For Mike Bianco’s Ole Miss baseball team, the CWS Finals are everything

OMAHA, Neb. –As their players shook hands and celebrated one of the biggest wins in school history on indoor turf, Ole Miss baseball coaches Mike Bianco and Carl Lafferty shared a hug.

This veteran Ole Miss team led by seniors Tim Elko, Kevin Graham and Justin Bench entered the College World Series championship series for the first time with a 2-0 win over Arkansas on Thursday.

But veterans aren’t exclusively on the pitch. Bianco is the SEC’s longest-serving baseball coach at 22. Lafferty, Ole Miss’ recruiting coordinator, is the longest-serving SEC assistant at 15. Batting coach Mike Clement has been with the Rebels eight years, more than eight SEC head coaches.

That kind of training stability in any college sport is hard to come by. But through the ups and downs of the past decade, this trio is two wins away from a national championship, starting with the opener of Saturday’s three-game series against Oklahoma (6 p.m. CT, ESPN).

“I don’t know why they don’t get more credit than them,” Bianco said of his assistants. “They’re the best staff we’ve ever had, and we’ve had some great ones. We’ve had great coaches. I can’t remember ever feeling more comfortable than with my guys. .”

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A month ago, it looked like the trio were about to leave. The Rebels were 7-14 in the May 1 SEC game. Rumors circulated. Pressure built. After eight years of missing the College World Series and back-to-back playoffs that ended in one less win than Omaha, the subject of Bianco’s hot seat was hard to avoid.

Now there is no doubt that Bianco and his team have given themselves plenty of time to build their future at Oxford. Ask Arkansas coach Dave Van Horn — himself one of the longest-serving coaches in college athletics — why this Ole Miss team was the one to break through, and he has a very answer. simple: experience.

Van Horn said he had nightmares seeing Graham in the batting box and got nervous every time Elko came to the plate. These players have been at Ole Miss for so long that they were present when Arkansas defeated Ole Miss in the 2019 Fayetteville Super Regional.

“I was happy for us, but I felt bad for them,” Van Horn recalled. “That’s how it is. They have a family. I know exactly where (Bianco) is from and it hurts.”

The pain of missing Omaha is lifted. The pain of being short against Arkansas is also lifted. As Lafferty threw his hand around Bianco’s shoulder two decades after playing for Bianco’s first team and 15 seasons after joining Bianco’s on-pitch coaching staff, the rebels’ attention swirled is focused on playing for the first national championship in school history.

“It’s what we do for a living, and it’s great,” Bianco said. “We’re so lucky to do it. But it’s not easy, and it’s a lot of tough hours. And we’ve talked so much (about the struggles) this year, it’s also our year. is pretty cool in our line of work.”

Contact Nick Suss at 601-408-2674 or nsuss@gannett.com. Follow @nicksuss on Twitter.

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