Feb. 24, 2014
Tennessee Head Coach Dave Serrano
"There are a lot of great things going on with our baseball program. Before we started that Sunday game against Purdue - as we were delayed a couple of days - we were in the coaches' room and I said to my staff, `everyone sees how optimistic I've been. That isn't just coach talk. That's coming from the heart. That's coming from being around good teams in the past and realizing what good players are and the foundation of something special.' We hadn't played anyone else outside of ourselves. It's hard to determine sometimes how good your team is when you're playing each other. I said to my staff, `I don't know if we realize how good we can end up being.' A lot of things had to start coming together and they're still going to have to come together. I said `I feel like we're sitting on a volcano that's about to explode.' I mean the whole big picture. It's what I'm starting to see. The way the team is playing. Let's take aside the 7-0. Even if we were 5-2 right now, the way our team is playing baseball, the way they're showing up every day with positive energy, with passion to be good, and playing for each other, I'd be very happy. Fortunately for us, we've won every game, but I'd still be happy if our record wasn't an undefeated record.
"We're doing things right. I saw that in the fall. I knew the talent base was starting to get where it needs to be for the SEC. That's what allowed me to make that kind of confidence of a comment. I really feel it. I think our players feel it. We're 7-0; we're proud of that. Like I keep reiterating to them, we haven't done anything. We started 7-0 my first year, too. I think we were kind of scratching our heads, to be honest, at that time thinking `how is this happening?' It kind of ended up what we anticipated a little bit.
"I think this team has a lot of room for growth still. We can get better in areas. There were some things that came out this weekend that we'll have to go back and improve on this week. I saw John Wilkerson tweeted out, I didn't realize it at the time, but to win seven games in eight days is pretty taxing to open up the season like that. The energy level yesterday when we gathered as a team at 9 a.m. for team breakfast, and then had chapel after that, was amazing. Taking it to the field for batting practice; it wasn't like a team that was 6-0, it wasn't like a team that was getting ready to play its seventh game in eight days. That's what I'm feeding off of. Confidence can do a lot for individuals and teams.
"This was a big weekend for us. We recognize Vegas (UNLV) as a good team. They're going to win a lot of games. They've got a good pitching staff. We wore them down a little bit. The scores weren't elevated except for the first day. We made their starting pitchers throw a lot of pitches. Those are the types of the things you're going to see, the plays we continue to make, the double plays of (Will) Maddox to (A.J.) Simcox, the play of Taylor Smart at third base at the start of the season, there's a lot of positive things going on in Tennessee baseball right now and I hope we continue to build on that."
(On what has impressed him so far)
"I think it's a little bit of everything. If you go back, there hasn't been one name that keeps popping up as the guy of the game, the guy that really helped the team. It's been a lot of different names. I wouldn't want it any other way. Those sometimes end up being the best teams. There's not one guy this team is relying on for success. It's a different guy every day. You go back to yesterday it could've been Andrew Lee, it could've been Taylor Smart, it could've been Will Maddox. It's different guys at different stages. Those are the kinds of things that are happening that are special.
"One of the things for me that is really hitting close to home is seeing the passionate fan base that is coming back to cheer us. You're starting to see the stadium fill up more and more each and every game. Obviously the beautiful weather this weekend had something to do with it. But I think this team is bringing some excitement to them, too. That was part of my vision when I came back here. That was part of my plan, to get Lindsey Nelson packed again. That ovation Andrew Lee got when he came off the mound gave me a little goose bumps. It reminded me of 1995 when we secured a College World Series berth getting that last out. I hope it just continues to grow. I've said all along, our fan base has cheered us on at a Regional/Super Regional level. Now it's our duty to get the product on the field and I feel that product is coming very fast."
(On if he should wait to raise expectations for this team)
"No, it was two-fold. One, I like living on the edge a little bit. I'm not afraid to stick my neck out there. I know what I was brought here to do, and my coaching staff, to collect the right kind of players. I also wanted our players to know that I was standing up for them, that we were finally a product that we could be excited about and they needed to hear that from their so called leader that I believed in them. It's almost like a parent when you look at your son or daughter and you tell them they could do something, whether it's in school or athletics. I wanted them to hear that. I wasn't trying to brainwash them because I felt they believed it too. They were working out with those guys every day. They were at practice with those guys every day and they saw the collection of players of how the growth process from last year, the freshmen to sophomores, the freshmen that came in this year that are ready to play maturity wise and mentally. So, they saw it too. I was kind of tooting their horn a little bit so they knew that I was behind them one-hundred percent.
