By John Davis
Ever since the 2013 baseball season came to an end at N.C. State, Ole Miss coach Mike Bianco has been looking to improve his team. Outside of garnering talent through recruiting, Bianco wanted to revert back to his first year at Ole Miss, go old school if you will, from a toughness standpoint.
In came a new strength and conditioning coach in Ben Fleming, and with a fresh mindset that focused on challenging the players more during the offseason and in the fall, Bianco believes his team is tougher, both mentally and physically, heading into the 2014 season opener this Friday.
“One of the things we talked about this past summer going into the fall, and I don’t know if it’s a mantra or kind of a catch word, is toughness. We’ve been so close to being a great team the last couple of years, but because of a pitch here or a play there and literally coming down to a game here or there and for one reason or another, it hasn’t happened for us,” Bianco said Monday during his initial press conference of the season. “The difference for those great teams is they make that one play, they make that one pitch, they win that one game that matters that puts you hosting a regional rather than playing on the road. One game out of 30 means a lot, is a big deal from the standings and where you are in the RPI. How do we win that one game? One of the things we talk about is being tougher, being able to handle the adversity.”
Bianco briefly referenced the 2013 team that got off to a 21-3 start only to wither in the second half of the season.
“Some things didn’t go our way, and we lost a couple of close series, and it was hard for us to get back on track again. We had some tough games, and it was hard for us to really gain that confidence back and be that team that we once were,” Bianco said. “We talked a lot as a staff, and one of the things we said was just being physically tough. If you’re more physically tough, then mentally you’re going to be able to handle some more things. We went back to more old school, things we did 13 years ago when I got here and that was to push and challenge the kids.”
The recruiting aspect of making the team tougher has come through additional depth and competition. Bianco said the team is deeper than in 2013, which has translated to daily competition for starting time.
While some starting positions are set, Bianco still doesn’t know who will start at second base in the opener due to the competition between Dalton Dulin and Preston Overbey. In the end, it appears five or six newcomers will see time mixed in with eight or nine veterans.
“There are a lot of talented kids on the field out of that recruiting class. I think as we enter the first weekend, we’ll see several of those young guys take the field for us and several of them in starting roles,” Bianco said. “Position players wise, there is a chance that two or three and maybe even four freshmen are in the starting lineup over the first weekend. I think we talk a lot about the recruits because it’s new, but when you look around the veterans that are back, guys like Chris Ellis and Sam Smith and Aaron Greenwood, guys that have pitched in the Southeastern Conference and had a lot of success.
“You look at the position players, Austin Anderson, Sikes Orvis, Will Allen, Preston Overbey, Will Jamison, Auston Bousfield, a lot of position players that have had a lot of success in our league as well. When I look at it, I think it’s as good of a group, as good of a group of newcomers and veteran guys that we’ve had in a long time.”
One of the challenges facing Bianco and his staff over the first four weeks of the season, because of the depth, is to play as many guys as possible in order to figure out who can help the most once the Southeastern Conference season begins.
“When we start at South Carolina on March 14, we want to make sure we have the best nine out there and the best three on the mound going Friday, Saturday and Sunday and the right guys coming into the game when need be out of the bullpen,” Bianco said.
Bianco was asked if Senquez Golson would be playing baseball this year, and due to a hamstring injury, which would prevent him from playing for a month, the decision to not include him on 35-man roster was made on Friday. Golson had come out to the team when spring practice started, garnering four hits the first weekend before suffering the injury.
“Senquez came out about three weeks ago wanting to play this year. We’re the only sport in the NCAA with a roster limitation. We can only have 35 guys that can participate in baseball, and we have to make that decision before the first game. When Senquez came to me, we talked about it, and do you have to play and what happens if you don’t start. These are all difficult questions for a guy that is super talented,” Bianco said. “The way we left it was let’s go for the next three weeks and let’s see how good you can be. I’ll be honest with you, from a human standpoint, he’s a guy that hasn’t played baseball in over a year, and he has no chance. But in reality, you watch him the first weekend, and he got four hits. If anybody can do it, Senquez Golson can do it.
“He pulled his hamstring after the first weekend, which will put him down for a month. The way we looked at it, for a guy that hasn’t played baseball for a year and a half and plays one weekend and then he has to sit down for another month, his chances of getting out on the field and contributing right away aren’t real good. By that time, spring football would be rolling around, and the best thing for him right now is to be a non-roster player, which means he can practice, just not with the team.”
–firstname.lastname@example.org (February 11, 2014, Page 8)