Talking Baseball

The 2012 season ended a month ago. Ole Miss head coach Mike Bianco and his coaching staff now have their focus on 2012-13. Here's some of what Bianco has had to say the past few weeks after the Rebels played in the NCAA Regional finals against TCU.

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On June meeting with AD Ross Bjork:

"It's something I've done for 12 years with all the other athletic directors. I thought it was a positive meeting. We talked about this past season, things we did well, things we need to improve on. Specifically we talked about more dominant pitching. We were short maybe a guy, and I think that was the catch phrase, one more guy. Obviously more consistency (was needed). The three guys that (started) at the end were really good. It would have been nice to have a little more depth in the sense of another count-on guy. We talked about the hitting where we were much improved from the year before but we were very poor with runners in scoring position. Actually our batting average went down with runners in scoring position. So why is that? Why did that happen? Without getting super specific and certainly some of it is just opinionated, it has to do with toughness, confidence, and that will come with time and another year under Coach (Cliff) Godwin. The good news is we're better offensively than we were a year ago. There are teams that struggle to score runs, like us. And we're not the only ones. That's college baseball now. It's hard to score. We certainly need to score more than we did. We talked about (hitting better) with runners in scoring position. We talked about the future. We talked about the expectations of the program. I thought Ross was really prepared and very knowledgeable. It was a discussion; it wasn't just me telling him. It was him giving me his opinion. I thought he understands the expectations of the program. And I think it's good. He understands how important baseball is to Ole Miss."

On what those expectations are for the program:

"The expectations are what they are every year, and that's to get to Omaha. Every year that I've been here we've set that as the ultimate goal. The goal is to get to Omaha. We understand the expectations are very high here to win championships and to put a team on the field the fans are very proud of. Ultimately the goal is to get to Omaha."

On this year's team that won 37 games and played for a NCAA Regional title on the road:

"This year's team really didn't have an identity. It started off as a team that looked like it would focus on offense. Instead of being a great offense we were a good offense that had some flaws. The huge question marks were on the mound. We became a good pitching staff that had some flaws. So at the end we really had no identity. I think that's part of our inconsistency where we were good but had some flaws in our game. So there were games we played well and games the flaws showed up. It was hard for us to go on that run to win six in a row or eight in a row or 10 out of 12. It was hard. We had some issues. With next year's team it will be different because of a different identity. We will pitch. There's no question about that. (Bobby) Wahl and (Mike) Mayers return. All those freshmen have experience, and of course there are the recruits. So (in 2012) you get to postseason and play in a Regional final but you don't win it because of some of those flaws."

On the recent upward trend for the program, from not making the NCAA Tournament in 2011 to playing in a Regional final in 2012:

Mike Mayers
Bruce Newman

"This year we were a much better club than last year in just about every phase. There were a few statistics we weren't better in. One was runs per game. Home runs we hit fewer. We stole a few less (bases) but it was so minimal it didn't matter. We stole a few more last year and had a few more attempts. This year's team was a much better team. This year's team played in a Regional championship game. Last year's team didn't get to the SEC Tournament. You go back to the conference record. It was 14-16 and not very good, in my opinion, but we also finished in a Regional final. My optimism comes from this year's team playing so much better than last year's team and having a feeling that next year's team will be even better. The three teams from the SEC that got to Omaha, Arkansas, South Carolina, and Florida, they are three of the top four pitching teams in the Southeastern Conference. They defend and don't give up runs. Offensively they do it different ways. Florida is more physical, more powerful. The other two offensively aren't what people would feel are offensive juggernauts. South Carolina we didn't play, but they bunted a lot more than in the past. They hit more home runs in the second half of the season than they did early, but they didn't hit a ton. Arkansas struggled to score all year. With the new bats, you've got to not let the other team score. The teams that have the most success are the teams that really pitch and defend. When you look at our team next year, we're going to have one of the best pitching staffs, if not the best pitching staffs, we've ever had here, comparable to maybe that '05 team. A lot of it has to do with the young guys and how much they're ready to pitch. The ‘05 team going in, they were all juniors, so it was a little easier to predict they were going to pitch well. But with Bobby and Mike and a healthy (Brett) Huber, along with all those (2012) freshmen, not to mention the recruits, I think the identity of next year's team is we're going to pitch. You would think that we're going to be really good again defensively. That's where my optimism comes from."

