OMAHA, Neb.--- UNC head coach Mike Fox and NCSU head coach Elliott Avent spoke with reporters on Friday, two days before the Tar Heels and Wolfpack conduct the ultimate rivalry battle with an opening game matchup Sunday at 2:00 pm central (3:00 pm eastern) in the College World Series at TD Ameritrade Field.
COACH FOX: Well, could you all have sat Elliott and I any closer together? We're touching knees, and by the end of this we're going to be holding hands. I don't know (laughing).
We're obviously very excited to be here as well. I'm sure you're going to hear that from all eight coaches today. As all of us up here know, and I think everybody knows, it's extremely difficult to get here. The parity in college baseball is at the highest level that it's ever been, and all the games in the Super Regionals and the regionals that were played throughout the country were evidence of that, just very close, hard‑fought games.
Our season has been a lot like Paul's at LSU, and we had high expectations coming in and those are always tough to deal with. But we managed through it, and down the stretch had some really tough, hard‑fought games in our league and then obviously in the ACC Tournament and regionals and Super Regionals. So we feel very fortunate we were just able to navigate through those and come out on top.
I feel the same way about our seniors. We had one in particular, Cody Stubbs, a transfer, who especially thrilled that he's going to end his career playing in the College World Series, and, again, it's just exciting to be here this early. It never gets old; will never get old.
And I concur with Paul that I think all of us college coaches have a unique bond, and I think that's always neat to see, and I hope it always stays that way. I feel the same way about the coaches here and the other four coaches in the other bracket. It's an honor to be here, and we appreciate everything that's been done for the players.
COACH AVENT: Paul, you said you hadn't been here in three years, right? Mike, you haven't been here in two years and, Savage, you haven't been here since last year. Well, N.C. State hasn't been here in 45 years, so I don't know if that makes me more excited to be here than them. I doubt it. But we are very grateful and very happy to be here.
Just, I've heard all of the stories, and I came here and did a clinic one time in like 1992 with Joe Arnold and Eddie Cardieri, and did a clinic; and as a matter of fact, they took me to a couple of horse races, I think. I was broke back then, and Joe and Eddie sniffed it out and took me under their wing, and I swore I'd never come back here unless I had a team to bring with me. I'm just so grateful to be representing N.C. State. So happy to be here. All the stories I've heard have already come true with how you're treated, the city of Omaha and just everything.
I'd like to just book end on what Mike and Paul said about their relationships. First person I saw‑‑ coach I saw was Paul Mainieri. Paul Mainieri was head coach at Air Force, and I was at NewMexico State, and I knew he was a recruiter back then because we woke up in 80° weather and Paul Mainieri talked me into coming and playing in snow at Air Force. That is what kind of recruiter he is, and we always talked about we'd meet here in the College World Series one day.
John Savage was an assistant at Nevada, Reno, and Mike and I have had a few battles over the last few years. So the relationships are special. Glad to be sitting on this podium with these gentlemen, and like Mike said, the guys in the other bracket.
Our ballclub has been a resilient one. Lot of injuries early. They persevered. You have to be resilient in this game. It's the only way you can get by. It toughens you up if you can weather some storms and they did. Very proud of this ballclub. They represent so many players from N.C. State through the years that had a chance to get here and didn't quite make it. So we feel like we're here representing so many people, and we're very, very proud to be here.
Mike and Elliott, is this a good thing you guys are playing each other right off the bat?
COACH AVENT: Yeah, it's a good thing, because if we weren't here playing each other, we'd be out recruiting, so, yeah, this is a really good thing.
But, yeah I talked to Ray Tanner last night for a while and Ray was like, yeah, I had to go there a couple times to play Clemson. I know what that's like. But you know what? I think we kind of like playing each other. It's a great rivalry. It's intense, but, I mean it's not hated. It's not as hated as people think. The games have been so good, and they've been clean games, and both teams can really, really play. It's a huge competition. They've got the best of us the last time, and so, you know it will be okay.
COACH FOX: I agree with Elliott.
COACH AVENT: For the first time ever.
COACH FOX: For the first time ever. I mean, yes. It has to be good. It's good for our league, good for the state of North Carolina. It should be exciting. It's funny how it all kind of worked out, but it's no fun playing N.C. State when Carlos Rodon is on the mound. I hope we can get that out there right now, because I know that question's coming at some point.
Coach Fox and Coach Savage, could you just discuss the field this year? Coach Coach Avent, you talked about being here for the first time in a long time, and some of you are very familiar to this venue. What's that say? You touched on the parity of college baseball, but what's that say when teams that haven't been here for so long can get here and is the field even more wide open because so many people are pouring resources into college baseball?
