For Every Rebel

Ole Miss Coach Mike Bianco finally saw one of his teams close the deal on getting to Omaha, and while he is elated for the current Rebels, he's just as happy for all the past players and fans who helped make this dream a reality.

"All the texts and calls I've gotten from former players and assistant coaches mean as much to me as seeing these current kids and coaches make this trip to Omaha happen," said Bianco, in measured words and humbly.

Despite popular belief, Bianco denied having the proverbial 400-pound gorilla on his back.

"I just haven't looked at not making Omaha and the College World Series that way," he explained. "Our body of work in 14 years shows a lot of success. We've had several teams good enough to get to the College World Series, it just didn't happen for whatever reason.

"I understand how the media and fans would say that about the pressure to get there and all of that, but I just haven't felt that way. I understand that there is pressure in this job. I understand it's a performance profession, but the only regret I've had is for our former players who didn't get to experience Omaha, not for myself."

In the eyes of the fans, however, a big burden on Bianco has been lifted and even he admitted it took him longer to get there than he ever dreamed it would.

"I went several times as a player and assistant coach at LSU," he said. "I guess we took those trips for granted and felt it was easy. Trust me, it's not easy, and never has been.

"I appreciate going this time more than ever because I now truly know what it takes to get there."

The reality of the Rebs heading to Omaha has sunk in for Bianco.

"I think it hit me hard yesterday (Monday) when over 1,000 of our fans showed up at O-U Stadium to greet us back after the Super Regional," he said. "That was incredible, special. I wasn't surprised because we have the best fans in the country, but it was heartwarming. They helped us so much in attaining this goal.

"We're excited, but now we have to get back to work with a short turnaround."

What has allowed, in his mind, the Rebels to get over the elusive hump this time after so many close calls?

"I think it's a combination of a lot of things," he said. "We talk about toughness and chemistry, which we have, but this is a very talented team that had nine players drafted last week, the most in the nation. We can't discount the talent we have.

"Also, they never got really high or really low. They took care of business every day, win or lose. They dealt with everything this quirky game dealt them."

Can the Rebels maintain that even keel under the biggest spotlight known to college baseball? Bianco will school his team on handling it.

"We're going to talk a lot about the atmosphere there. We'll stick to the course we've been on all year," he noted. "We have structure and a routine and we'll stick with that.

"We'll have time to lock in and times to escape with their families or whatever. Our system plays well in the World Series, it's proven from the times I've been there."

Bianco said the CWS "blueprint" has changed since he last went as an assistant at LSU, but the basics are the same.

"It's not even the same stadium," he said. "I stayed in the exact same room for four years. Things have changed, but I've talked to some coaches who have been recently and updated the blueprint of how to handle things.

"I'm confident our plan is a good one and will give our kids every opportunity to perform at the highest level they are capable of. We'll flood them with as much correct information as possible. They'll know what to expect. We'll stick with a routine and structure. Our administration and ops guys have also been terrific in getting everyone's plans taken care of, from our players to their families and so on."

Bianco said he didn't have a specific moment this season when he felt this was the year to go to the big show, but he knew in the back of his mind they had a chance.

"We lost two close games to LSU here but then went on the road and swept a really good Kentucky team. That's when I felt we could be special because we stayed consistent and stayed relatively healthy," he assessed. "We needed to make a decision if we were in or out when we were headed to Lexington and we chose to be in."

The Rebels go to Omaha with one of the top offenses in the country and a deep pitching staff that can get you with power or finesse.

"We've had more power pitchers in the past with more velocity, but this staff can get you with more than one pitch, which makes them very effective," Bianco stated. "These guys have more than a big fastball. They have done it with command and knowing how to pitch.

"Our offense has been effective as well throughout the year. Every once in a while we'd face a great pitcher we could not get to, but we stayed aggressive and got the job done more than we did not."

What do the Rebels have to do in Omaha? No secret there. . .

"You have to play well, period," he noted. "That's what it all boils down to. There's no magic wand or any secret formula. The team that wins it all will play the best, it goes without saying."

Bianco has had a lot of support from the "other" coaches on campus.

"We're all in the coaching fraternity and know how tough it can be. When one of us has success, we all have success and all benefit," he noted."

Bianco didn't name a starter for the game against Virginia Sunday night because he wanted a more thorough scouting report on the opponent before deciding.

"It's safe to say it will be Ellis or Trent but we'll have to see more of the scouting report before we decide for sure," he stated.


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