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Off the Wall With VCU's Connor Gillispie

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VCU righthander Connor Gillispie

The two hottest teams in the country will meet this weekend for a critical Atlantic-10 Conference series when Saint Louis hosts Virginia Commonwealth.

SLU (16-7) has won 15 straight games—a program record and the nation’s longest active winning streak. VCU (17-8) has won 13 straight games—the nation’s second-longest active winning streak. The two teams were picked to finish first and second in the league in the preseason A-10 coaches’ poll.

Sophomore righthander Connor Gillispie has been key this season to the Rams’ success. He is 4-1, 1.50 and has 45 strikeouts and six walks in 30 innings. He carries a streak of his own into this weekend’s series, as he has thrown 19 straight scoreless innings dating back to a March 2 start against Manhattan.

Before the big showdown, Baseball America caught up with Gillispie to talk about the streak, his start to the season and his walkup music.

What’s it been like being a part of this winning streak?

“We don’t even think about it at all. We just try to show up to the field every day working, work as hard as we can. We want to show up to the field and win. We happen to keep winning.”

You’re having a really good year so far. What’s been the key to you on the mound?

“I’ve been throwing great, I just pray that I stay healthy. For me it’s really about locking in and focusing on every single pitch I make. I don’t really focus too much on the batter or anything. I just try and execute every pitch I can to the best of my ability and listen to everything the coaches say. Work it in and out of the plate with my fastball and offspeed. So far, it’s been working pretty well for me, so I’m just trying to keep that up.”

The A-10 has had some postseason success in recent years, with both VCU and Davidson reaching super regionals in two of the last three years. What does that say about the league?

“I think its deeper than people think. Usually, whoever wins the Atlatnic-10, that team is going to be good. It’s not going to be an easy win. Whoever goes from our conference to a regional, it’s usually a pretty big dogfight. I think that shows a lot about our conference. We play hard. We can go deep into the tournament.”

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What’s your favorite part of playing at VCU?

“The Diamond, I’d say, especially as a pitcher. It’s a big pitchers’ park. Hitters hate it, but for me I love it. Whenever it’s 2-1 or something and I’m down in the count, I’m able to make a pitch that’s hittable. You’ve really got to get ahold of something to get it out of there.”

What is your walkup song and how did you pick it?

“’Free Bird’ by Lynyrd Skynyrd. My dad’s always wanted me to do it, that’s probably the main reason I did it. It’s got a great guitar solo that gets everybody pumped up, so that’s kind of the reason I did it. Whenever I’m coming in, everyone’s all jacked up so it’s pretty awesome that I can get everyone’s juices flowing a little bit. I take some time coming out there, so I can get that guitar solo in.”

Who is the toughest hitter you’ve faced in your career?

“In high school I played Josh Lowe. He was a tough out. (VCU shortstop) Paul Witt, I face him all the time in the fall and he’s a real tough out. He just sees breaking ball real well so it’s hard to get him out on any offspeed. You’ve almost got to sneak a fastball by him.”

What are your goals the rest of the season?

“We want to finish first in the Atlantic-10, win the regular season, win the A-10 Tournament and then go to a regional and keep playing through that. Hopefully go to a super regional. Just keep winning, really. I feel like that’s everyone’s goal. That would be awesome. Just keep on rolling.”

What are you working on this spring?

“During the season it’s hard to change anything or improve on any pitches. For me, I’m just trying to work ahead, just get batters out. I try to limit my walks. Really just working ahead of batters and getting leadoff outs—that’s my two big ones.”

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