of the game.”
Any chance we see Thornton in a starting role in Omaha?
“Yes, absolutely. The format is different in Omaha so you coach to the format and you learn. We’ve been fortunate that this is our sixth time since 2006 and you learn from past things. I look back to 2011, and nothing against any of our pitchers, but we had not used Mike Morin and we probably should have started him because you get rest and you get time. That is a possibility.
"Obviously, Kent Emanuel threw his bullpen today. Couldn’t have worked out better. Today is his bullpen day and he gets more time and he’ll start against N.C. State on Sunday. Then we’ll go from there.”
Did Emanuel get enough work in today to count as his bullpen day?
“He threw down there to get ready. This time of year when you have the command that Kent does, that’s all you need. Now he’ll have some time to gain some arm strength and get back into his long toss routine.”
Are you concerned about the recent struggles of your starters and how that will play out in Omaha?
“I trust our starters. I trusted Kent today. Everybody, a hitter or pitcher, goes through hot and cold spells. I think all of our guys are capable of going out there. One of the reasons we’ve won so many games - 57 today - is because of our starting pitchers. Although they haven’t been great maybe the last two weeks, they’re the reason we’re here. They’re the reason our bullpen is able to come back. What Kent’s done is amazing and (Benton) Moss for the most part. You want your starters to give you five or six innings every single time. And if you can do that then you’re going to be pretty fresh at the end of the year. That’s pretty much where we are.
“Now you have a little more time because you know your schedule. You’re playing one game. You get a day. So you do have a little more time to coach them. When you’re like Kent coming off of short rest you can’t throw bullpens. With this week, Kent will throw a flat ground on Friday and maybe another light bullpen to lock in. Hobbs (Johnson) gets plenty of time and so does Benton. Starting pitchers do like their routine and when you get in a regional like we did sometimes you get out of your routine. It feels really good when you get to Omaha because you have guys that can matchup and you benefit from that extra rest.”