COACH CORBIN: I'm not going to sit here and try to sum everything up. Just congratulations to Florida. I mean, they played well all year.
To be honest with you, nothing against the other two coaches, but I hope they go off and win it. Tough ballgame, obviously, for us and the way it ended.
We had aspirations of taking it a step further. There's no complaints with the effort level of the kids. We did everything we possibly could, some things that we didn't handle maybe appropriately. But, you know, when you've got kids that are willing to battle the way we did and come back the way we did, I don't think many people thought at 4 1 that we would.
But we did, and gave ourselves a shot. And they just got us at the end.
THE MODERATOR: Questions?
Q. Tim, if you could talk a little bit about just the small ball, fielding the bunts, and how that kind of got you there in the eighth inning. COACH CORBIN: It did, we had the right athlete on the mound though. Sonny's taken care of so many short balls during the season. They found a way to bunt the ball in difficult triangles, and we weren't able to get an out of it. I think that was probably the toughest part of it, even if we didn't get the runner at third, just trying to get an out. And extended. It's difficult. But that's the way it goes. They executed the small ball pretty well. We knew they were going to do it. We knew we could handle it, and we just didn't.
Q. Coach, the decision to go with Sonny back out there in the eighth after a long top of the inning. I think it was maybe 126 pitches or so.
COACH CORBIN: I don't care what the number of pitches was. He wanted to go back out there. That's all there is to it. You're not going to take the ball away from him or else you're going to fight him; rather give him the ball and let him pitch.
Q. Sonny, were you starting to feel like you were wearing down physically at that point, or did you still feel strong?
Sonny Gray: I thought if I was going to wear down or thought I was getting tired, then I would obviously have told Coach. I wanted the ball. I went back out there and they put the things together and we were able to scratch two runs in the eighth inning. That's all there is to it.
Q. Aaron, can you talk about getting into the Florida bullpen and getting past Panteliodis and how that livened some things up for you offensively?
Aaron Westlake: Well, after we put one up in the first and then Panteliodis did a good job of utilizing the outside part of the zone, utilizing the strike zone, giving him a little bit on the outside corners. He was just utilizing that.
We put some pressure on him midway through the game. We've seen their bullpen plenty of times, so we know what we had to do. And I thought we did a great job as a team.
They're the best bullpen we've seen in the country. So I thought we did a great job against them. It's just one of those things where we came up short. And that's a credit to them.
But we did we battled our asses off and no regrets.
Q. Jason, could you talk about the seventh and eighth innings offensively for you guys. You get runners on base and rally back and get some runs, but I think both innings you leave the bases loaded. How are you guys feeling after those innings?
Jason Esposito: That's what you want to do, you want to put runners on base, you want to try and score them. Unfortunately, we didn't.
And it's part of the game. But just gotta score runs to win and we didn't.
Q. For all of you, Sonny, Aaron, Jason, if you don't mind, this is somewhat of a rhetorical question. Could you talk about how you're feeling at this point in terms of what you guys did accomplish this season and if that's hard to balance with the emotions of losing this game.
Sonny Gray: We put together a great season. Nothing to be ashamed of. We battled throughout the year and, unfortunately, we came up short two games here to Florida. They're a good team, but I don't think they're any better than us. I just think they're able to get the best out of us.
So, I mean, it's just a bad feeling. You don't want to feel this way, but eventually every team's going to feel this way except for one. Unfortunately, we weren't that one.
Aaron Westlake: We battled back. And they were just able to put a couple of runs up in the last part of the eighth. And even in the top of the ninth, we still battled. We're never going to give up. And losing, it sucks, but you're not going to feel good right now. You want to get to the championship. You want to win. That's why we're here. I can't say anything more. It sucks right now. But once we get maybe back to Nashville, stuff like that, one down, regroup as a team, we'll look over this year and we're going to be proud of each other.
