Matt Smith has a completely new appreciation for what Ole Miss head baseball coach Mike Bianco goes through on a day-to-day basis.
The baseball team’s annual end-of-the-fall three-game series lovingly called the “Pizza Bowl” commenced on Wednesday at Oxford-University Stadium with the Red team coming from behind to top the Blue team 3-2.Improving to 1-0 as a coach was Smith, topping junior pitcher David Goforth, who is the Blue squad’s coach.
Smith was all smiles after the game, and perhaps because Halloween is right around the corner, the fifth-year senior was already doing his best Bianco impersonation by diving right into “coach-speak.”
“As you could tell, it was all about the pitching and I felt like the pitchers did an awesome job,” Smith said. “Goforth and (Matt) Crouse were basically untouchable the first four innings.
“It was one of those games where you had to just stick in there and the team that was going to gut it out was going to pull it out.”
Not only was Smith in charge of drafting his squad, he was also managing the game and even got to send “pitching coach” Trent Rothlin to the mound for a pitching change in the ninth inning.
“I was definitely nervous. I was talking about that when I went to Austin (Wright), I don’t know what I’d do if I was a real coach,” he said. “I was nervous and it’s just the Pizza Bowl. I want to win and I want to do the right things. I don’t want to have to regret thinking, ‘well I could have brought this guy in.’ It’s the first time I’ve ever felt like that.
“We were talking different scenarios and I’m trying to play the game, so it was definitely a lot of fun.”
Smith and Goforth did their best odes to the throw-back player/manager, starting for their respective teams.
Asked if he would call his own number to close out the best-of-three series on the mound if the decisive game was close, Smith said that’s the lone decision that is out of his hands.
“No, Coach B. has already made that pretty clear that I’m not allowed on that part of the field (the mound) anymore,” he joked. “I still try every once in a while but he’s pretty set in his ways on that subject, so I don’t see myself getting on the hill anytime.”
All kidding aside, Smith said the Pizza Bowl is a great way to end the fall because the players take added pride in playing against one another.
“This is more like a game would be in an SEC environment because something is on the line here,” Smith said. “You have team bragging rights, trash talking in the locker room where the Blue thinks they’re better than the Red and the Red thinks they’re better than the Blue. You can tell the focus and energy level is more than it would be in a normal intrasquad.”
For most of the fall we have all heard how the new BBCOR bats would reduce the number of home runs hit in games and how teams were even struggling to go yard in batting practice.
That wasn’t exactly the case on Wednesday, as Matt Tracy hit a two-run bomb off the third row of seats in right field to give the Blue squad the lead only to have Miles Hamblin respond for the Red in the next frame with a go-ahead two-run homer of his own.
“It’s one of those things as a hitter where you just have to figure it out. I think we’ve done a good job. When you hit a ball good it’s still good,” Smith said.
Smith said prior to the game both teams were drafted, with Smith and Goforth acting as general managers.
Players were grouped by positions (first basemen, middle infielders, corner outfielders, etc.) and each coach went around the diamond filling their respective rosters.
Asked who might start Game 2 today at 3 for the Red squad, Smith snapped back into coach mode.
“We have a lot of options. It’ll be a game-time decision,” he might as well have said, actually listing off available arms.
Game 3 will be played (if necessary) on Friday. (October 28, 2010, Page 7)