Prior to the Houn' Dawgs' departure for O'Fallon on Thursday, we asked Coach James Hoffman about how it feels to get back to the Final Four, how his team deals with tight games, what they've learned in the past two trips to the big stage and much more:

Aurora Advertiser: First, the obvious question -- how does it feel to be going back to the Final Four for the third year in a row?

James Hoffman: Feels kinda surreal. With going the previous two years, we know it takes a lot of things to happen other than having good players. There are a lot of things that have to go your way throughout the year and especially in the post season. We have been very fortunate that things have happened the way they have.

AA: How is this year's team different from last year? From the year before?

JH: The biggest change for us has been the number of kids that are playing different positions than they did last year. We’ve got new corner outfielders, new catcher, new second baseman and a new third baseman when Wyatt is on the mound. Matthew Miller has made the full time switch to 1B.

AA: What's your favorite thing about the group you have this season?

JH: Favorite thing has to be that they show up every day to get better than they were the day before. For the most part they have done this all year long. They don’t get to high or too low. They just show up and get after it.

AA: Your boys have gotten through some pretty nerve-wracking games to get this far; what's the key to winning those close games?

JH: I think the biggest factor is that they know that we play an entire game. They don’t panic. A lot of teams when they get down really feel the pressure. Our kids really excel in those situations. It’s not just one or two guys that can get it done. We have several.

AA: What do you say to the guys in those tight situations?

JH: Nothing that we don’t say to them on a consistent basis. If we start talking about different things and that we have to do this or that. It will put unnecessary pressure on them. We look for one pitch to hit with intent to do damage every single time. Some times they need reminded, that’s it.

AA: If you had to sum up your coaching philosophy in one sentence, what would it be?

JH: Be a great teammate.

AA: What have you as a coach learned from the last three trips to O'Fallon? What do you think the team as a whole has learned?

JH: That it doesn’t matter what your talent level is, you have to execute and out-compete your opponent.

For the team, they I think that they have have learned finishing their season the last weekend in May/first weekend in June is much more enjoyable than being done in the middle of May.

As a whole we have learned and been grateful for the amount of support from our community. It has blown us away the amount of people that have followed us throughout.

AA: Aside from bringing home the big trophy last year, what has been your favorite part of the last three seasons (so far)?

JH: Has to be the relationships that we get to see these kids build with each other and with the coaching staff.

AA: Looking ahead to Boonville, what will be the keys to winning and getting back to the championship game?

JH: We’ve got to [look for] our pitch, out-execute and out-compete them.

AA: Finally, is there anything that you'd like Aurora baseball fans to know before this next trip to the Final Four?

JH: That we appreciate the heck out of them.

Catch Coach Hoffman's team in action at Car Shield Field in O'Fallon at 6:30 p.m. on Friday and either 1:30 p.m. (championship) or 11 a.m. (third place game) on Saturday.