Head coach Mike Bianco’s opening comments: “It’s been a neat year to this point as far as practice and fall ball goes. We had one of the best falls that I can remember, but not necessarily stats wise. I’m one that looks at a lot of statistics from fall practice, batting average, home runs, ERA and throughout the season. When you look at the fall statistics they were very average. They were very comparable to years past, but at the end of the fall we seemed to accomplish so much more. It felt so much better as a team.
I certainly think that that this team is a little different. They’re unique. They’re a team that you hear a lot about in athletics. The team chemistry, the camaraderie, how the players get along and how they associate with one another; this is one of those special teams. I think we started off in the beginning of the fall mentioning that fact.
The major difference is we have so many new guys. We have a great recruiting class that just stepped on campus this past fall. It was the third-ranked recruiting class in the country. Coach Lafferty did a tremendous job and I’m excited. It shows even more about the chemistry when you look at so many new faces and so many new players that walk out on campus and you feel the chemistry instantly during practice. We just finished our last intrasquad games yesterday. I think they are really ready to get going.
We have a couple of new staff members. Cliff Godwin, our new hitting coach and third base coach has done a terrific job offensively. I don’t know if we’ve ever been more ready to start a season then we are right now. It’s been a great three weeks watching those guys hit. They’ve made it very difficult on our pitching staff. Sometimes you wonder do you hit that well or do you pitch that bad or vice versa. I think there’s no doubt that this year, with all the returners, position player wise that Cliff’s has done a great job.
Stephen Head has been with us since the beginning of fall. One of our great players, he is back after his professional baseball career that is back on campus working to graduate is working with Cliff and the hitters. He will be in the dugout and dressed. He’ll be a coach along with Coach McConnell.
Breaking down the positions On Friday night we’re going to start Bobby Wahl. On Saturday we will start R.J. Hively. On Sunday we will start Mike Mayers. Brett Huber will be our closer this year. From there we will kind of see how it goes. We have a slough of young arms that I think will be guys that will make an impact this year. One of the things I’ve learned as a coach over the years is it’s hard to figure out the freshmen right away - especially in baseball and especially with pitchers. Some of the pitchers have made some huge gains in the past couple of weeks and that’s exciting for me and Coach Lafferty as we watch them in the bullpen and in the intrasquad games.
Probably who you’ll see immediately out of the bullpen at TCU would be Dylan Chavez, a junior college transfer, Sam Smith, Josh Laxer and I’m sure several others will get some valuable experience over in Fort Worth on opening weekend which will be a big test for us. It’s one of those weekends that just kind of came about. The truth of the matter is, scheduling-wise, I don’t like to play on the road the first weekend - especially against the 10th-ranked team in the country, but it just kind of worked out that way.
A couple of years ago they had an open date at the beginning and so did we when they expanded the schedule. So next year we will flip-flop and they’ll open up the season at our place.
As for the position players, it’s amazing we seem so new when you look at the roster and see so many new faces. But when you look around the field I think the fans and the media will realize that we are not that young. We do return a lot of people from last year. Starting off behind the plate is returner Will Allen, at first base Matt Snyder, at second base Alex Yarbrough, at shortstop both Blake Newalu and Austin Anderson return. Third base we have Preston Overbey who will also share the position with Andrew Mistone. Preston can also play some first base and some outfield as you saw last year.
Out in the outfield, Tanner Mathis will be out in left with Zach Kirksey. Out in center field, Austin Bousfield will also be accompanied by Will Jamison, another freshman. Jamison can play some right field along with Bousfield and those guys are interchangeable along with Senquez Golson out in right field. Most of those names you are familiar with. Most of those guys have been in the program for several years.
Earlier I talked about team chemistry. I think the returners have done a great job as far as welcoming the guys and mentoring the guys on what it takes to be an Ole Miss baseball player and what’s expected out of the program. We’re excited that the season is finally here. You’re chomping at the bit at this point. Coach Godwin made the comment last week that they’re tired of practice and it’s time to play somebody else. We’re excited about Friday.”
Bianco on the team: “I think the strength of this team, at least right now is the offense, the position players and defensively because of the experience. From a coaching standpoint you know what to expect. As far as the pitchers, all of the pitchers will have new roles regardless of whether they are a starter on the weekend or a reliever. The only one who has probably fulfilled that role before is Brett Huber.
I feel pretty good about the back end of the bullpen. When I look at the team and at the starters I think the difference this year is having Bobby Wahl on Friday night. Although Bobby hasn’t been a weekend starter, he is a tremendous talent. He’s a kid that started in high school. I think the transition might have been a bit more difficult last year as him becoming a starter and all of a sudden becoming a reliever. I think Bobby has the arm strength and the stamina to become a tremendous starter. He’s got great stuff, he’s competitive and he’s a great leader. He was elected captain by his teammates.
