College World Series: Lexington Regional

Friday, May 31, 2024

Lexington, Kentucky, USA

Illinois Fighting Illini

Coach Dan Hartleb

Drake Westcott

Jack Crowder

Postgame Press Conference


Illinois – 4, Indiana State – 1

DAN HARTLEB: Obviously fun game when you win, but we just beat a really good Indiana State team. We have great respect for them. Mitch and I are really close friends and talk about games and teams and just life all the time.

So it’s tough coming in and beating one of your friends, but we’re not going to back down from that.

Our guys did an unbelievable job, starting with Jack Crowder. Going out from the start, he was in command. It was one of those situations didn’t have to make any bullpen decisions today, and that’s pretty special.

Drake came up with some big hits. You just look all the way around — we pitched it, we played very, very well defensively, came up with key and clutch hits. Just well-played game.

The other thing I want to point out is the play that Cal Hejza makes diving in the 5 hole and throwing the guy out at first base, which could bring a little bit of momentum. But he made an unbelievable play. And Drake did a good job at first base falling over and catching it.

Q. Jack, at what point in this game or maybe it was in the bullpen warming up did you know you had your ace stuff tonight?

JACK CROWDER: I think first inning. The bullpen felt normal. Went out for the first inning, had a feel for the slider, feel for the changeup. Fastball was moving in and out. Kind of felt from there I had control of all three pitches which is mostly a good sign for me.

Q. Have you had a more memorable start than this one?

JACK CROWDER: No, I think this one tops it. Haven’t pitched in the postseason here yet and had a pretty decent outing. So this one definitely tops it for sure.

Q. Jack, I think you got ahead of your first round through the first nine batters. Obviously that helps, but not only what sense do you get from it, but what sense do you feel from the batters that they’re struggling to get a read on what you’re pitching? What’s that feel like?

JACK CROWDER: The pitching staff, we always talk about first-pitch strikes, getting ahead in the counts, (indiscernible) establish that I’m going to be in the zone. It makes hitters think and know that I’m going to be in the zone, but I don’t really know what pitch is going to be in the zone. So getting ahead and getting 0-1 instead of 1-0 is a huge confidence booster for the team and myself as a pitcher.

Q. What were the rest of you looking at each other maybe between hits and when you go back to the dugout and (indiscernible) realize he’s on fire tonight?

DRAKE WESTCOTT: I’d say it was probably in the second. The Big Ticket had his best stuff today. We were talking about it before the game and he was locked in all day. And he came up when we needed him most. And everything he had, all his pitches were working, hitting his spots and just competed.

Q. Drake, seems like you were seeing the ball pretty well tonight. You had the RBI single in the third, I think. And then what really impressed me was staying in it against a pretty tough lefty and driving the double the other way in the eighth inning. Talk about what you were seeing out of the Indiana State pitchers, who for the most part pitched pretty well.

DRAKE WESTCOTT: They have a good staff. Those pitchers have good stuff. And it comes back to their approach of hitting and what we’ve done all year. When you’ve got a left-hander with high velo, crossfire, just keeping your front shoulder in and driving the ball backside, staying on pitches and we were able to stay on balls, everybody in the lineup.

Even guys who didn’t have a bunch of hits tonight, we were still hitting the ball hard all through the lineup. I think it’s important as an offense to just keep doing what we’re doing, just staying through baseballs. And when you stay with the ball, you track it deeper, see it deeper and use the whole field. That makes you more dangerous as a hitter.

Q. Drake, six out of the nine guys in the lineup drew walks, nine walks overall. Does that illustrate the patience that the whole team collectively showed that created opportunities to score?

DRAKE WESTCOTT: I think, that’s something we’ve been doing all year. And when we’re at our best at an offense it’s when we’re spitting out pitches out of the zone and hammering stuff in the zone. When we get walks and just pass the bat along, like Coach says all the time, pass it to the next guy, pass it to the next guy.

When you’re able to do that get some guys on base and someone comes up with a hit, that’s just huge for the offense.

Q. Jack, Indiana State talked about your composure on the mound. They have seen you an awful lot (indiscernible) first NCAA Regional going and (indiscernible)?

JACK CROWDER: Obviously played them for four years, we play them multiple times a year, so we’re pretty familiar with them. (Indiscernible) Just stying composed and just trusting my pitches, trust my defense, trust it like every start, throw strikes and make the defense work. It worked today.