COACH AVENT: I heard someone just talking about the final eight teams here. And I heard someone mention, I don't know the accuracy of it, but the winning percentage of the eight teams here may be the highest ever in Omaha, and I don't know that. I just heard somebody mention that the other night.
But we talk about it all year long as a team. There is so much parity, as John said, in college baseball and college sports. So, everybody follows March Madness, and everybody follows not 64 teams, but we talk about it with us and think it mirrors basketball. There are probably over 100 teams that could easily be in the top 64 when the selection show picks the teams. And of those 64, maybe 40 could get to the Sweet Sixteen or the final 16; and of the 16 teams that played last weekend, I'm certain we all feel that any of the other eight teams could be here instead of us.
Our guys played well, as John said, against a great Fullerton team. I know what we did against Rice. That was unbelievable. Two one‑run games, and we had to come from behind in both of them. So, Rice could be sitting here as easily as N.C. State. So it's so much parity, and you have to play well at the right time. But just very proud of our ballclub once again and proud of college athletics as college baseball has grown throughout the country to become such a spectacle, and obviously, Omaha has been a great‑‑ had a great deal to do with that.
COACH FOX: Certainly I would agree with both of them. I think the number of teams that have the opportunity to get to the College World Series has grown significantly. So I think when the college season starts there are a number of teams and programs and coaches who are saying we have a chance to get there. It used to be a small number, and now it's a much larger number, and that is evidenced by certainly Kent State and Stony Brook last year, and new teams that are here this year. And I think you're going to continue to see that going forward.
To answer part of your question, I think the field is always wide open when you get here. I know people pick favorites in each bracket, but you've seen in the past that anybody can win this thing once you get out here, I think.
Coach Fox and Coach Avent. Coach Fox, I don't want to ruin your day or anything, but from your perspective, have you seen Carlos Rodon at his best this year? I guess your overall thoughts on him, and N.C. State. And Coach, your thoughts on Kent Emanuel and what you saw from North Carolina? And by the way, don't play 17 innings.
COACH FOX: Well, Carlos seemed way too much ahead of his time that he's been at N.C. State. And I think he's pitched as well probably down the stretch at any time in his career, just completely under control. When he's got command above his fastball and that breaking ball, he's as good as I've seen in all my time in college baseball. He just continues to get better and better, and it's an extremely difficult task facing him. He's really, really good. And I think the people out here who have not seen him are going to enjoy watching him pitch if they're not pulling for either team or one team.
COACH AVENT: Kent Emanuel, he's been Mike's guy all year probably the last few years. You'd like to say he's crafty, but yet his stuff is so good, usually crafty is for a little lesser stuff. But he's got command of three big‑time pitches. That changeup can really keep you off balance at times and next thing you know you get it in your head and he busts that fastball in and you just sit there and freeze.
But he's smart, he's competitive, and holds runners very well, which part of our deal is team speed. So that is something that he controls a little bit. He's one of the best pitchers in college baseball and should be quite a match‑up.
You said how happy you are to be here since you haven't been here before, just a couple of reactions from your players? Any reaction when they saw this place or is there some wow factor here?
COACH AVENT: Our players, I don't know if I've seen a wow factor, but I think the smile got a little wide ore their face. You know what I'm saying? They smiled since we got on the charter in Raleigh, and I think it just grew as we got here, and everything we've done from a couple of restaurants we've eaten at and the hospitality.
Last night, for me, I was up in my hotel room looking down I saw red shirts. I looked, and it was two of my players playing a pick‑up whiffle ball game on the lawn with a little league team from Colorado. They were pretty intense. They played for like an hour. I watched ten minutes from my room and went down and watched the last five innings, and I discovered it's going to help me, because I discovered one of my hitters is a better left‑handed hitter than he is right‑handed hitter, because he was hitting left‑handed Whiffle Ball, so we may make a change now Sunday for that game. But just some of the things.
Somebody took a picture of some of our guys out riding bikes with baskets like Dorothy on the Wizard of Oz, but trying to look tough in the picture, you know what I'm saying? The smile, and the wow factor may come more from me than it has from my players, but they're having the time of their life?
This is not a new issue, but what would be your response to a proposal restricting pitch counts to say 120 pitches, for instance, and four days between starts or three days between appearances or whatever?
COACH FOX: I'd rather not (laughing). Oh, gosh. I would be against that proposal. Was that your question? I would be against that. I don't think it's necessary because I think there are college coaches throughout the country who know what they're doing and have the best interests of their players at heart, both on and off the field and after they're playing at their particular University. That's been my take on my 15 years at this level and my prior years at Division III. I do not think that's necessary.
