Three Weeks Away

Mike Bianco’s 15th Rebel baseball team officially got rolling on Friday. And they did so inside the Manning Center for the team’s first preseason practice.

“It’s always an exciting time,” said Bianco, coming off the program’s first College World Series trip during his tenure as head coach. “It’s always hit or miss with the weather. But it’s good to get going.”

Baseball is the last team on campus to play any type of “official” games. Not until February 13 this year do they compete against another team. That’s when William and Mary arrives for a three-game series.

But it’s not like they’re all new to each other. For the past six months, they’ve gotten to know each other as college classmates, baseball teammates, and friends.

“We’re three weeks away from the season,” Bianco said. “They all showed up on campus in August. There was skill work and weights, then fall practice and the Omaha Challenge, the holidays, and now we have three weeks to keep getting ready. Three weeks of intrasquads, and then it’s here. Everybody can kind of feel the season is really here.”

Even the past few days, they’ve gotten a lot done.

“Because of the Winter Intercession, we’ve had some players here,” Bianco said. “We were able to start skill work with the players on Jan. 15. But school didn’t start until the 21st (of January). So we’re ready to go.”

Bianco said the coaching staff has in mind much of the “who will play where” already in their minds and documented.

“But it’s always fluid. It’s ever evolving,” he said. “We want to win early, but most importantly we want to have the best lineup for that week five of the season, for the first conference series, which this year is at LSU. We’ll learn a lot about our team over the first four weeks of the season.”

Bianco said February 13 will be yet another of those “starts” for the team, just like all of his teams when they take the field to start a season. Most years, like this one, that’s been in Oxford. Last year that was at Stetson for three games.

“It’s different when you put the uniform on,” he said. “It’s different when you play in front of 10,000 people. Who is ready to play now? We have some very talented young players, and certainly some of those guys are going to play.”

But even though the program lost a number of talented players who made a difference for several years, there are a number of important veterans who return.

Those are the ones who will always say they were the team that got Ole Miss back to Omaha after four decades. They were the ones to make that fifth trip to the Elite Eight as Rebels, but first since 1972.

Now they aim for the College World Series again. Of course, it’s always the goal.

Bianco said he feels basically the same as he always does when it’s time to start preseason practice. But he is pleased that 2014 was so special for so many.

“I would never explain it as relief,” he said of how he is approaching year No. 15. “Just proud. I never thought it was going to take 14 years. But I also never thought for a second we wouldn’t go.

“There are teams that have been to two Super Regionals and been to Omaha twice. It was a little longer, harder road for us. Our GPS rerouted and we went a couple of different other places. Lafayette, La. Who would have thought?”

Indeed it was at the University of Louisiana-Lafayette that Ole Miss advanced to the College World Series back in June, where it then went 2-2 and finished third in the final standings.

“But I would never use the word relief or say that going into this year that the pressure’s off,” Bianco said. “This is a new year and a new team. And no matter what happened last year, this team wants to go to Omaha and win a national championship.”

This & That

Heading into the preseason, it appears the weekend rotation will likely be junior LHP Christian Trent, junior juco transfer RHP Sean Johnson, and senior RHP Sam Smith.

Other pitchers currently in that mix to perhaps break through as a weekend starter or as a likely midweek starter are junior RHP Jacob Waguespack, sophomore RHP Brady Bramlett, and sophomore LHP Evan Anderson.

Sophomore Errol Robinson is solid at shortstop, and freshman Tate Blackman is as locked in at second base as a freshman can be at this point. At third base, sophomore Colby Bortles will give it a go, and at first base senior Sikes Orvis is the guy.

In the outfield, junior juco Connor Cloyd appears to be the one to join veterans sophomore J.B. Woodman (in center field most likely) and junior Cameron Dishon. Who is where in left or right is to be determined. Freshman Kyle Watson is a close fourth at this point for a spot out there.

Senior Austin Knight is the probable starter at catcher. At DH there are a few candidates, including junior Holt Perdzock and freshman Joe Wainhouse.

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