Q. Specifically with your stuff, seemed like the cutter was really working for them, was that kind of the best you’ve seen on your cutter?

JACK CROWDER: Yeah, definitely from a strike percentage-wise, I’d get them in for strikes. Usually people spit off because they don’t think I’m going to land it and stuff, but today I was landing them, making them think that I can throw that first strike, throw it for a strike and landed some change-ups too, made them think that it was going to be in the zone.

Q. Not only are you all set to face the number two national seed, you’re set to face the number two national seed in their house. They’ve been drawing great crowds all year. You guys have played in big places, but how do you rank this one?

DRAKE WESTCOTT: What it comes down to is another baseball game. You’ve got to show up, do little things right because that’s what wins games. Go out, compete. Doesn’t matter where you play, show up and play our game.

Q. Drake, where you started your college baseball career, playing at Louisville, playing in Lexington winners’ bracket game, something you kind of (indiscernible) or was not make a big deal of that?

DRAKE WESTCOTT: I think it’s too big of a deal, personally.

DAN HARTLEB: To go back to your question, these guys are entertainers. College athletics, entertainers. Play in front of people and crowds and fans, and awesome atmosphere. You earn your way into these situations. To me this is fun. I know these guys will come out and respond well to it.

Q. Jack’s had a four-year career. Had to be one of the his better starts here. How did you see it coming together tonight?

DAN HARTLEB: It is his best start. He’s given us some key wins along the way. He’s gone out there every Friday night which is not easy to do. If you look at Jack’s career early on, and these are going to be all things he’s done — this is a compliment to him — his first couple of years didn’t get in very good shape. And he would break down during the year. And then he would lose his focus.

And last year, he would be in situations, he’d pitch two or three innings and all of a sudden blow up. It was a focus thing. 100 percent a focus.

Coach Hound (phonetic) has done an unbelievable job to help him mature. Jack has done a really good job getting in shape and making adjustments and maturing. It’s part of growing up, not only off the field but on the field, that maturity. I was proud of him where he’s gotten to and just the focus was there all night. I went up, gave him a hug after the eighth inning, he said, you’re not letting me go back out there, are you? I said no way. He was locked in. Unbelievably efficient performance.

Q. You just talked about Coach Allen and he’s battling cancer. Talk about kind of what that has meant to the team and the fight that you guys have had all season long.

DAN HARTLEB: It’s been a very difficult situation. Coach Allen came to me basically a week before the season or maybe a week and a half, told me he was having some issues. I wouldn’t let him go out of my office. Made some calls to our team physicians, got him for tests right away. This thing unfolded in a very short amount of time. He continued to get more and more uncomfortable.

And we got to a point where, while he traveled the first weekend, he was not going to travel the second weekend. We had to tell the team what was going on.

It was difficult. It was difficult for them. He’s built a great rapport with the pitching staff. I thought this was going to be by far and away the best pitching staff we had had since Mark’s been our pitching coach. It’s been incremental to try to get the right guys in, helping guys mature, working with them, and I was really excited about that.

And then just got hit square in the face. It was difficult for that group, and we scuffled a little early. The thing that helped us in this situation, I’ll get back to Mark, but the thing that’s helped us was Cameron Hill, the person who has come in to be our pitching coach, Mark has been his mentor for a number of years and he pitched in the Major Leagues. He’s still trying to play, wants to get back into baseball. He works out every day and throws, which is it’s nice because those guys are out there watching how it’s done.

And so it wasn’t seamless, but Cam has been around in the offseason when he’s trained with Coach Allen. And so there’s familiarity from a face standpoint and just he had been around. So it was a nice transition in a very, very difficult situation.

But Mark has done a really, really good job even though it’s really difficult for him, but he stayed in touch with the guys. I know a couple times he wasn’t pleased with some things that he saw and chewed them out. Probably took a little bit out on them. But he’s been involved in scouting reports. He watches every game. We get feedback on availability with guys.

So he’s still there helping even though he can’t be the coach. And that’s kept him going, which has been nice. It’s a break for him. He’s scuffling going through a lot. Got a lot ahead of him but the team has played for him. It was neat.