COACH AVENT: It's a tough question. I understand why you're asking it, and there was something said a couple weeks ago, so I understand the question. But tough to answer. I just kind of concur with Mike that I would be against it. As college coaches, we know what we're doing. It may not always seem like that.
It's not always about a certain pitch count as well, it's about the weather and time in between innings, and a long inning and some tough innings. Did he get out of jams, was he cruising? How did he get to a certain count? And coaches like to win, there is no question about it. They win for their players, they win for their former players.
But I don't think any coach is going to put a kid out there in jeopardy no matter what's on the line. I think we can have discussions and talk about some things, but I certainly don't think it's necessary.
TD plays a lot different than Rosenblatt, it's a big ballpark. I'd like know, and everybody else here, about defense. I think that's going to be critical in the games as far as maybe talking about your arms in the outfield and how you play the inner‑diamond catcher short, second baseman, centerfielder as far as your defensive philosophies, for all the coaches?
COACH FOX: Well, I certainly would agree with that. The history here of the teams that have made it here, whether it was Rosenblatt or here, they were always one of the top pitching teams and defensive teams in the country, and the statistics bore that out. Paul's exactly right. The game has changed, and you have to decide early on if you want to try to play for a run or if you just want to try to get ahead.
I think here, especially, having a really good outfield and trying to keep balls out of the gap, because if you hit the ball in the gap here and a guy can run at all, it most certainly is a double. But potentially a triple. Maybe scouting reports, maybe the wind, having a center fielder which obviously can run, which everybody does nowadays, and being able to cut those balls off and keep them to either singles or doubles is very important.
But you have to pitch out here and not walk people, there is no question about that.
COACH AVENT: I obviously haven't played a game out here, but I've just tried to get as much research as I could done. I understand it is a different park. It plays very, very spacious in the outfield. Sometimes if you have fast outfielders that you feel can go back and get the ball, much like Paul Blair when he played for the Orioles. You'll play them shallow and try to cut off the base, and catch some singles and line drives that might fall in and maybe throw a guy out at the plate.
It can change the way you play things according to your team speed and team defense. But as Paul said, it makes the game come down more to fundamentals. Obviously, there is no team here that is not fundamentally sound.
So it's going to be baseball at its best, and maybe old time baseball at its best. You're going to have to win a game with very, very few mistakes.
The game has changed and you've been able to adapt your rosters to it. My question is do you enjoy the way the game is played? You called it old‑time baseball, or do you feel there need to be some tweaks made with the baseball talk that's going around?
COACH AVENT: Yeah, I think it comes down to what John said at the end on one aspect. We'll adjust to whatever. Coach es are going to adjust, but obviously, it's the popularity of the game. The more popular college baseball is, then the better it is for us as coaches, better stadiums will be built, fan base is easier to recruit, more kids will turn down the Major League draft to come play in college, so you have a better product.
So to me, it's all about the popularity of the game, and I don't think the game has been more popular than it is.
It's kind of like the football debate. Do you want to go see a 10‑0 football game or a 47‑41, Boise State against Nevada Reno, maybe. So it's whatever you're into. But as long as the popularity of the game hasn't been hurt, I think the coaches will be okay.
The only person that you might want to ask that question to and get a different answer is the bat companies. What they have to go through in tweaking these bats is probably a great expense for them.
So my biggest question, and we all want to play on an even field. We all play in different sized ballparks, you all mentioned that, here what we're playing on today. But like John said, playing in a different ballpark isn't going to change whether we can beat UCLA or UCLA can beat us. It comes down to fundamentals and making pitches and timely hitting.
But they're going to put the stickers on these bats, and they're going to certify our bats, which I think is an awesome idea. It's just I'd like to see it taken a step further, maybe certify the bats in the beginning of the year before we start this trek to get to this great place.
So I would say as far as coaches, we're okay with it. But as long as the fans are okay are and they keep coming out in droves, I'm sure we're okay.
COACH FOX: Well, I'm probably a little on the fence with your question simply because the last two years have been quite different for us. The new bats came in last year, and we weren't very good offensively, and I didn't know whether that was the new bat or whether we weren't very good offensively. So I wasn't quite sure. Then we get beat in a regional on a home run, a number 8 hitter who hit one all year. Then this year with the same bat of course, the same specs, we're better offensively and there have been more home runs.
So I've seen sort of two different seasons with it, but I would agree it's hard to argue right now with the popularity of our game. We've made some changes in it, we've tweaked it some, and the roster limits and the scholarship limits, and the bats, and we keep making changes in it, and yet the game just continues to grow. I think we'd all agree that's ultimately the most important thing.
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