"We're going to go through some stretches of tough times. I think we've already hit some stretches of tough times and we've been able to overcome those. I'm not so sure, that in the past, that some of the games that we encountered this weekend we would've held on or better yet won in the past. A lot of that might have had to do with confidence, a lot of that might have had to do with lack of ability, not being able to do that yet."
(On if he thinks his preseason evaluation was correct)
"Good question. I feel like I have been. It's not an overconfidence to try to motivate my team. I'm very realistic in some stages. I'll go back to the 2009 team at Cal State Fullerton. We had a midnight practice our very first day of practice, unlike anyone else in the country, and I labeled it `the first to practice, the last to play.' We weren't the last to play, but we made it to the College World Series. At UC Irvine, I kind of sang the same praises in that 2007 campaign and that team didn't disappoint at all.
"So, I'm very passionate about my players and the program I'm part of. I've been around enough good programs that I get the feel of when a team is ready to take that jump. Obviously I'd love this jump to happen sooner, but in the long run it will mean so much more when we do make that jump. I really mean that. I feel the last two years have been very difficult on a lot of people. When we start making - we haven't made the jump yet - we're 7-0 and I'm proud of that. We're starting to get some recognition. I just saw that we're ranked 28th in Collegiate Baseball. That's beautiful. There are a lot of people, not just the current team - not just the current coaching staff - there are a lot of people that have put a lot of time to allow that to happen. I hope we just continue to climb and climb and climb, because I think we're at that point that our destiny is in our hands now where we're ready to take that step."
(On senior right-handed pitcher Nick Williams)
"Nick Williams kind of symbolizes what I'm talking about. There's a young man that's a senior in this program, has pitched a lot of games in this program, and in weekend one, because of the change of the schedule, he doesn't get nod on the weekend. Instead of pouting, he does the exact right thing and he goes out, when he gets the opportunity when a young man goes down a little sore, he comes and gives us five innings of no-hit relief, shutout relief. Then we start him on Friday night and he sets the tone for what I feel was a very successful weekend. In fact, I teased with him after he came out that night because of pitch count and I said boy, until that ball was hit by A.J.'s right side in the fourth inning with two outs, he would have had a two game combined nine inning no-hitter.
"He's done what seniors should do. He's handled it terrifically. He didn't feel sorry for himself, he understood it. He's handling it perfectly now. He's taking the ball and he's saying `You're not going to take it out of my hands now.' That's exactly what I want my guys to do when we get that opportunity."
(On Butch Jones coming out to the game on Sunday)
"It's what we are about here. We are One Tennessee. That's not just a cliché. All of us coaches support one another. I don't miss many events and if I do, it is because of recruiting or job-related stuff. It means a lot. It means a lot to us, for them to share in what we are trying to do, just like we try to share in what they are trying to do.
"I've seen a change in now my third year here in this department, that I really see a family coming together. I think at times there might have been some dysfunctionality there, but I think we have now come together as a group, and I think it bodes well for our athletic department, bodes well for our community and this university. I know this community is dying to have success. They are passionate about what we do. They deserve winners, and we are hoping that we start setting the tone for what is to come in the fall and the future for men's sports."
(On being close with the softball staff)
"Well, the biggest pressure I feel in being in the program is catching up with Ralph (Weekly) and Karen (Weekly). As good as we are right now, they are a lot better than us. I saw something this morning, according to our sports department, that we are the only Division 1 program that is undefeated in baseball and softball. Ralph sent me a really nice text late last night - he is on the west coast - he forgot we are on the east coast time, was congratulating me and saying we know we can't keep this up, but it is a good thing that is going on. We worked hand-in-hand with each other, we help each other out. Why shouldn't we want to be like them? They've done it right for many years consecutively, they've won at the highest level. I would love our baseball program to mere the success they are having in softball."
(On the infielders starting well)
"Well, it is a good comment. Our outfield is a big portion of our offense, but again I am going to go back to, I don't get caught up into averages as much as some people. I happened to look at some stats last night - I'm not a big stat guy to be honest with you - the most important thing is the win column and the loss column, and right now we are at 1.000 in the win column. A guy like Vincent Jackson, his numbers aren't great, but he hasn't struck out yet, and I think he has walked seven times on the season, that's on-base percentage that helps the team win. And if you remember the other night, he got a big double in the gap with two outs to score a run.
