UM Coach Mike Bianco

Published 12:00 am Friday, February 10, 2012

Rebel coach Bianco excited about season

By John Howell
Approaching the start of his twelfth year as head baseball coach at Ole Miss, Mike Bianco acknowledged that 2011 had been a “tough year” for the university’s athletics.

“It’s part of it,” Bianco said.

But with the 2012 baseball season scheduled to open February 17 in Ft. Worth against TCU, the coach, speaking Tuesday at the Batesville Rotary Club, was his usual pre-season buoyant self.

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“This recruiting class was ranked number three in the country, so that’ll fix up a lot of things,” Bianco said. “We had 11 kids drafted in the major league draft; … nine of them chose to put a major league baseball career down and come play baseball at the University of Mississippi.”

“The team is currently ranked pre-season number 22 in the country,” Bianco continued. “I’m excited; it’s going to be a neat year.

During his 11 years at Ole Miss, Bianco’s Rebels have been earned berths in the NCAA tournament nine times. In 2006, they were Southeastern Conference champs and tournament winners. Ole Miss has hosted the SEC Regional Tournament five of the 11 years, winning the tournament five times.

Average attendance at the recently expanded Oxford-University Stadium averages 8,100 per game, second highest among the 296 school in college Division 1 athletics.

“We’ve got a great fan base; we’ve got people who believe,” the coach said.

New baseball coaches this season at Ole Miss include Cliff Godwin who, like Bianco, spent time as assistant at LSU. “Coach Godwin will be our new hitting coach and coach third base,” Bianco said. “You’re really going to enjoy what Coach Godwin’s done with the offense.”

Steven Head, who was Ole Miss’ only three-time All American when he played there, has returned, after playing professional ball, for a final semester as a student to complete his degree requirements. “While he’s there graduating he’s going to help us as a student assistant.”

“We return a lot of the kids from last year, very experienced,” Bianco said, including Matt Snyder on first base, Alex Yarbrough at second, shortstops Blake Newalu and Austin Anderson, Preston Overbey at third, catchers Taylor Hightower and Will Allen, outfielders Tanner Mathis and Zack Kirksey. “A lot of guys (who) played a lot of innings and had a lot of at-bats last year.”

“Where we’re a little different,” the coach continued, “is that we’re a little inexperienced on the mound.”
Last year’s freshmen closer Bobby Wahl, ranked at the start of his sophomore season by Baseball America as 32nd best player in the country, will return “and be our Friday night ace,” Bianco said. R. J. Hively and Mike Mayers “will finish out the weekend rotation,” with Brett Huber as closer. “And then a slew of young pitchers, not sure what order they’ll fall in, but we’ll throw a lot of guys in the first three or four weeks,” the coach said.

Bianco urged participation in the baseball program as spectators, pitching season ticket purchases and Bullpen Club memberships.

“We do more with less, … what’s happened is that the excitement and passion at Ole Miss for baseball has grown,” he continued.

Bianco prefaced his remarks cautioning listeners that, “I don’t know who’s going to be the next athletic director so when we get to the end, to the questions, I don’t know,” and again, as the coach concluded his remarks, he said, “(Are) there any questions for me? Besides athletic director?”

Blake Shipp asked about Senquez Golden, a football/baseball player at the university who was among the nine who declined draft into the major league.

“He will play,” Bianco replied. “We don’t exactly know what his role will be, but he is the fastest baseball player I have ever seen.”

The Ole Miss baseball coach answered other questions about the conference tournament, the SEC expansion and one from Briggs Smith about a “throw-it-in-the-dirt” chant with which Ole Miss fans taunt opposing pitchers.

 “I like those things that keep fans in the game, as an interactive,” Bianco said. “That’s part of the home field advantage, part of the tradition.”

Bianco was introduced by former Batesville Rotary Club member Tim Climer who currently serves as Senior Project Administrator for Business, Industrial and Workforce Development at the University. Climer, an avid fan of Ole Miss baseball, was instrumental in helping to bring Bianco to the university, a role that the coach acknowledged during Tuesday’s remarks.

“I’m forever indebted to Tim Climer,” he said.