Olemaha

OMAHA, Neb. – The College World Series isn't unfamiliar territory for Ole Miss head coach Mike Bianco.


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Bianco was an assistant under legendary LSU coach Skip Bertman from 1993-97. In those five seasons, the Tigers advanced to the College World Series four times and claimed three national championships. Bianco was named the head coach at McNeese State after the Tigers' CWS run in 1997.

But 17 years have passed since his last appearance at "the Pearly Gates" of college baseball, as TCU head coach Jim Schlossnagle put it Friday afternoon. So it stands to reason Bianco would reach out to Schlossnagle, as well as former Ole Miss assistant Dan McDonnell, now the head coach at Louisville, for some tips on what to expect over the next week(s).

"My only advice to anybody is I feel like it's so very hard to get here, I think people try to make the guys completely lock in on baseball," Schlossnagle said. "That's why we're here. But it's foolish to think they're not going to want to enjoy the other days. I encourage my guys to be split personalities. (Bianco) has been here way more times than I have, so he probably knows better than I do."

"You have to find that mix," Bianco, his Rebels 46-19 on the year following a super regional win over Louisiana-Lafayette, said. "You want them to enjoy it, to be loose, but you want them to lock in. It's the team that plays the best, and can you do that here? It's different than any baseball tournament. There's a lot of free time. It's a challenge to keep them locked in at certain points, but I think that's the challenge for everyone."

"It's the team that plays the best, and can you do that here?"

Not since 1972 has Ole Miss played in the College World Series. The Rebels suffered super regional heartbreak in 2005, 2006, 2007 and most recently in 2009 against Virginia, who they'll face Sunday night.

But the Rebels punched their ticket in impressive fashion last weekend, defeating the Ragin' Cajuns in consecutive days – a first for UL-L this season – to backdoor a competitive series. And now they'll be afforded the opportunity to exorcise some demons against a Cavaliers team that celebrated a CWS berth in Oxford five years ago.

"I personally don't think it plays into anything," Virginia head coach Brian O'Connor said of the history between the teams. "Those were different teams, different players. Nothing we've done in the past as it relates to Ole Miss factors in at all Sunday night. We know what kind of team Ole Miss has and what kind of talent they have."

The 2009 series was especially frustrating for Ole Miss. After taking game one, 4-3, the Rebels were five outs away from a series-clinching win a day later, only to collapse and have Virginia roar back to win.

"Long time ago, but they were terrific," Bianco said. "Virginia came in and played great. We won the first game in extra innings, but the next two games were very close. They played very well and deserved to win. They were kind of like us. – trying to break through to Omaha. Unfortunately for us, it was them. They were terrific, and they've been terrific since then.

"For the fans and even for the coaches and players, you look back to that series. Not that it's significant now."

The Cavaliers will send first team All-American Nathan Kirby to the mound opposite Ole Miss' Chris Ellis. Kirby pitched to a 1.73 ERA this season in 104 innings pitched. He struck out 104 to only 25 walks with one complete game to his credit.

"Coming into the season, there was certainly some uncertainty about our staff," O'Connor said. "I felt we had a lot of talent, but there wasn't a lot of experience. It took shape really, really quickly. Nathan Kirby has been our No. 1 all year long. Brandon Waddell has done a nice job, too. I think our pitching staff is talented, the depth is really good and I think we're pretty good at the end of the game. It's been very, very consistent for us from start to finish."

Bianco was undecided midweek about who would start Sunday. However, he's decided to go with Ellis over Christian Trent, despite a rough outing for the junior right-hander in a 9-5 loss to UL-L where he only lasted 2 1/3 innings and surrendered five total runs.

Trent, meanwhile, threw a career-high 107 pitchers over seven innings in his super regional start, giving up four hits and two walks while striking out seven batters. It was his longest outing since April 18 against LSU, and he tied a career-high for strikeouts. Trent is also left-handed, and the Cavaliers boast five lefties in a lineup that batted .281 as a team and scored 352 runs.

"At the end of the day, he's been our ace," Bianco said of Ellis. "I thought it didn't make sense to rearrange the rotation. The other thing, Chris warmed up on Monday. I wanted to make sure he was OK. He had a short outing on Saturday. I wanted to make sure he was OK."


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