CARY, N.C. -– The news conference was about to start, but Grand Valley State head coach Jamie Detillion hadn’t shown up yet.

Had he?

No, wait a second. As they were introduced, Detillion was right there in the press tent -- seated between outfielder Mike Nadratowski and pitcher Anthony Campanella. He wasn’t their teammate. He was their coach.

Believe it or not, Detillion is actually 34 years old and graduated from college a full 13 years ago. After pitching for three years in the Detroit Tigers and Cincinnati Reds organizations, he joined the Lakers’ coaching staff in 2003.

The guy has been around, but he sure doesn’t look it. However old he might appear, the fact is this: He’s a first-year head coach who has led the Lakers to the Division II baseball national tournament for the sixth time in school history.

“Hopefully, it’s a big stepping stone,” Detillion said. “Hopefully, we’re not done yet here. You never know if you’re going to get back. Hopefully, you’ll recruit the right players so that you can have the opportunity to get back here and enjoy it.”

The Lakers aren’t just here enjoying the experience, either. After losing a 2-0 opener to Minnesota State, Mankato on Saturday, Grand Valley State came roaring back with victories against Shippensburg on Monday and Franklin Pierce on Wednesday to stay alive in the tournament.

Next up for the Lakers on Thursday is Tampa, undefeated so far this week. To make it to the title game Saturday, Grand Valley State will have to bring the powerful Spartans down twice.

Tampa is ranked first in DII baseball, Grand Valley State 14th. In four previous meetings during the last five seasons, Tampa holds a 3-1 advantage. Forget about that, however. If it was a done deal, why bother to even play the game?

“We’ve got to cut down some of the mistakes,” Detillion admitted after Wednesday’s game against Franklin Pierce. “We’ve been able to get away with a few things. We made some defensive blunders. We made a couple of mistakes on the bases. They’re a pretty darn good team, so we’ve really got to bring our A game.

“Part of the whole deal is just staying loose, having fun and getting relaxed. I know a lot of people get to this point and they tighten up. It’s easy to lose focus and try to do too much, but this is a great group of guys. They’re hard working and they come in each and every day ready to get better.”

As tough as it might be to get past Tampa, Detillion’s first year as head coach of the Lakers has been a successful one. After establishing himself at the school over the course of a decade, he was named as the eighth head baseball coach on June 5, 2012.

“It’s been a lot of fun,” he said. “The whole experience is about the student-athletes. It’s just an enjoyable thing for me to be a part of and help give these guys a good experience while they’re in college.

“These are four of the most memorable years of their lives. To have the experience of coming down here and play in the NCAA championships, it’s just an exclamation point on their whole college experience.”

In many respects, though, this has been a learning year for Detillion. Although he pitched in the minor leagues, he served as Grand Valley State’s hitting instructor before taking over the top spot. That meant that he had to get up to speed on working with pitchers, and he had to do it quickly.

Asked what challenges he might have faced so early in his career as a head coach, Detillion couldn’t help but chuckle.

“I tip my head to anybody who’s ever been a collegiate head coach,” he said. “There’s a lot of headache that comes with the territory. One of the bigger things, and I guess it’s a challenge because I worked with the hitters for 10 years, is that this is the first year I’ve worked with pitchers.

“It was new to me. You perfect your practice… your job …your duties for 10 years and then you switch sides and go over to pitching. It’s been a little different, but I’ve really enjoyed it. It’s been fun. As a college player, I was a position player and a pitcher, so I’ve had experience with both.”

The inclination for some might be to entirely shoulder the responsibility, especially for someone new to a role. Do that, and it’s an almost sure recipe for disaster. So far, delegating some of his responsibilities evidently hasn’t been a problem.

“It’s great to have good assistants,” Detillion concluded. “That’s part of the deal, too, As a head coach, you’ve got to delegate more because you’ve got to bounce around from pitching to hitting to defense and oversee a little bit of everything. That’s been one of the bigger differences for me, but it’s to be expected.”