"Those kind of things help teams win, averages don't help teams win. Guys driving in runs, to having productive at-bats, the averages will take care of themselves as the season plays itself out, but it is the big at-bats, and the opportunities that are taken advantage of in those at-bats that is allowing us to be successful. And like I said it is a different guy it seems like each and every game, whether it is from the mound or someone from defense, it's a different guy each and every day that is doing something to help the Vols come out on top."
(On David Houser only hitting from the right side of the plate)
"First and foremost, the most important thing with David is going to be how he is catching or any of our catchers. Any offense they bring us is going to be a bonus. He has given us a big bonus out of the gate with what he is doing offensively, but he is handling the pitching staff at the level of my expectations and that is what we need the most out of David Houser and Tyler Schultz, our catching core."
(On freshmen making large contributions)
"It's huge for them. It's huge for our program. It kind of goes to show, our coaching staff is convinced that this freshmen class is unique in a good way. They are tough kids. They don't act like freshmen. They are prepared. They are physical enough to play right now. In fact, I was standing around the cages yesterday talking to the UNLV coaches and (Nathaniel) Maggio walked by and the coaches looked at me and said, "That guy's a monster." And you look at (Nick) Senzel, he's a good-looking athlete. Their personalities are different. They're a group of young men that there's not much passiveness in them. They're aggressive, which is a good thing; it makes me have to keep my eye on them a little but more. But I'd rather have to tone freshmen down than try to get them to get up and that's why I think those guys have jumped right in to the mix and have filled in like their sophomores and juniors. They're only going to get better as they get more experience, which is exciting.
"Again, where a lot of my excitement comes from is, I couldn't have ever predicted we'd start out undefeated after the first two weekends, especially knowing that we were going to play seven games in eight days, but it's looking at the big picture. You look at our roster, and I don't know the percentage exact, but it's about 80-85 percent of this team coming back next year too. That bodes well for Volunteer baseball, the city of Knoxville, this University, and the community. These guys, as they continue to get experience, they're only going to get better. The pitching is young, but the pitching hasn't disappointed yet. There have been some outings that need to get better, but those guys as they continue to get pushed are going to keep getting that experience getting better.
"I'll say this, and this is kudos to our players, this is a great team to be around. They do it right, in every aspect: work ethic, school, socially, baseball-wise. They're fun to be around; they really are. They're a fun group to be around. They're fun to be with in the dugout, going to battle with the opponents. As a group as their head coach, it's kind of like their so-called father, it makes you very proud when they have success, and I'll still be proud of them when we don't have success- it's a good group of young men that are deserving of everything that they've gotten so far."
(On the team being resilient this past week)
"That's a word I keep using a lot: resiliency. Another word that we're using within our program is hungry. Every day, we show up with our bellies empty, hungry. That's why you play good opponents. This weekend, we almost coughed up a lead and held onto it late, to win 8-7. We coughed up a lead, and came back and beat them. Then we had to hold them off of a 4-0 lead when they scrapped out two runs in the seventh. I knew that team with their personality wasn't going to go away. They weren't just going to roll over and say, `It's a Sunday game, they're beating us four-to-nothing,' they weren't going to go away. They were going to make a run somewhere in that game, we were just fortunate enough to be able to get it stopped and finish them off in the eighth and ninth inning.
"But know I am very proud of our guys. Those are the kind of things you have to go through at the start of the year because it builds confidence. So when we get into the SEC and those kinds of things happen, we'll know we've done those circumstances before. It doesn't mean it's going to come out the same way every time, but we have something to go off of."
(On the bullpen playing well this season)
"Yeah, it has... There are more guys down there I haven't gone to. This next week is going to be kind of interesting because we have Quinnipiac coming in, and we've got La Salle coming in for two games. By no means are we looking past our opponent - we don't play our opponents. We do what is going to be best for us. We're going to get deeper into pitching before we go to Arizona State. We have two mid-week games coming off of a weekend series. I want to get some answers from some other guys that haven't gotten the ball yet. We want to allow some other guys to stay in the flow and get in the lineup, and allow some good players that haven't gotten those opportunities yet. There are good ones on the bench right now - allowing them to feel a part of this team too because they're working just as hard. It's a coach's decision of why other guys are playing over them right now. By no means are we looking past opponents, but this next week will be a great opportunity for some other Vols to get opportunities to help this team be successful."