When we clinched things at Purdue, we brought a phone out into the huddle, called him, and the guys got to interact with him. It was a really special moment. Just they all know that this is a game and he’s fighting for life. So it’s been an inspiration.

Q. Jack was a highly recruited kid in high school, developmental program. What was it for you to watch someone, 22 years old, put it all together on a big stage like this?

DAN HARTLEB: It’s rewarding and it’s awesome. I mean, you can ask Jack and his parents, there was some serious head butting, and I don’t usually lose those situations, but we butted heads, and I didn’t give in in some areas. And as much as he probably didn’t like me at times, he’s responded.

To me, that’s why you’re in college athletics, is to watch guys grow up both on and off the field, help them mature and develop. It’s a shame when we lose someone in the transfer situation, but Jack’s just a true competitor that has really come into his own. So very rewarding to watch his progress and to go out tonight and give us that performance.

Q. I know it’s only four on the board tonight offensively but did you see things that you think could easily turn this around and — did you see potential for bigger things tonight the way you were hitting balls?

DAN HARTLEB: We hit some balls really hard. It’s baseball. I told guys, you get into championship play, don’t expect balls to be flying out of the yard like we did at certain times.

Hopefully we get that situation, we can drive a bunch out of the yard. But we faced really good pitching tonight. Didn’t have that opportunity. The ball wasn’t flying and you have to find ways to manufacture runs and win when you’re not hitting home runs, and our guys did a great job of that. Came up with some really key hits.

The thing, to me, if you look at the box scores, we had nine walks. And pitching-wise, we had zero. So there’s a difference. Our guys did not swing at bad pitches, and like Drake said, one of the things we tried to do is aggressive in the zone, spin on things out of the zone, pass it on to the next guy. Load the bases up enough, you’ll do some damage.

Q. You’ve already started Cooper on Saturday. Any reason you wouldn’t hand him the ball again tomorrow?

DAN HARTLEB: We’ll have to see. We’ll have to see. I’m not sure. We have to make that decision. We’ll make it on the bus or at the hotel.

Q. You touched on it, but with all the great things Jack did today, he saved your bullpen. What does that mean for you going into day two of this only using one inning?

DAN HARTLEB: It’s huge. You don’t know what’s going to happen with your starters. You just don’t know. Not to really have to use anybody, Joe Glassey, he bounces back. And so he’ll be fully available. We have a complete bullpen and you do whatever you can tomorrow and stay in the winners’ bracket.


FastScripts Transcript by ASAP Sports

Indiana State Sycamores

Coach Mitch Hannahs

Zach Davidson

Randal Diaz

Postgame Press Conference


Illinois – 4, Indiana State – 1

MITCH HANNAHS: Not a lot to say, really. I think Crowder would have beaten a lot of teams in the country tonight. I thought he was excellent. He threw two pitches where he wanted early. He added the change later. And was just on. He was in when he wanted to be and away when he wanted to be.

Nobody has really stuck it to our offense like that all year. I just thought it was the fact that he controlled the day. And that’s really all I have.

Q. Randal, from your perspective, Crowder, the home run off of him, what made him tough today?

RANDAL DIAZ: He was attacking the zone. He was spotting every pitch that he wanted to spot. And it was, like, we just gotta do a better job attacking the pitches. That’s why everything that he was doing was attacking the zone and get (indiscernible) early and get us out of balance.

Q. Randal, what was the mood in the dugout among the offensive players trying to get a rebound on Crowder? Was there any discussion in the dugout about anything that could be done to try to solve it?

RANDAL DIAZ: I think we need to do a better job to keep the energy in the dugout. It’s, like, I feel guys, including me, we weren’t dialing that up when they scored two runs. We need to do a better job (indiscernible), just bounce back more quicker, you know.

Q. Zach, you’re no stranger to throwing multiple innings out of the pen. This is your first start of the season. How did that change your preparation for this outing as opposed to coming out of the pen?

ZACH DAVIDSON: I didn’t really change much. I kind of did what I usually do. Short game of catch and be ready to go out there.

Q. What did you think was working today or were there any pitches that weren’t working for you today, and what worked better in (indiscernible)?

ZACH DAVIDSON: I think I was struggling a lot more with the fastball. Like, the third inning I was just starting to hit that curveball. I was able to be throw it for a strike, and that’s what helped me out to get to those last couple of innings.

