COLUMBIA — Missouri catcher Trevor Coleman is calm. Standing outside his team’s dugout after practice, he speaks slowly, as if carefully considering each word. The level of his voice is almost a whisper, and all inflection is absent.
And though he speaks of confidence, there is a remarkable lack of arrogance from the All-Big 12 performer as he tries to explain the root of his team’s relentless optimism.
“Confidence is a choice. You get to choose if you’re confident or not. You can’t influence my confidence, and I can’t influence your confidence. I can’t give you confidence,” Coleman says.
It is that simple. Nothing, not the No. 1 seed in the entire NCAA tournament, not a top-100 pitching prospect at his peak and certainly not anything that has happened during the season up to this point is going to change the choice he makes.
“When I step into the box, I get to be confident,” Coleman says. “When we step onto the field as a team, we choose to be confident, because we know we belong here, and we’re going to do our best. With our teammates, we’re confident, because I wouldn’t want to be on the field with any other guys than the guys we have in our dugout.”
He means it, and so do his teammates and coaches who echo the same idea over and over again as they prepare to begin NCAA regional play Friday in Coral Gabels, Fla. against Ole Miss. It is an attitude undoubtedly based on the camaraderie and loyalty essential to success in a team sport, but it is also based on the recognition of the Tigers’ own talent and the responsibility they feel to squeeze all the success they can out of this season.
“We’ve got to treat every game now like it’s the last game of the season or we’re going to get complacent and not play our best,” pitcher Kyle Gibson says. “We’ve always thought of ourselves as a team that plays harder than everybody else, and that’s what we’re going to have to do.
“We’re going to have to go down and outplay and outhustle and outcompete the Rebels of Ole Miss, and we’re going to have to do the same thing to the winner of the first game. So I mean it sounds really easy, but it’s really hard to keep that focus.”
If Gibson sees action against the Rebels, it will be in relief of Missouri ace Aaron Crow, who will face Lance Lynn at 11 a.m. in Friday's opening game at Mark Light Field, the home of the Miami Hurricanes.
Lynn, who is 7-3 with a 4.21 ERA, last pitched against No. 8 national seed Georgia in the SEC tournament. The 6-foot-5, 260-pound junior earned the victory in that game and, like Crow, is expected to be drafted early in the upcoming MLB draft.
Crow last pitched Friday against Oklahoma in the Big 12 tournament. It was Gibson who was tabbed to protect Missouri’s one-run lead in the final inning only to see the Sooners score two runs.
“I really wanted to throw on Saturday to kind of get that taste out of my mouth, it just didn’t work that way. That happened to me last year a couple of times, and it’s never a good feeling. I hate to do it to a guy like Aaron who threw so good against Oklahoma and deserved to win,” Gibson says. “It just didn’t work out in my favor, and that’s how baseball works. You’re not going to win every time, and you’re not going to get the hitter out every time. That’s just how it goes.”
Gibson has followed Crow in the Tiger’s rotation most of the season, compiling an 8-1 record in 12 starts. However, he was moved back to the closer role he filled last year as a freshman to stabilize the team’s inconsistent bullpen.
“Doing that last year really gave me a lot of good experience pitching-wise. I like it, it’s fun to know when you’re coming in it’s probably going to be a high-pressure situation,” he says. “It’s not that I like having everybody on my shoulders, but I mean it’s fun to have the game riding on each pitch that you throw. It adds a little bit of importance on what you need to do. ... I just like being able to be the guy that they’re going to give the ball to trust that ninth inning with.”
Gibson’s blown save against Oklahoma was just his fourth relief appearance this season and the first time he had pitched back-to-back days. While it was a disappointing loss, Gibson says he has no lingering doubts.
“We’re going to go into the regional with all the confidence in the world,” he says. “Hopefully the coaches and my teammates still have confidence in me, and we all know we have confidence in Aaron and everybody else. So we’re going to go in there riding high and with all the confidence in the world.”
As one would expect, Colemen still has confidence in his pitcher.
“Kyle’s come in and he’s done a great job. He’s adjusted to that situation very well, and it just speaks to the character he has (and) what kind of competitor he is, because it doesn’t matter the situation, whether you put him out there to start a game 0-0 or to close a game when it’s 10-9 and the game’s on the line, he’s got the same fire and the same intensity, so hats off to him to what kind of success he’s had,” Coleman says.
Gibson has been warned by coaches to be ready to pitch every day this weekend, a task he says he thinks he is up to.
“Each game is as important as the previous one is as important as the next one coming up, so we’re looking at Friday and what coach says is we’re going to do anything possible to win, and if that means I have to throw two innings, if that means I have to throw one inning or no innings, that’s what we’re going to do,” Gibson says.
Coaches and players have admitted that falling into the loser’s bracket of a regional as stacked with quality pitching as this weekend’s would be devastating to their chances of advancing. Just because the double-elimination format won’t force today’s loser to go home doesn’t mean it can’t feel like that.
“If you let your confidence ride on one pitch or one at-bat, you’re going to get let down. If you put that much pressure on yourself that’s when your confidence can go down,” Gibson says. “It’s not that we have to go out and play better; we just have play our best. We’ve got to go out there with the mind-set that we can beat these guys because if we go out there thinking, ‘They’re the No. 1 team, oh my gosh, oh my gosh,’ they’ve already got a leg up on us. So we’ve got to go down there knowing that we’re going to win, knowing that going into every game we’re going to be competitive, and go out there and just compete our hearts out.”