Off The Wall With UC Irvine's Christian Koss
UC Irvine has made the start to coach Mike Gillespie’s final season a strong one. Gillespie announced on the eve of Opening Day that he would retire following the season after 10 years at Irvine and 30 years as a head coach. The Anteaters have responded by starting the season 6-2 with series wins against Nevada and Gonzaga.
Irvine will this weekend take its hot start on the road when it travels to No. 7 Texas Christian (5-2) for its biggest test yet. The Anteaters last season upset TCU, which was ranked No. 1 at the time, at home and will be eager to surprise the Horned Frogs again.
Irvine has a strong core of young players, including sophomore shortstop Christian Koss (.250/.314/.281) and sophomore righthander Andre Pallante (2-0, 0.00) and a solid 2017 recruiting class that is quickly making an impact. Irvine is relying on that youth movement this season as it tries to return to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since advancing to the College World Series in 2014 and send Gillespie off on a high note.
Baseball America caught up with Koss to talk about the Anteaters’ impressive start to the season and their series at TCU.
You guys are off to a strong start this season. What’s been the key for you so far?
“We have a lot more depth on the pitching side this year. A lot of guys have stepped up and we’ve got some new incomers who have played a bigger role. We’ve gelled more on the offensive side as well. The young guys have stepped up and are hitting and the older guys are taking on more leadership roles.”
Can you take anything from upsetting TCU last year and apply it to this weekend?
“TCU has always been a great program. It’s just us knowing we can compete with anyone in the country. That was the mindset going into it last year.”
Coach Gillespie has had an exceptional career – he’s won a national championship and more than 1,100 games. What’s it been like to play for him?
“A guy like that has been around so long and seen so much baseball that you just pick his brain whenever you can. He gives a lot of good feedback. When he tells you something and gives advice, you take to heart.”
Who is the best pitcher you’ve ever faced?
“It would have to be my sophomore year of high school when I faced Jack Flaherty, who went in the first round that year. That was a young Christian facing a very well-developed Jack Flaherty and he kind of got the best of me.”
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What’s your walkup music and why did you pick it?
“’Moneymaker’” by Ludacris. I usually do ‘Ice Ice Baby’ but I decided to switch it up this year. It’s got a good beat and it’s a classic R&B song.”
What’s your go-to order at Chipotle?
“A burrito. Double steak with cheese lettuce, rice and beans. And if I have a little money in the account, I get the guac.”
What are your goals for this season?
“The goal is always to make the playoffs. In a conference with no tournament, you’ve got to win the conference. These (nonconference) games are more about trying to figure out ourselves and get wins to help our RPI. Ever team hopes for Omaha and we talk about it all the time, but it starts by making a regional first. We’re looking forward to conference play.”
What are you working on this spring?
“The hitting side is a big part. I’m trying to stay as consistent as possible. More to do whatever I can do to help the team and just being more efficient for the team, getting bunts down, moving the runner, whatever. On the fielding side, I want to try to minimize errors. I didn’t have too many last year, but less is better. I’ve worked a lot on range and throwing accuracy.”