By Parrish Alford/NEMS Daily Journal
Ole Miss concluded its baseball season 38-24 overall, 15-15 in the SEC regular season.
The Rebels reached the NCAA tournament for the 11th time in 13 years under coach Mike Bianco.
After a run of four super regionals in five seasons, Ole Miss hasn’t reached the super regional round since 2009.
The program set a season ticket sales record this year and drew 11,729 to Game 2 of the Alabama series, a single-game Swayze Field attendance record.
In June athletics director Ross Bjork added one year to Bianco’s contract, giving him two years left on his current deal.
Parrish Alford discussed the 2013 season with Bianco in the days following the Rebels’ exit from the Raleigh Regional.
Q: After the regional you commented on the program’s talent level. How did you get where you are?
A: I think it’s a question that can be answered in a lot of different ways. I don’t think there’s one answer that’s correct. You’re talking about the postgame press conference at the regional. I think you always want to recruit better. You’re always trying to recruit better. I don’t care if you’re a football program, basketball program or baseball program. I don’t think it matters if you’ve just won a national championship. I don’t think any coach would sit there and say we want to recruit at the same level we’re recruiting right now. Part of that comment was directed at that. We need to continue to improve and try to get better.
I think when you talk about the bats and the way it’s changed the game, you’re recruiting sometimes a little different athlete. You want to get a more athletic person, because you’re not going to have as many double-digit home run guys. You’re hoping to get a double-digit home run guy. Defense, speed, and not just the speed to be able to steal bases, but the speed to be able to take extra bases, the speed to turn singles into doubles and doubles into triples, the quickness and agility to defend better to keep the other team from scoring. Those are all factors in recruiting.
Of course pitching. You can’t win today without pitching well. I thought we pitched much better this year than we did last year. We need to continue to do that. We need to continue to have the depth. When you look at this year’s regional compared to last year, we had more options. All of those factors when you look at recruiting and what you’re doing you want to continue to improve and get better as a program.
Q: What was your take on run-scoring? Is that improved through recruiting or do you reevaluate schemes?
A: This year we tried to be a lot more aggressive offensively. We hit-and-run more probably this year than maybe the 12 years prior to. Honestly, if you were to add up all the hit-and-run signals we gave this year compared to the 12 previous years you’d probably be at least equal. When you are aggressive and are trying to push it a little bit, much like a team like Vanderbilt, when you watch them play, they play very aggressive with a lot of hit-and-runs, a lot of push bunts or drag bunts, things to start the runners in 3-2, 3-1 counts. Those are things in talking with coach (Cliff) Godwin before the season, even during the season to help the offense to be more productive. At times I thought we were.
Back to part of your question, at the end of the day, the goal is to have more runs than the other team, so you’ve got to score more runs. Much like your recruiting question, regardless of how many runs we score this year, we want to score more next year.
We’ll have to sit down and evaluate some of that. I think some of that is to be a little faster on the basepaths, to be able to steal more bases instead of hit-and-run, to be able to straight steal more, kind of like in the Binghamton game where Cameron Dishon comes in. Instead of bunting him over, we steal him and then bunt him to third base and score a run. We want to be able to do more of that versus just bunt him over or hit-and-run where then you still have to get a basehit to score.
I think part, when you look at this season, one of the big factors is we were so close to being really good. It was a combination of things, and through the second half of the season it wasn’t just not being good enough offensively. There were times when the offense failed us, times when the defense failed us, times when the bullpen failed us. At times it was like ‘Which one of the ugly heads is going to rear itself today?’ We didn’t play with a ton of confidence, but the main thing is, beside that two-week span that started with (Texas) A&M and finished with Vanderbilt, the rest of it, we were really good for bits and pieces. We just could not do it consecutively. We couldn’t do it over the course of a couple of weeks. When you go back to the season you can just look at the last four weeks. We lost seven games in conference. In six of them we had the lead in the bullpen. If we were able to hold just a couple of those, one-third of those, now you’re 17-13. If you win half of them you’re 18-12 with the same amount of runs.
