Mike Bianco sat at the head of the conference table in the team meeting room of the beautiful and spacious new baseball offices just outside the Oxford-University Stadium/Swayze Field gates Monday afternoon. Several reporters were there to visit, talk, ask questions, and get answers.
Most of the time on weekdays, we visit with the coaches and selected players on the field before practice begins. Monday was different. Final exams were in progress. No players were available. There was no practice scheduled that day; none for Tuesday either. "Books" have always been important. With the fairly new APR, graduation rate concerns across the board in college athletics, and all things academic, they are moreso now than ever.
With the players taking care of off the field and in the classroom business, Bianco gave us a tour of the new offices and talked about his team as well. Usually before practice things are busy, not necessarily rushed, but there are other things besides interviews on the minds of coaches and players. So on Monday, rather than a top of the dugout session, this one was inside and relaxed and contemplative of a season heading into the crunch weekends.
Bianco got right to it, talking about losing two games of three at Tennessee and not being happy with the results.
"Very disappointing, frustrating. I don't know what the right adjective is. Tough. It's been a tough year."
At 32-18 overall and 13-11 in Southeastern Conference play, things aren't necessarily great. But they aren't bad either. In 2005 the Rebs were 35-15 and 13-11 during exam week. Last year 31-18 and 13-11.
All teams have differences in personnel, personality, and productivity. The Rebels of 2007 are unique to the two previous ballclubs. But they have the chance to be just as productive beginning now, just like the two previous powerhouse teams did.
"We showed some toughness and some guts on Sunday," Bianco said of beating Tennessee 7-6 to keep the Volunteers from sweeping.
The Rebels have done that several times this season. They have avoided disaster on occasion, like taking the final game against Georgia 9-0 to win that series two games to one, winning the series wrapup at LSU 16-5 to avoid a three-game meltdown there, winning the Sunday game against Alabama 15-9 to win that series two to one.
In other words they've kept themselves from falling into the depths of the standings by digging down and getting it done. No better example of that than Sunday at UT when things were rocky and rough again late and the Vols could smell the sweep.
"Cody (Satterwhite) came in and showed a lot of guts after what happened on Friday night," Bianco said as the Rebel sophomore closer was able to finish things up Sunday after walking four straight batters late on Friday which were costly.
"He was as good as I've ever seen him Friday night, and that's saying a lot," Bianco said of Satterwhite. "For two innings he was awesome. They had no chance. But a couple of close pitches, and I don't mean umpire-wise, don't go his way and he lost control there. That was disappointing. It's happened to us so many times (this season).
"Then on Saturday Lance (Lynn) is cruising but doesn't really have his stuff. Didn't really have a breaking ball or changeup. But he's still tough out there."
Then UT gets a hit, Lynn goes 2-0 on the next batter, Bianco visits, and he strikes out the batter.
"So there's one out and a guy at first," Bianco said. "They have a pinch-hitter who is hitting .206. He's 0-2 and the guy can't touch him. There's no way he can catch up to him. We throw four fast balls in a row. All four of them balls. Walks the next hitter on four straight balls. So now the bases are loaded. Then he gets the nine-hole guy to 1-2 and he hits a line drive up the middle. That scores two runs....
"....It just wasn't meant to be," Bianco eventually said as his voice trailed off. "There's not many times Lance Lynn's going to give up six runs in an inning.
"(Justin) Cryer came in and held them at bay and gave us a chance at the end. But just disappointing in that we had two games we should have won and weren't able to hold them on the mound. We've had our share. We've had some unfortunate things. More than our share of one-run games; I think it's up to 18 now. Never seen anything like it in my life."
"You don't hear me use the word luck, because I don't believe it's luck. Things happen. People line out. Pitchers make good pitches and guys get base hits. Sometimes you don't have good fortune and sometimes you do. The hope and the expectation is that it will all play out and come full circle, like the hitter who keeps hitting the ball hard and eventually the hits will fall, the pitcher who keeps making the pitches and eventually he will get them out.
"We just gotta keep playing. We're too good of a club. Like the game Sunday (at UT), you'll win your share of games if you're in enough of them and if you're good enough, which I believe we are. The tough thing is we've been in a lot of them. Hopefully it has made us better, that through all these tough, emotional games we've become a better club and are tougher as we head toward postseason."
The Rebels and Wildcats are scheduled to play Friday at 6:30 p.m., Saturday at 4 p.m., and Sunday at 1:30 p.m.
UK is 31-15-1 overall and 10-13-1 in SEC play. The Wildcats are at in-state foe Murray State for a game this afternoon.
Bianco hopes for May push like past UM teams
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