I think he’ll be a difference for us and I think that was one of the things we were missing last year. Although all three kids were very talented and drafted last year, I think the thing we were missing was that big gun. We’ve been fortunate over the previous ten years to throw a guy out on Friday night that really could compete in the Southeastern Conference. I’m excited for that to happen with Bobby Wahl.”
Bianco on Bobby Wahl: “Bobby is kind of the total package in a sense that he’s a fastball, slider, change guy. His fastball can be super electric. You’ll see up on the scoreboard where he can throw in the mid 90s. He also has very good command. He can work his fast ball on both sides of the plate. Rarely do you see that at this level. He’s got a terrific breaking ball and a change-up. He’s a great athlete on the mound. He’s worked over the last year and a half on controlling the running game and his pick-off move to first base. I think he’ll admit that he’s grown a lot as a pitcher. Last year he served as the closer and I don’t know if you want to do that to a freshman immediately out of the gates. We had to last year. It made him grow up a lot to come in the 8th and 9th inning in SEC games in front of great crowds and in hostile environments. He’s grown up a lot over the last year and a half.”
Bianco on schedule: “To be more specific on how it came about, when they set the national start date and extended a week on the schedule we had and opening the first week and that’s when we added TCU. We added Houston a couple of years ago and now they have a coaching change and Todd Whitting has done such a great job there. They’re just going to continue to get better and better. We also have UNC-Wilmington, Louisville, the two mid-week games down in Pearl against Southern Miss and Mississippi State. This will probably be as big a challenge for us and maybe as difficult a non-conference schedule as we’ve had.”
Bianco on R.J. Hively and Mike Mayers: “R.J. had a terrific fall. One of the best falls of all of the pitchers. I think the difference in R.J. this year is his fastball command. He’s always had a great slider and he’s always had a lot of movement on his fast ball. This fall, I thought he made some adjustments and attacked the zone more with his fastball. He put them in better counts where he could use his breaking ball more often. He pitched off of his fastball more than he has in the past. He’s a little different look than the other two.
Mike Mayers’ stuff resembles Bobby more in the fact that he’s a fastball, slider, change guy. He has good command. He has a good fastball. His fastball is going to go a couple of miles per hour faster this year. Mike’s worked hard in the weight room with strength coach Rich Levy and has put on about 20 pounds since he’s been here. You can see the difference in his fastball velocity. There’s been several intrasquads where he’s averaged 90-94 with his fastball. He’s worked hard with Coach Lafferty. He’s picked up a slider. Last year when he came here as a freshman he threw a curve ball. He’s picked up a slider now that he throws in the low 80s. He’s always had a good command, always been a good competitor. He’s a good athlete like Bobby. He’s got a lot of the same attributes that Bobby has on the mound.”
Bianco on transition of Senquez Golson: “He’s done terrific; he really has. The good news is he doesn’t look out of place out there. The last two intrasquads we put out there the lineup as if we were starting on Friday - that’s the team Bobby would actually pitch against. On Sunday, we put out a similar lineup but a couple of different faces mixed in, which I hope will happen throughout the year. We’ll mix some guys in and out.
Senquez was actually in that second starting lineup. I think he’s close. I think his role will change as the year progresses. He won’t start on opening day, but I do think he’ll be on the field that first weekend. I think he’ll get better as he continues to work with Coach Godwin in the cages and with Coach McConnell in the outfield. It’s a tough game for anybody to play in the SEC, but especially for somebody who hasn’t played baseball in seven months. In fairness to him, I think he’s done an unbelievable job in what he’s gained over the last three weeks. Because he’s so athletic and because he’s a good baseball player I think he’s going to grow leaps and bounds. We have to give him time and we have to be patient. We laugh about it because everybody wants to know. He’s going to be in the mix. The more reps he gets, eventually he’ll make a bigger impact on our team.”
Bianco on Will Allen emerging at catcher: “He’s just caught better than anyone else. I’m proud of him and how much he’s worked since last year. He came back early in the summer and got in the weight room. He put some weight back on. Of course this fall he has just worked so hard back there throwing and receiving. Overall when you look at it for the past six months he’s just the total package as far as throwing and receiving and blocking. He’s just outplayed the other guys.”
