Prior to this weekend’s non-conference series against the University of New Orleans, head coach David Pierce talks adding experience in these last few weeks, playing non-conference in the middle of conference season, and what it takes to make the tournament.
On the improved Tuesday record from last year: Definitely the difference. We’re playing in the same conference with a lot of tough teams, and you know that. The Tuesday games are the games that can really put you over the top of whether or not you get a bid or not. All of those teams that we play are solid, too. They’re good RPI games at the end of the season.
On if this team has done a job handling their business on Tuesdays: The thing is that the way that parody has kicked in in our game with the 35 man rosters and the 27 man limitation, there’s not as much dominance from teams as there were 10 years ago. A lot of these teams are much better than most people give them credit for because they just go by name. The teams that we’re playing are very solid and it gives us an opportunity to continue to build a resume.
On if the Tuesday record is proof of team growth: It definitely is and it’s been something I hawked on when I first got here in the importance of Tuesday games. When kids realize they have the opportunity to go play competitive baseball and they relish that, that’s something that’s moving us in the right direction and creating a little more maturity on the ballclub.
On if teams visiting on Tuesday play higher emotionally: It’s definitely the challenge because I’ve been on the other side. Coming in as a mid-major to play at Disch-Falk Stadium, it doesn’t matter who we play the weekend before or who we play the weekend after, that game is marked. You try to not look at it like that, but it’s a program builder if you can win against a UT or a bigger school. It’s something that our guys have to fight against coming off of a big conference series in the Big 12, the No.1 or No. 2 conference in the country, and then to come in to play a mid-major. We know they’re good, just convincing out players that this is as important as that weekend series because at the end of the day you’re trying to build that resume. You’re trying to create more wins. The kids are starting to understand that a little better.
On if the New Orleans series changes his approach to conference play: It actually can create some real challenges. If you’re playing well and you want to stay in the Big 12 race, you would like to stay there. It also allows you to potentially look at some different guys or rest a guy here and there, but you’ve still got to win them. It’s a huge challenge that you’ve got to play your guys, but you want to play other guys because of the need of them down the road. You don’t want to give up anything because you’re trying to compete to win against a good team, but at the same time you’re trying to build for the rest of the season and maybe get some rest for some guys.
On his familiarity with New Orleans: Quite a bit. We were in the Southland with them. When they revamped the program, they came out and they weren’t very good. They played for the first 3 years and they struggled. Then Blake Dean took over the program as a 27 year old head coach. He played at LSU. I competed against Blake as a coach when he played there, and he does a tremendous job with the resources that they have, and he’s a great hitting instructor. They can really hit. He’s got a veteran team on the field, and his pitching’s getting better. This is the team that’s going to have a little edge about them, and they’re going to come in and compete and try and beat us.
On if the older players on the roster sense opportunity: They’re very eager, and it was in Kacy Clemens’ and Travis Jones’ eyes on Saturday. They didn’t feel like they had to do something extra, but they definitely felt like this was an important game. They had an edge about them. I liked it. I liked the way that they performed not only on the field, but just their mentality they carried in the dugout. We’re seeing that more and more. Guys see that we’re right on the cusp of having an opportunity, and they want to do everything possible to give us that best chance of doing well the rest of the way through conference, competing in in the Big 12 championships, and having opportunities in the postseason.
On if he’s had a team on the cusp at this point like this: Honestly, the last 5 years have been almost identical to the position that we’re in. Having opportunity but it’s in front of us, and seizing it. Hopefully we can relish this, relax, go play and compete, and be the best that we can be.
On resting players outside conference: The first thing is we’ve got to look at how healthy or not healthy we are. We’re fairly healthy. One thing that really stands out to me is because of so many close ballgames, we haven’t been able to utilize some guys in the bullpen as much as I would like. Our development of the bullpen has been a slow process because we’ve been in all these one run games. As we’re trying to get them in the game and not being able to because of some lack of experience, this is a weekend where we may just throw them out there. That’s probably the biggest difference. You may see a few more matchups where they go left-right because I need to see some guys being capable of either coming off of the bench or filling that role of a platoon. Some guys like a Tate Shaw and an Austin Todd that have played a lot for us. They’re definitely not out of our mix. We want to keep them in it. Those are the things I’ll be looking at going into this series.
On good bullpen performances: We’ve done it the last two weeks against them. We’ve held them to two runs in 18 innings. Texas State is one of the better hitting teams that we’ve faced all year. I think it builds confidence. There’s a couple of guys in there that need to be in the fire. They’re performing when it’s not as maybe a pressurized situation. For example, coming into the game as a clean inning versus coming in with first and second, one out or nobody out. Those are the situations that are still the unknown of how they do in those situations.