Time always helps but they still need a little more of it. Once again Ole Miss baseball is going through the process of trying to shake off ending its season in a Super Regional and wondering why.
Ole Miss Coach Mike Bianco, leader of the program for nine years this month, has had four of his last five teams within a whisker of Omaha. Certainly by winning game one of the three home Super Regionals, most believed each time that this was the year.
One thing all have learned. Winning that first game does not mean you're there. Texas, Miami, and Virginia all won the remaining two games to advance to the College World Series.
Bianco had player exit interviews earlier this week. That's when departing players from the program talk to him about their time here, and when returning players talk about their season, their summer, and their future here.
It's a routine they go through every year. Certainly they'd like for this to happen later than it has, like late June. But they press on with the task at hand through the disappointment of not playing more baseball this weekend.
"It hurts a lot but it's supposed to hurt," said Bianco, with NCAA Tournament teams eight of his nine seasons in Oxford as well as the four teams that advanced to a Super Regional. "When you risk everything 100 percent emotionally, mentally, and physically, and that's not just in a ballgame but in business, relationships, whatever, then when it does not go the way you expect it to go, it hurts. It's very painful.
"That's 25 players, five coaches, managers, trainers, and fans who were locked in," he continued. "One hundred percent. All in. That's your best shot of winning. But the risk is that if it doesn't go the way you want it to go, it's very painful at the end."
Time will help. He told his players that.
"Over the next 24 hours, 36, or 72 hours, everybody's a little different, but eventually you will get over it and you will be at peace," Bianco said. "And the reason you will be at peace is you know there is nothing else you could have done. Maybe you could have played better. But you can only control what you put into it. I have no doubt a month from now we'll wake up and realize we did everything that we could do. And that's why I'm so proud."
The Rebels, who finished 44-20 to tie the 2006 team for second most wins in program history, began the season ranked as high as sixth in one of the national polls. So there were expectations from fans and pollsters alike. But the reason for that is not only this year's ballclub but also the reputation of the program. Ole Miss baseball is considered national now, despite not making the elite eight yet.
The Rebels will go back to work now to try to get there again. As one.
"There are other programs, and in life, as we talked about in business and in relationships, that aren't all in, that don't want to get their hopes up, that don't want to feel the pain," Bianco said. "You can still succeed that way, but you're not likely to. Yes, you may feel less pain. But the problem is you may wake up a month from now and say what if. What if we were all in and believed and expected to win and gave everything we had mentally, physically, and emotionally to the cause. Nobody wants to go through life like that.
"That's why we play the game," he continued, "for the joy of winning and for the bad feeling when you don't win. That was my message to the team (this week in exit interviews), and it's life lessons. That's why they have intercollegiate sports, I believe. These are lessons these kids will take well beyond this. Yes it hurts and we will survive."
Bianco said some wonder how certain teams might make the CWS field and how to accept that.
"I know some people don't know how to take Southern Miss making it to the World Series or Arkansas, a team we swept the last weekend," he said. "But the truth of the matter is, how can you be disappointed or unhappy for those programs? I'm happy for all the teams that make it. It has nothing to do with why we didn't make it. It only makes the point more significant that it's not necessarily the best team that wins, it's the team that plays the best and might have a little good fortune along the way.
"Again, that's not taking anything away from Arkansas or Southern Miss, but maybe it puts more perspective about what happened this weekend or some other weekend. So when you look back and say was it a great year (for Ole Miss), it was. It was a tough weekend, but the kids played hard. It wasn't our best weekend performance-wise. But they played hard."
Bianco said it isn't necessarily something that is lacking within his program or that they aren't doing that has prevented them from thus far making it to Omaha.
"Teams that make it have certain skills and certain abilities and they are all different teams, and so it's hard to put together ‘this is what we're missing.' Hey we just don't pitch good enough or hey we just don't hit good enough or this or that. I was thinking about that driving to work. This was a Super Regional that was pitching and defense and we didn't score a lot of runs, but neither did they. They scored 12 in three days. One of the reasons we didn't is because we faced maybe the best pitching staff in the country, that had the second lowest ERA. Surely that had a lot to do with it."
Part II Thursday.
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