I mean, this is the best year I've ever had. And I love all these guys, and it's making memories. This is history. You'll never forget about it.
So once we get back, we'll look back and see how well this season we did.
Jason Esposito: It's tough. Because you know what you go through with these guys, especially for three years, the way you go through with Corb, but I'm happy to play for Vanderbilt University. Knowing how hard we work and knowing we do the things the right way and we practice hard and we never gave up, and we gave it everything we had this whole year, and I'm proud of our 54 wins, and I'm proud of all the younger guys who stepped up. I'm just proud to play for Vanderbilt.
Q. Tim, kind of piggybacking on that, talk about what this step means now moving forward. This is obviously, like Jeff said, a weird time to talk about it, but what does it do for you as you go forward?
COACH CORBIN: I'm not thinking about forward, right now. Actually I'm thinking about backwards because when you have to sit maybe two, three hours from now and reflect on what you've done with a group of kids, you have to think about what you've accomplished. You can't think forward right now. Right now I want to take my phone and computer and dump it in the Tennessee River and just spend some time with these guys, because this is the toughest moment a coach, coaches, players can go through. It's when you grind out days and hours together.
And this particular team will be like no other we've had at the university, in my opinion, in terms of their selfless behavior and the way they exhibited themselves in the classroom and on the field. It's just tough to sum up and look at them right now and explain all of that.
You know, I've always said it's a car that's going 100 miles an hour and slams on the brakes. Tomorrow they're all gone. That part stinks. That's not fun. That's not fun at all. I just hate to see it come to an end. But it does. And life moves on.
Florida COACH O'SULLIVAN: First, I want to congratulate Tim and his coaches and his team for an outstanding year. They have a great club. And I wasn't looking forward to once I knew the brackets were lined up, that we had the potential to play each other, you know, players are players, but I certainly, from a personal standpoint, wasn't looking forward to it.
They've got a great club, like I said. And I don't know what it is. We've just been able to score one more run or two more runs than Vanderbilt this year. And I agree with Tim, with his statement the other day. I do think both teams were evenly matched. I think their lineup is outstanding. I think our lineup is outstanding.
I think they have great starting pitching. I like our starting pitching. I think they have an outstanding bullpen. I like our bullpen. It's just a shame somebody had to lose.
But going on to our club, very proud of the way we played. That thing could have spiraled out of control. I thought it all started with A.P. He was outstanding on the mound. One run over six innings and gives up one in the first and settles down and puts five zeros on the board. But there are so many things.
I thought the ABs by our hitters were really good. We drove the pitching count up on Sonny. That was our goal because we knew we weren't going to just sit there and bang away on him.
I thought Cody Dent's at bats were really good. Pigott obviously had a great day, and it was a collective team effort. And it's good to get Austin back out there on the mound. It's been a while. But we're excited about moving on. There's going to be only two teams left. And we feel fortunate that we're moving on, but we're excited for the challenge.
THE MODERATOR: Questions?
Q. Kevin, just kind of assess Alex's outing out there and also talk about the decision to kind of take him out of the game there in the middle of the inning.
COACH O'SULLIVAN: The reason we started him was because, number one, we have confidence in him. I think today was his seventh start in postseason, the most ever by a Florida Gator. I was told after the game that he broke the all time post strikeout record. I think it was John Burke that had that record. He pitched in some big games for us, pitched in regional final against Miami, pitched in the Super Regional final obviously against Mississippi State, and pitched in the SEC championship game against Vanderbilt.
So we had a lot of confidence in him. And we had a rested pen. Tommy Toledo hadn't thrown yet. (Nick) Maronde hadn't thrown very much yet. (Greg) Larson threw three pitches against Texas and obviously Maddox hadn't thrown.
So we felt like Alex had done his job and if you would have told me before the game you were going to get one run over six innings we would have taken it. We had nine outs to go three run lead. We like our pen, and it didn't quite go the way we wanted it today, but the bottom line is those guys needed to throw. And they're all going to contribute; they're all going to need to contribute if we're going to win this thing.
