Sitting down with Bianco part one

Chase Parham and Jeff Roberson sat down with Mike Bianco last week to discuss the 2007 baseball season. Here is part one of Bianco's candid interview.

On evaluation of the season:

It is obviously disappointing not to get to the College World Series, and it was a difficult year for several reasons. It was a team that was talented and did some things very well, but they of course did some things not so well. Ultimately, the team just didn't play with enough confidence at the end. They didn't win the games they were supposed to, and that is what the good teams do. And also, what teams with a lot of confidence do. We (coaches) have discussed it over the last couple days, but there isn't one definitive answer. It's very complicated. In the end, it was the bullpen and the defense and it was the hitters. It was the coaches and it was everybody. No one stopped the downward momentum, and the disappointing part is that we weren't mentally strong enough to win some games.

On judging this team against the expectations:

I am the head coach and certainly my expectations are exceptionally high, but it isn't something that we shy away from. We challenged the fans early on to have high expectations when maybe the collective fan base didn't. And with that comes disappointment. The team didn't reach certain goals and that is part of it, but you have to be careful not to be too negative. We can be critical and critique it but not necessarily be negative. My job is to coach baseball games and graduate kids and run the program the right way. My job is to figure out where the shortcomings were and improve them for next year. Some of them are very specific like a position or a skill. Some are more motivational and team building. Confidence is such a big part. There are negatives, but sometimes you have to sit back and say wow to the fact that we are one of only four teams in the nation to go to a super regional three years in a row and two teams that have hosted four regionals in a row, and we have still won the most games in the Southeastern Conference over the last five years. 40 wins used to be the record, but we average 40 now over the last seven years. It's not that bad. We aren't talking about this team like we did the 2001 team that won 39 games. For one, the expectations weren't there at the time, but also, the talent wasn't there either. People have realized that we are very good. The team that ran out there this year was pretty darn good with physical talent. That isn't the only thing that wins baseball games, but when you lead the SEC in pitching and you lead the SEC in defense and you are fourth in batting average and you lose a lot of one-run games, you see that any team that wins it could have been us. We could have won 50 games. There aren't many teams this weekend in the College World Series that are physically better than us. In 2001, maybe we weren't in that league yet, but maybe one day if we continue to get better. That isn't the case anymore so that makes this season very disappointing.

On challenges specific to this certain team:

That is why this is a neat job. There are always different challenges with every team. Every one has pros and cons and things that they do well. In my years as a head coach, and I don't just mean this in a negative way, this has been the most emotionally draining year.

On coin-flips maybe going the wrong way:

Yeah, but I am a big believer in that it isn't all about luck. You can line out or hit a good pitch for a home run, but when things happen so often, luck isn't all there is to it. A guy wins the lottery once, and it is luck. The same guy wins the lottery 14 weeks in a row, and you better find out if he is related to the lottery guy. People can say ‘how can that happen to them again', but I don't know. You wonder when a guy will hit a pop-up to Power so that we win, but things just didn't play out that easily. Look at Saturday. Their player hits one up the middle, and we begin to second-guess. I was asked by Rob (Reinstetle) if I wanted to play back or right up on the runner, and I wanted to play on the runner to keep the double play intact. You keep them from stealing because of momentum and a lot of little things that could begin to happen. I don't think the next guy is going to hit the ball past Farr, but he hits it off Farr's glove, and that is the second hit that inning. If I had played him back, Farr catches it, and there is one out and a man on second. Arizona State's chances of winning that game go down dramatically. But now, the guy is safe, and they are going to bunt. He fouls off the first bunt, and then they wipe the bunt off to let him hit. He grounds a ball two feet from Miller. It goes right at him and it is a double play and basically ballgame. So all this goes wrong, but wait, it gets better. They pinch-hit Jarvis, their closer, who has five at-bats all season. I still to this day don't know why they did it. They would have had Romine up to bat who could bunt, and I was thinking they might squeeze. How do you defend Romine who always puts the bat on the ball. But they pinch-hit a guy who has struck out forty percent of the time. We get him 0-2, but he punches a ball to right field instead of striking out. That is how they tied it up, and that is a lot of stuff that had to happen for that to occur. You can say bad luck or good fortune, but the thing is why did it happen to Will Kline or Satterwhite or Scott Bittle? Opponents have to sense something, maybe confidence. Maybe a certain look wasn't there. Other teams day in and day out score runs off these talented people with the game on the line. It has to be mental, and a message that we are sending that there is a shred of doubt. That is something that develops over the course of time.

On the one-run losses and whether it was the pitching to blame:

The pitching staff led the conference and pitched an ERA under four. Our worst ERA was 4.25. That is unbelievable and something that we have never had before. Our 2003 ERA was lower, but that wasn't nearly as tough of a schedule. It was a weird year. Kline has an ERA of 3.75 and only a decent record, but Nathan Baker was at 3.8, and he was 7-2 or something like that. Starting pitching was great, but the way we finished games was definitely sub par. Was it Satterwhite? Yes, but it wasn't. Was it Scott Bittle? Yes, but it wasn't. They had the chance to get three outs and win the game, but how many times have we lost 7-1 like last Sunday? Not many. Every game was close and extremely emotional because we didn't give up a lot of runs. But also, we didn't score enough runs. Our closers never went in up 7-1. Bittle led the SEC in saves and didn't have one after something like March 10. Every single game was tight and competitive. So was it the offenses fault? Yes. It was Mike Bianco's fault and the defense's fault as well. Check out our fielding percentage in the ninth inning. Pitching and defense were the two things that we hang our hat on, but those were at their worst with the game on the line. We didn't field bunts or make plays. It was a little bit of everything. I left the starter in and lost. I put the closer in and lost. We didn't hit enough and lost or didn't play good enough defense and lost. It comes down to not being good enough. And why weren't we good enough? The team had talent so it becomes a mental thing. And that is also ability. You can't win on talent alone. There comes a point where performance must be there. I think that in ten of our one-run losses, we had three or less runs. That is blaming the offense, but there is another side of that. We had six walk-off wins against us where we were winning entering the final half inning. This isn't counting LSU where it was tied. This is being ahead, and the other team scoring multiple runs to win. So, see, the blame is on everyone. It is on me, the offense, the defense and the pitching.

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