Season's Over

Vanderbilt finished sixth in the Southeastern Conference regular season and Wednesday night won the national championship.

And the winning hit was the Commodores' first home run since May 16, the last weekend of the regular season.

That's baseball.

Ole Miss didn't make it to the championship series. But the Rebels did finish tied with Texas for third place, both a part of the final four of college baseball in 2014.

Tim Corbin, Brian O'Connor, Augie Garrido, and Mike Bianco. The coaches in the Final Four.

Bianco is currently in the Midwest again, in Wichita tonight with Will Allen, a finalist for the Johnny Bench Award, presented to the nation's top catcher. Allen is one of three finalists for the award that was won by Ole Miss' Stuart Turner just last season.

Bianco, making his first trip to the College World Series since he was an assistant at LSU in 1997, said a sense of relief isn't the best way to assess his feelings on his team's run to the last four standing.

"I'm proud and happy for the staff and the players. I'm really happy for the administration and this university that made a commitment to hire me 14 years ago," he said. "I'm especially happy for the fans. On an off day in Omaha we go eat, and there are so many Ole Miss fans there. You could feel that support."

Bianco said everyone "deserved" to be a part of the College World Series.

"When I say we deserved to go, I don't just mean the coaches and the players," he said. "I certainly mean them. But this university, these fans, we deserve that trip. Just happy would be the best emotion I could use."

The program has been in the national spotlight before. But this was the biggest stage. How will it help, or will it?

"Nobody can really answer that," he said. "Certainly the visibility is tremendous for our baseball program and our university. The College World Series is quite a spectacle now. I thought it was the times I went and the last time in '97. But it's a lot more now. A lot of future players and recruits are watching that.

"And internally it helps. It helps the younger players like Errol Robinson, J.B. Woodman, Colby Bortles, Brantley Bell, Dalton Dulin, all those freshmen. It's going to help them next year. It's nice to be rewarded. It's a reward for those guys who have played so hard and put so much into this."

Bianco said that while the Rebels had, for the most part, been good and participating in road Regionals recently, they kept coming up short.

"How do we get from good to great again?" he said. "Really the difference was just a couple of baseball games. Like in 2011, we were five outs away at Arkansas from winning the West. And we didn't even make a Regional. The year before that, 2010, we're winning like 3-1 in the top of the eighth against Auburn on the (final first game of a series) of the regular season. Their guy hits a home run, we lose, and we get swept. Just win another game or two, probably host a Regional. Instead, we go to Virginia and lose in a Regional with Drew Pomeranz on the mound. In 2012 we went to College Station. The last weekend of the season, we go to Vanderbilt. Not a great Vanderbilt team but a young Vanderbilt team. They were playing well at the end of the year. We lost a close game Thursday with Bobby Wahl pitching, a close game Friday with Mike Mayers pitching, and then we lost the third game. We got swept and finished 14-16. Another couple of wins and we're 16-14.

"So we kept asking ‘Why are we not closing weekends out? Why are we one game short?' We're not 4 and 26. So what is it? The year we didn't make it (2011) we were 13-17 in the league."

Bottom line?

"We didn't have to revamp everything, we didn't have to reinvent everything. We just had to get a couple of (regular season) games better. Had to get tougher to handle injuries and adversity and all these things the game deals you."

Coaching with Team USA also helped Bianco, he admitted, from the fact that he was able to pick up some things from the other coaches on the staff. But on the flip side, he also shared some of the things Ole Miss does to make its program successful.

"I don't want to sound egotistical, but one of the things is yes, I got to sit around and learn from great coaches and players. But a lot of things for us got reinforced that we're doing the right things. That was a positive."

But no reinforcement like finishing in the final four, tied for third nationally, in Omaha.

"So how do you get that toughness? How do you get mentally tough to handle the adversity? It starts in the weight room. It starts making them a little uncomfortable, doing things they're not used to doing, make them compete like heck out of it and see if we can push them to win. At practice, do the same thing. We just kept pushing that. And they responded."

Bianco went back to his first team in 2001.

"I remember saying we'll get better talent and we'll be better that way. But you can win if you play the game the right way and you play hard and you're tough," he said, recalling that season when Ole Miss played in the New Orleans Regional at Tulane. "That '01 team, man, they were tough. Made the pitch at the right time, made the play at the right time, got the hit at the right time. That team won 17 games in the SEC, went 17-13. They were tough. We'd lost some of that (recently)."

Bianco has a coach to replace. After three years at Ole Miss, assistant coach Cliff Godwin was officially named Thursday as head coach at his alma mater, East Carolina.

Bianco hopes to have a new assistant coach named as soon as possible, since recruiting is ongoing.

There's long been a reminder of the last time Bianco was in Omaha, which was before he was head coach at McNeese State for three years and then 13 more at Ole Miss before going again.

Michael Bianco, who just graduated from Oxford High School and will play baseball at Delgado Community College in New Orleans, is the lone Bianco child of the five to have a history in Omaha. He and his dad were featured on the 1998 poster for the CWS, a drawing of a picture from the 1997 College World Series, father and young son together at Rosenblatt Stadium.

"He was 8-0 in Omaha," Bianco said of his oldest, who was able to watch one game this time before leaving for New Orleans.

"Then we lost to Virginia," he said, smiling, "and we sent him home."

(The second semester of summer school begins today. The newcomers have arrived on campus. I'll have a full report on who is here and what is going on when I meet with strength & conditioning coach Ben Fleming next week.)

The returning players are either here or off playing summer baseball. Bianco always wants them to do one or the other.

"Basically my philosophy is that we don't make them go play," he said. "We may suggest to some that since they didn't pitch that much or hit that much that they need to go do it. But we want them to either go play summer ball or be here in summer school, take six hours, and be in the weight room."

And preparing already for the 2015 college baseball season.


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