Q. Preston, could you talk about the at bat on the line drive to left and just what went through it and did you think he was going to catch it? And for Kevin, could you talk a little bit about Austin, when he was there in the eighth versus when he was in there in the ninth?
PRESTON TUCKER: I knew they were going to put Williams in, because whenever we played them earlier, they had put them in to face me, too, and he got me out.
They were playing in. I was looking for a fastball up I could elevate. And obviously I hadn't had a great day before that. You're not going to have too many great at bats against Sonny Gray. But I was just trying to stay confident and relaxed. Got one out over the plate and looked to hit it the other way.
I knew the wind was blowing in, so I knew it would be tough to get it over his head. All I was worried about is getting the run in from third. So I'm glad it could work out.
COACH O'SULLIVAN: As far as Maddox in the eighth, we had confidence in him. He's a strike thrower. He's competitive. He might be one of our most competitive players. And we knew at some point; I don't know if there was a perfect time to put him out there.
It was one of those deals where he hadn't pitched in a while, but in order for us to have an opportunity to win this thing; he's going to be a major factor in it.
Unfortunately, when you get to this time of the season, there's no there's no perfect situation to put him into.
But awfully proud of the way he threw strikes there in the eighth and battled through it, even though it was a line drive one of those outs. But he threw the ball across the plate, and there's not much else you could do at that point, and I was really proud of the way he threw the ball tonight.
Q. I know you guys already touched on Sonny, what you had seen from him. Cody, Sonny said you guys just kind of got the best of him today. Talk about him specifically, what you were seeing from him and how your offense got the best of him.
CODY DENT: Sonny's a first round draft pick. We all have great respect for him. We were just trying to see his fastball up, lay off his fastball down and lay off his curveball down.
Q. Nolan, talk about your stab that you had there. It looked like that ball was getting through. The momentum completely changed after you stopped that. Just talk about that a little bit.
NOLAN FONTANA: Yeah, I didn't have too much to think about it. Just hit it off the bat and I just dove and it went in my glove. So we got fortunate right there.
Q. Coach, it really seemed like your bunting game gave them some trouble today. Do you feel like you were able to put a lot of pressure on them kind of with executing the small ball?
COACH O'SULLIVAN: It certainly worked out that way. Here's the deal with that. Sonny's one of the best athletes in our league. And he's made that play numerous times. He covers a lot of ground on the third base side. And I think that our bunts towards, were more towards the line, which kind of helped us. But if they were not located, if Sonny probably gets lead runner all those times, he's that good of an athlete.
We talked about that. I talked to Nolan one time on the bunt situation, if he felt more comfortable bunting the ball to first base in that situation, gave him that option or to maybe deaden it or bunt it harder to make Esposito field it.
So that was a factor for us. He's as good as they get. We feel Hudson Randall is kind of the same way, but you only get those guys every so often that are able to field their positions as well as he did.
Q. Coach, you kind of touched on it in your opening statement about Cody's at bats. But could you elaborate a little bit on the contributions you got from the bottom of your lineup. And then, Cody, would you mind following up and just kind of talk about what it means to a guy in the nine hole to contribute like you did today.
COACH O'SULLIVAN: Well, you know, he had a great day. And I think they were probably trying to attack him with fastballs his first at bat. And he put a really good swing on one. But I know this is a team sport and you're going to have to get production from everybody.
The offense can't just fall on Preston or Mike Zunino. We need to get production from everybody. Everybody's role may be different. Just like our pitching staff. It doesn't fall on just Hudson or Karsten. Everybody has to contribute this time of the year.
It's awfully good to get the production from the bottom like we have been. But this isn't new. We've been getting production from those guys all year long.
CODY DENT: My role has just been if I'm leading off the inning, just try to get on base. And if there are people on, move them over, get them in, just trying to have quality at bats.
