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CBD Interview with Mike Villano (Western Illinois)

College Baseball Daily kicks off our series of interviews with head coaches around the nation today with Western Illinois head coach Mike Villano. He is entering his second season in charge of the Leathernecks program after having a 14-39 overall record and a 6-21 mark in conference play.

CBD: Western Illinois is coming off a disappointing 14-39 overall record and a 6-21 mark in the Summit League. What are your goals and expectations for the 2011 team?

MV: The team went through quite a bit last year suddenly losing their head coach Stan Hyman in the fall to leukemia and then losing starting pitcher Devin VanBrooker to a motorcycle accident during the season. With that being said our goals are like most schools in that we want to compete for a conference championship. This year we had the opportunity to have a fall season as well as an additional couple months of individual work. Our goal is to get better everyday, when you get better everyday you have the ability to be champions regardless of where you start. We will be a much improved and disciplined team this year.

CBD: The Leathernecks lose their top two starters in Randon Lingle (3-7, 6.38 ERA) and Devin VanBrooker (3-4, 8.07 ERA). Who is expected to fill into these two spots in the rotation?

MV: We’ve brought in 12 new arms to the program along with three returners (Beau Below, Chris Fuchs and Travis Pederson). Below is healthy this year and will be in the mix but after that it’s still up in the air. At our pro scout day we had six guys touch 90 MPH or better, we have had some guys that have really come on this fall. The pitching will be considerably better than it was last spring as long as they continue to trust their stuff, stay aggressive, and embrace the process.

CBD: Have any of the incoming freshmen or tansfers impressed you during Fall Workouts? Do you expect any of them to break into the starting lineup/rotation this spring?

MV: Due to the fact that I was hired in December and Coach Coryell didn’t get to campus until almost the end of January our recruiting class is heavily dominated by JUCO guys this year (23 players; 8 high school players and 15 JUCO). One freshman will compete for playing time if the season was starting right now. Tyler Baratono from Allen Park, Michigan is a smooth fielding middle infielder who can play all three infield spots with plus arm strength.

CBD: Oral Roberts has been the class of the Summit League in recent years winning a share of a conference title in 11 out of the past 12 seasons. Who do you think will challenge them for the conference title this season?

MV: South Dakota State is the defending Summit League regular season champs so I think they have to be mentioned without question but don’t sleep on the purple army creeping in the bushes.

CBD: We have now been through three seasons with the Uniform Start Date being in effect. What is your opinion on the rule change? Has it been a good move?

MV: I think the rule change is fine, when you start worrying about what is fair and what’s not fair you just set yourself up with an excuse. Western Illinois will do the best they can with their facilities, budget, and the weather. Schools in the south will always have the advantage of better weather but at the end of the day it’s about having more runs than the other team after 27 outs.

CBD: This season we will see a new bat standard go into effect. Has your squad had a chance to try out these new bats and if so, what are your thoughts on them?

MV: Yes we had a chance to demo these new bats this fall and I really like them. It forces us as coaches to teach our guys how to square up the ball consistently with good posture rather than allowing our guys to sit on their back side and hook the ball with top spin. Situational hitting and the ability to have a consistent approach are much more important now. I think that speed and defense will be more sought after in the recruiting process than ever before. During the recruiting process we talk about if a player goes 0-3 at the plate what tools does he possess that can help us win today’s game.

CBD: I see that you guys signed 11 high school kids this year which is different than what you had in this fall. What do you think the difference was for your most recent class?

MV: With us getting here so late in the game last year and not being able to see kids in person until March 1st (NCAA rule) we had a real sense of urgency to get the most talented players regardless of age or position. This year we recruited for an entire year. We were able to identify power arms and athletic defenders with arm strength and versatility. This recruiting class has the most upside of any recruiting class I have been a part of. All of the RHP’s are 6’2 – 6’5 and have touched 90+ MPH with room to grow while all of the position players run 7.0 or better in the 60 yd dash, are athletic, and have arm strength.

College Baseball Daily would like to thank Mike Villano for taking the time out of his schedule. Special thanks to Cameron Weidenthaler for helping secure Mike. If any other SID’s or coaches would like to be featured in a future interview feel free to send me an email by clicking here.