A part of baseball, like any sport, the better you are in one area, it helps the other area. If you’re able to win some games on the mound, maybe the offense plays with a little more confidence and doesn’t feel the pressure as much. We got to the point where we kind of lost our identity on the mound, and that was tough.
Q: How is recruiting impacted by states with additional funding sources for higher education, the so-called ‘Lottery States?’
A: I think it’s hard to quantify, but if you look at the top teams, the top four in our conference, they all have an in-state scholarship and other things that are available to them as far as recruiting into an equivalency sports. Five years ago or seven years ago, when you look at our league, it’s a lot more competitive than it was back in the 90s or the early 2000s. All the programs are very good. The University of Florida was under .500 this year. When you look at that and you look at the parity of college baseball not just in our league but throughout, I think every bit counts. That’s never been a secret in our league. It’s one of those things that people don’t talk about a lot, but it’s true. When you only have 11.7 scholarships, but another school in another state can have 10 or 15 guys on some type of aid other than athletic aid, other than that 11.7, it helps them recruit more players to their program. It’s a huge advantage. It’s just hard to quantify or describe. I don’t have the exact answer as to how that affects everything.
Q: What is your response to the criticism that with the new Swayze Field you should be able to get more top-level athletes?
A: We do (get those athletes). We believe that’s true. We’ve got a beautiful facility, and we’re very fortunate. We have to remember the facility wasn’t built to keep up with the Joneses. We never said, ‘Hey, build us a stadium so we can recruit better.’ We were recruiting pretty good without the stadium. The stadium was built because we out-grew the old one. The stadium was built, because for five years in a row, all the seats were sold. The athletic department figured out after we hosted a couple of super regionals that if we build more seats and build a club level, we’ll be able to sell more seats. The perception is, and I think it’s true, that when a recruit walks in the stadium, they love it, that it’s beautiful, and it is.
But I think we are. We’ve got Bobby Wahl and Stuart Turner. We’ve got some people that played this year that are top-level recruits.
When you talk about the fan base, nobody’s happy when the season’s over and you lose your final game in a regional or super regional. Fans want us to succeed and do more, but when I look at the fan base as a whole we set a season ticket record this year. For the seventh year in a row, we’ll be ranked in the top five in the country in attendance in the town of Oxford that’s got about 17,000 people. If you look at the rest of the teams around us, they’re in much bigger cities.
I’m proud of our fans. We’ve got the greatest college baseball fans in the country and people that I think are very supportive and love Ole Miss baseball, and they want us to succeed. They want us to get to Omaha.
Q: What do you see as success stories this year?
A: We went to a regional for the 11th time in 13 years. There’s only one other program in the Southeastern Conference to do more than that, and that’s South Carolina.
The program is as consistent as anyone’s in the country. When I look at two years ago, we didn’t get there and lost on the final day of the season to an Arkansas team to last year to this year, I’m proud. I’m proud of Bobby Wahl being the first starting pitcher in 12 years to win 10 games, Bobby and Stuart Turner being All-Americans, Turner (winning) the Johnny Bench Award. When I look at times where this team could be as anybody in the country. At times this team played so well, a team that represented the university in a great, great way, a team that had a 3.2 team GPA and were great members of the community. Certainly a lot of things to be proud of.
Omaha or bust?
Q: Do you sense that the program is judged by whether or not it makes it to Omaha?
A: Probably by some. One of the things we’ve talked about is goals vs. expectations. Those are two different things. Goals are things you strive for that are attainable and reachable, but they’re not the floor. They’re not the expectations where we’re judged if we had success or not success. Our goal is to get to Omaha and win a national championship. That’s a goal. If people judge us by not reaching the goal … I’m sure there are people out there. Nobody wants to get to Omaha more than myself, this coaching staff and this team. Nobody thinks about it more than we do. I don’t know if any team in the country, any of the 298 teams. … There are only eight going every year, and they’re not the same eight. It’s hard to say if you didn’t get to Omaha it’s a failure.