Q. Coach, you mentioned on the bullpen that it didn't go quite as you planned. What was your plan for using those guys when you brought Toledo in in the seventh, how long did you expect him to go, and did you think it would get situational over those last three innings?
COACH O'SULLIVAN: I knew it wasn't going to be easy. But I do know that Tommy's rested, and we trust him. And like I said, you know, you never want to be accused of maybe one more batter type of situation. A.P. did his job. Like I said, we trust our bullpen. If we had the same situation again, we're going to do the same exact thing. We're not going to it worked out that way where it got situational. But what do you expect? You're playing Vanderbilt. This is the last game of the year. We didn't think it was going to be easy.
Q. Start of the year, ranked number one, now you're playing for the national title. Just talk about kind of the consistency of this club and your thoughts and playing for the title.
COACH O'SULLIVAN: Well, you know, I think you have to feel fortunate. You've got to have some breaks along the way. We've been fortunate where we've been able to stay healthy. This is a long grind. And this team from day one, its goal was to set out to play for the national championship. That doesn't always come in the end, doesn't always work out that way. But they've been focused. And we're looking forward to it.
We know it's not easy. We know there's a long way to go on this thing. But you have to get there. So we're excited for playing for the national championship, and but we're going to be business as usual the next couple of days. We're going to have a good practice tomorrow; good practice on Sunday, and then get after it on Monday.
Q. Preston, similar question there. You guys obviously aren't done yet, the focus still has to kind of continue. But what's it like after last year knowing that you guys now have a chance to do something special?
PRESTON TUCKER: Obviously you feel better about it. But then again, we got either a tremendous team with South Carolina or Virginia to play. So we all share a common goal, which is to win it, not just to be here.
We're happy we're in the Finals, but we're going to be just as disappointed as if we went 0 2 if we lose the series.
So we'll stay focused, bear down at practice, and do the same thing we did today, executing, some bunting, maybe some hit and runs. So it's going to come down to that. So I think we're all ready to play.
Q. Just how intense was this game? It really seemed like a grind it out between two really good teams. Did it feel that way for you guys on the field?
NOLAN FONTANA: Yeah, absolutely. Vanderbilt, they're a great team and you know you're going to get it every time you face them. Extremely competitive, just like we are. We have extremely similar ball clubs. And like Sully said earlier, we got on the winning side of things five times out of six this year, and that's the way it worked out.
PRESTON TUCKER: We knew Vanderbilt wasn't going to lay it down. It was a do or die situation for them. If they scored in that ballgame, we knew we couldn't sit on that lead. They were going to come back. They have a great offense and we knew how quickly the game could turn around. So we just needed to stay focused.
And I'd be lying if I said the nerves weren't there. There were a few times in the field I was kind of nervous. They're starting to get something going. But we got out of it. We did a great job of making pitches when we needed to and timely hitting. So fortunately we came out on top today. So hopefully that continues.
JOSH ADAMS: Like they both said the team grinds, and they get after it out there. We definitely didn't feel comfortable out there today. They are a great team. They play hard day in, day out. And it's been fun playing against them.
ALEX PANTELIODIS: Like they all said, they're a very competitive team. They come out there to swing the bat. And just glad we came out on top today.
CODY DENT: They pretty much said it all. For them, it was win or go home. So they battled. They're going to do whatever they can to force a game tomorrow. We were just fortunate to come out on top.
Q. Alex, can you talk about giving up the bomb to Westlake in the first inning and then settled down. It seemed like the pick off play kind of changed the momentum of your pitching outing?
ALEX PANTELIODIS: I missed my spot and he definitely got a hold of it. But after that, I got in the groove, settled down, started executing pitches, putting the ball in play and using my defense. And on that pick off, it was just, I guess well, it came from Coach Sullivan and I executed it and we got the out. And after that, just another ground ball or something in the infield and got out of the inning.