OMAHA, Neb. | After a photo-op with the trophy they’re both trying to win this week, MSU coach John Cohen and UCLA coach John Savage sat down, flanked by two players each, and then everybody said nice things about each other.
The mutual respect these teams have for each other was on full display during the pre-championship press conference. The Bulldogs and Bruins are both rather surprising entrants in this series, neither having been a national seed for the NCAA tournament. But their styles of play, which are quite similar, carried them to super regional road victories and 3-0 starts here at TD Ameritrade Park.
Game 1 of the College World Series championship is Monday at 7 p.m. (ESPN).
UCLA shortstop Pat Valaika complimented MSU, saying, “They play real loose and have a lot of fun. We have a lot of respect for them. They’re a great team. They come from the SEC, and that is great baseball. They have fantastic beards as well.”
Such humorous moments were peppered throughout the proceedings. The inevitable L.A. vs. Starkville question was asked, and MSU first baseman Wes Rea said, “I don’t know how much deer hunting or bass fishing they do in Los Angeles, so off the field is probably going to be a little bit different.” Later, UCLA pitcher Adam Plutko, who will start on the mound in Monday’s Game 1, said there actually is some hunting and fishing in L.A.
“We do the bass fishing on the video games and big game hunting and all that kind of stuff, so it’s pretty similar there,” he said.
I’ve got a few more highlights for you here from both players and coaches. And I have the video above from when we spoke to Cohen just outside the press conference room.
• Plutko (9-3, 2.29 ERA) on approaching his Game 1 start: “I’ve taken the ball Friday night the last two years. So preparation is not much different. I’m just going to focus on what I do and executing pitches, and that’s pretty much it.”
• Valaika, on when he knew this team could be special: “Each series throughout the year we’ve continued to strive and get better and grow as a team. I wouldn’t pinpoint one series that I knew. But one thing that comes to mind is the Fullerton Super Regional. We kind of came together as a team. No one thought we’d win a game there, and that was really special.”
• MSU pitcher Kendall Graveman, on the closeness of this team: “It’s a special group of guys that we really don’t do things alone, it’s always with each other. So to get here and be around each other every day is the same thing just like we’re in Starkville. That’s the one thing that I’ve noticed in this team that I haven’t noticed the past three years, is how much we hang out even when we’re not on the baseball field.”
• Graveman, on whether he’ll try to convince Cohen to let him pitch this week: “I’ve already talked to him right after the game (Friday). So I’ll be knocking at his door, but that’s up to their decision. For me to be honest with them and to really open up to if I can’t help my team, then that’s what I need to do.”
• Cohen, on coming to Omaha as a coach versus as a player: “I’ve told our players it was obvious that it was a thrill then, but everything about Omaha has become exponential. The stadium, the national media, every part of it has just gotten better and better.”
• Cohen, on his pitching plan for this week: “Trevor Fitts is probably going to start tomorrow. We’re going to finalize that this afternoon.” Fitts is 0-0 with a 2.86 ERA and has logged 7 1/3 innings over three NCAA postseason starts.