Proud UC-Santa Barbara alum Jim Rome welcomed Gauchos head baseball coach Andrew Checketts on his radio show a day after freshman Sam Cohen crushed a walk-off grand slam to defeat #2 ranked Louisville Cardinals to advance to the school’s first ever College World Series. No more than 24 hours after their dramatic 4-3 victory, Checketts was still on cloud nine.
“I don’t think anybody’s feet have really hit the ground yet. We’re still trying to process it a little bit,” Checketts said. “But pretty exciting day for our kids, our alumni, and our donors and we’re excited to get out to Omaha.”
Trailing 3-0 in the bottom of the ninth with the bases loaded, Checketts explained his thought process for pinch-hitting Cohen, a freshman with 26 career at-bats, against the first closer selected in last week’s MLB Draft, Zack Burdi.
“He’s got a pretty good stroke. He’s got [batting practice] power, and felt like he’s our best chance in that spot of what we had available on the bench or in the game to catch up to Burdi’s fast ball,” Checketts said. “And he was tardy. He was tardy on the first couple, and then Burdi threw him an actual 1-2 changeup.
“He left it up a little bit and left it on the inside half and kind of in Sammy’s wheel house.”
Even after Cohen was a little late on a couple of Burdi’s fastballs earlier in the at-bat, Checketts wasn’t too concerned.
“He’s really handled fastballs for us all year. He’s been able to catch up to velocity, he’s been able to adjust. So when he was a little tardy, I wasn’t too worried about it at that point,” Cohen said. “I was worried because he was so geared up trying to hit a fastball, I was worried about changeup in the dirt in that count. So I think throwing a changeup in that situation was the right pitch, it just didn’t get executed very well.”
Checketts said once Cohen made contact on the pitch, you could tell by his reaction it might have a chance to leave the ballpark.
“It had trajectory, and he hit it good enough, and he wasn’t running very hard, so I figured he hit it far enough. I just wasn’t sure whether it was going to stay fair,” Checketts said. “We had kind of had a strange angle in the dugout. After it went out, speechless. I think everybody had erupted, and I think I had a bit of a mini-heart attack there. So when I woke this morning, I felt like somebody had punched me in the throat, and I think I had strained a muscle.”
Checketts now says that even though Cohen is a freshman, he may want to think about calling it a career, because it’s not going to get any better than what he experienced yesterday.
“I think Sam should quit,” Checketts laughed. “I think that should be the last thing on a baseball field. It’s going downhill from there.”
As for the team’s celebration back home in Isla Vista, Checketts said that will have to wait. The team plans to travel straight to Omaha, Nebraska from Louisville, instead of flying home and then turning around and flying right back. “It might be actually a little bit safer for our guys to do it that way, than to send them back to IV with a few days off,” Checketts said.
The 2016 College World Series gets under way this Saturday, June 18th.