On continuing to see low-scoring games in college baseball in this era:

"The game certainly has changed. There's no doubt about it. The perception is there was always a lot of 11-9 games. But that's not true. There were a lot more 11-9 games than there are now, because there are none now. The game has changed and it's so hard to score. I think it's going to continue to be hard to score. I think what people are going to do is really pump up pitching staffs, really recruit guys that can defend, and hope to score. What they did, in my opinion, and I don't think I'm the only one, is they really drastically changed the game. There's so many of those 1-0, 2-1, 3-2 games, and those are great to watch, but when you watch those day in and day out for 56 games, it's much more difficult. For the game in general, it has nothing to do with Ole Miss or the Southeastern Conference, but for the game in general, I don't know if it's such a great thing."

On Ole Miss' approach given the lack of runs being scored in college baseball in this era:

"We're constantly trying to evolve that with the bats and how to become a really good baseball team these days. It's always been about pitching and defense. But now more than ever it's about pitching and defense. We made some big improvements this past year. Our ERA went down almost a run from the year before. Our fielding percentage went up almost 10 points. We fielded .976, which I think is the highest we've ever fielded here. We had two errors from a third baseman, two errors from a second baseman, and one error from a first baseman. So between three infielders they only had five errors combined. We were really able to catch the ball and to pitch this year, and we have to. As we move forward recruiting in years to come, we're going to try to recruit guys that can really defend, guys that are more athletic, guys that can steal and play the short game. And certainly you've got to have enough pitchers on the mound."

On what's been going on since the season ended last month:

Andrew Mistone
Bruce Newman

"Summers are busy, especially for the assistant coaches. For myself, for Fuller Smith, our operations guy, for (assistant coach) Kirk McConnell, we're here running camps. Cliff Godwin and Carl Lafferty are on the road recruiting. They're in and out for the camps. It's summer baseball season, and this is where you see all the recruits. Once the season ends, you're trying to close shop (from that season), and you're trying to get the kids out of here to summer ball or summer school or to professional baseball. We're excited (about the future). We're programmed as coaches to turn the page and get ready for next year."

On an early preview of next year's team in relation to this year's finish:

"This team in 2012 played in a Regional final (for the first time since 2009). Certainly that's something to build on. For a guy like Bobby Wahl, something to build on. The year before, we didn't make a Regional. Guys like him and Mike Mayers and Will Allen and the Overbeys, guys that have been in the program, not to mention the new guys (something to build on). Like Auston Bousfield and Andrew Mistone. Guys that have been here only one year. All they know is a Regional final and one game from a Super Regional and if you get there, one weekend from Omaha. I think that makes a difference when you talk about experience and how close you were, how good you can be. I think that's going to mean a lot to next year's team. This year's team really struggled with an identity. So when you look back at what made them go, we were good at times and not so good at times. I think that's one of the reasons we had such an up and down year where we had some really good weekends, beat Arkansas, beat Florida, but maybe some weekends and games we'd like to have back that we lost that were close. Next year's team, I think the identity from the beginning will be the pitching staff. Bobby Wahl and Mike Mayers returning will give us about as good a one-two punch as anybody, not only in our conference but also in the country. And we return all those freshmen that gained so much valuable experience, 20 or 30 innings on the mound. I really look for the pitching staff to be the thing that makes us go next year."

On losing a lot of offense with Matt Snyder, Alex Yarbrough, and Zach Kirksey:

"There are guys who were the cornerstone of our offense (that are gone). But that's why you recruit. That's why you have kids get older. We return Tanner Mathis who was the second-leading hitter on our team and a guy that really makes us go offensively. I think sometimes we undervalue those guys with the high batting averages, guys who can run and can bunt. Those guys are just as valuable as the guy that hits eight home runs. They're going to produce runs and do things to help you score runs. Auston Bousfield is in that mold. He's not only a good hitter and plays a lot like Alex Yarbrough offensively, but I think he's going to be able to run and do some things Alex didn't do in his career here. We think Mistone will have a really good senior year, like a lot of junior college kids seem to do in their senior year that didn't quite have the year they wanted as a junior. Certainly Will Allen returns and I think will be one of those power guys in the middle of the lineup. And not having to catch every inning behind the plate will help him mentally and physically become a better hitter. He hit .300 and his average went up 70 points and he caught almost every inning behind the plate. He won't do that next year. Physically and mentally that will make him a better hitter. (Junior College transfer) Stuart Turner will help him behind the plate, catching and throwing, another big left-handed bat. We return six of the starting nine. We have some recruits who will help us position player-wise. We've got Chase Nyman, the Mississippi (High School) Player of the Year coming into the program. Stuart Turner, a juco catcher who was the National Junior College Defensive Player of the Year."

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