Bianco on aggressiveness in the offense: “I think this team is certainly built a bit better for the bat specifications that came in last year. This might sound like an excuse, but last year’s team just wasn’t really built for that. You look at our opening day lineup and throughout the season the bats specs came in and we knew the bats were going to change like that, but yet you have kids in your program who are about as big and physical and about as slow as any team we’ve ever had. This team is more athletic.
I think we will continue to recruit that way and I think the game will evolve that way where we will have more athletic guys. When you look around I don’t think there will be a starter in the outfield that runs slower than a 6.8-60 which is very good. I think that’s comparable to the 4.5 and stuff that you see in football. We really can run no matter what guy is out there. I think we’re interchangeable. Mathis played centerfield last year, Austin Bousfield, Will Jamison, and I think Senquez Golson will eventually be able to play center. Blake Newalu, Austin Anderson and Alex Yarbrough are other guys that can steal and bunt. That gives you more opportunities to move base runners and more opportunities to score instead of waiting for a home run or a big extra base hit.”
Bobby Wahl on summer experience and being Friday night starter: “Playing this summer in the Cape Cod league was a great experience for me. I would probably say it helped me out more on the mental side. Being able to tell yourself that you can compete with the best competition in the nation is big. You’re facing guys day in and day out that will be first and second round draft picks. Coming into this fall I took that mentality here and I have used it to my advantage.”
Tanner Mathis on the outfield: “We’re fast. It’s the fastest outfield probably in the SEC. We have five guys that run under a 6.8. Everybody can run, everybody can hit and everybody can catch. Bousfield has the best arm, obviously. He’s thrown out like 10 base runners. What I’ve seen as how much we’ve grown as a group. It’s not just a bunch of individuals out there fighting over one spot. There are three spots up for grabs. I’ve seen throughout each practice how much better everybody has gotten as a complete outfielder.”
Tanner Mathis on Coach Godwin: “When Coach Godwin got here I was really excited because I remembered his name from back when I was in high school when he was at LSU. The numbers he’s put up have been awesome. Yeah the players might be good, but it has to do a lot with him. I’m really excited to get out there and play some other teams because our offensive numbers are going to be through the roof compared to what they have been. What he’s done with the early hitting, we’ve done it all fall, seven days a week. I can see it in my game and I can see it in Snyder’s game. No one strikes out. If you strike us out, then congrats. It’s awesome. There are so many balls that are hit hard into the outfield. Balls are just crushed. It’s just the swing. Coach Godwin has been building all of our swings. He can look at us and tell us what we did wrong in one swing and we correct it. He works magic.”
Matt Snyder on opening with TCU: “I can’t wait to face TCU. I know everybody on the team can’t wait to face them either. As a team you can look at wanting to start off the season with a team that’s easy to play and you can go in thinking you’re going to roll over them. Or you can go in against a team that you’re going to have good competition with and that’s ranked 10th in the country. It’s going to be a good test for us. I think it’s also something that going to let us show the country how good we can be and how good we’re going to be this year. We’re ready to go.
Seeing what happened this weekend with the scrimmages and how well our offense did I know for a fact that this is the best offense I’ve been with since I’ve been here. What Coach Godwin has done with us, it’s unbelievable the things we can do as an offense. A lot of the time there is a guy on the team that has a tendency to strike out, but I haven’t seen that one time this year in the fall or in the spring. It’s just so hard to strike us out and to have us not make good contact with the ball. We’re going to be a good test for TCU and I can’t wait to play those guys. It’s going to be unbelievable. It’s going to be a great weekend.”
Matt Snyder on injuries: “Everything feels great. I’ve worked really hard with our athletic trainer, Tony Barnett, on my shoulder the past few years. My face is one of those things you can’t rehab you just have to give it time. It feels great. Everything on my body feels awesome. I’ve worked really hard in the weight room with Coach Levy to get stronger and make sure I don’t get hurt as much or at all. I’m looking forward to having a clean bill of health right now. I had no problems this fall or spring with any injuries. I’m extremely excited to get out on the field with the guys and be out there with them every single game.”
Matt Snyder on Coach Godwin: “Coach Godwin came in right away with all different kinds of things for the offense. One of the biggest things I would say we do as a team is early practice hitting. We go in there about an hour before practice and every gets there hacks in. Everybody gets loose for BP. I think that’s probably one of the biggest things for us because we try to focus on the teamwork, the front toss and the BP. We have a sign in the cages that says “Build it here. Use it out there.”
That’s probably the biggest thing for us right now. He’s helped everybody out with the strikeouts a lot too. The approach he tells us is you have to dig your feet in there. Personally that’s helped me out a lot and I know that’s helping a whole lot of other guys. Especially the energy he has brought to us. There is no way we can’t get better with the things he’s been doing.”
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