Q. Randal, as a leader of the offense and leader of infield, the short turnaround tomorrow, what do you tell the team to get them ready for tomorrow?

RANDAL DIAZ: We need to come to the field like with all the energy that we need to be like since the beginning, since BP, since we got out of the bus. I’ll make sure we bounce back tomorrow.

Q. What was your sense of the dugout of batters trying to get a handle on Crowder?

MITCH HANNAHS: I think when a guy’s got some velocity and he’s landing and hitting spots, we talked about doing a better job of getting on top of the baseball. I think a lot of guys were getting beat — he did a good job mixing in, mixing in a breaking ball. And then he was cutting his fastball once in a while. I don’t know if it was by accident but I think it certainly helped him.

You look out there and it sure looked like it had some cut away and it was 92, I think. And then you’d see 94, 95 on the four-seamer. I think he did just a enough by cutting it — whether it was done on purpose or not — of really keeping us off balance.

I didn’t feel like he really came in a lot. And then her tried to come in on Diaz and he hit the home run. From that point he pretty much stayed away.

I think from my perspective it was trying to figure out how to handle the bullpen and not blow it all, not use it all when you’re not scoring runs, trying to figure out a way to stay in the game.

It’s a task when you walk nine people, but we were just trying to keep running some guys through there and recycle some guys through to try to keep it at least to one- or two-run game.

Q. Perhaps it’s academic, but Crowder early in the game got ahead in counts. I think he was ahead of the first of the eight or nine batters. How much do you think that helped his whole outing a little bit? He never really had to work too hard through those at-bats?

MITCH HANNAHS: I think the ability to ram pitches — I don’t know if you guys kept track. I was trying to, but I think it was — it might have been the sixth or seventh inning before he missed up. And when you see that, you know the guy’s on that day and he’s moving it in and out.

But he wasn’t missing a lot. When he missed, he was missing into the shadow zones or missing into good areas. He wasn’t missing back to our barrels. That’s what made him so effective.

When he missed, he missed away from barrels. And he just didn’t miss up until it was the sixth or seventh. I don’t Kido in that because he’s 5-6. But in terms of the guys I watched he didn’t miss up.

Q. Could you talk about the decision to go with Zach today and what played into that?

MITCH HANNAHS: Well, the last — if you followed us the last month, we’ve struggled to get the first four, five innings. So we just flipped it tonight. The thought was if we could get Zach for four or five and flipped him and Jared, it might be beneficial to us.

I really wanted to get a little more out of Pruitt but he was erratic. We were hoping to get two innings out of him. That caught us a little bit.

Q. Is Cutts the guy tomorrow?

MITCH HANNAHS: No, we’ll throw Hayden tomorrow.

Q. You guys have lost Friday games all season and bounced back. Staring down an 0-1 and (indiscernible) elimination tomorrow. How do you think this team will bounce back tomorrow?

MITCH HANNAHS: We’ll find out. Obviously we’ve just had some gaps offensively that the guys need to pick it up for us. It seems like we’ve had a few guys since the conference tournament started that just haven’t really been swinging it. It seems like that has cost us a little bit.

I just felt like those guys that haven’t been swinging it as well are in a hurry. They’re not taking pitches. They’re not seeing pitches. They’re up there trying to get the AB over with. And that really helped Crowder, too, because I think that section of guys, I thought there were two or three really quick innings.

Q. Crowder’s 32nd career start. (Indiscernible). Was it the cutter that just kind of surprised your guys more than anything? Or was there something specific he was doing that you didn’t have a book on?

MITCH HANNAHS: No, we faced him — he came in in relief last year in our place in about the seventh or eighth inning. And we ended up playing a 15-inning game. And Crowder pitched all of it. We were fortunate we hit a walk-off home run against him in the 15th.

So we’ve seen him before. We know what he’s capable of. I think you’d have to ask Dan in terms of his consistency over time. But I’ve seen him a few times really, really good like that.

We’re an hour apart and we see each other in the fall and the spring twice. We definitely knew what he was capable of and knew if we let him settle in tonight we would have our hands full.

I think the big thing for me. I know you guys probably saw it too, his composure on the mound was excellent tonight. You could just tell that he was ready to go, he was in the fight and we were going to get his best.


FastScripts Transcript by ASAP Sports

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