Aoki creating winning culture at Boston College

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Boston College may always remember its 25-inning affair against Texas in the Austin Regional last season.

In the longest game in college baseball history, the Longhorns took a 3-2 lead in the top of the 25th inning. UT then held the Eagles in the bottom of the inning to claim the victory.

Army eliminated Boston College from the postseason the next day, but the statement was made.

Coach Mik Aoki’s showed it belonged. The Eagles weren’t content with being in an NCAA regional for the first time in 42 seasons. They were disappointed they didn’t do enough to advance to the super regional round to face TCU.

That is the attitude and culture Aoki has established at Boston College.

“To me, the most important part of that game in the regional last season is that each kid on our team was extremely disappointed we lost that game,” Aoki said. “We look back at the Austin Regional as a lost opportunity, not a moral victory. That game really confirmed to me that we’ve arrived on the national stage.”

Photo Mickey Wiswall and the Eagles hope to take yet another step this season.
(Boston College)

Some venture to call Boston College’s rise up the ranks a miracle. Others view it as hard work by some talented players finally paying off. But no matter what opinion anyone has, what the Eagles accomplished last season was amazing.

The path to respectability, though, began four years ago.

When Pete Hughes left BC for Virginia Tech following the 2006 season, the Eagles took a chance on Aoki. He served as pitching coach for Hughes and was a natural fit for a program hoping to continue moving forward with familiar faces.

Aoki’s first season didn’t go as planned. The Eagles compiled a 24-27 record and certainly left something to be desired. The following season, the Eagles compiled an unimpressive 26-27 record.

But after accumulating a pair of recruiting classes and watching many players that were young and inexperienced in ’07 and ’08 grow older, Aoki finally had a team last season with the right attitude and personnel.

It paid dividends as the Eagles finished the campaign with a 34-26 record.

“I definitely felt like we set the tone for the program last season,” said BC pitcher Pat Dean. “From the beginning of fall workouts to the end of the season, it was a completely different attitude from the previous campaigns.

More important than what the Eagles accomplished last season is the notion they have the ability to become a permanent fixture in the regional picture.

Before you laugh, consider a few things. First, Boston College has much more to offer than many programs in the Northeast. Sure, there are some Big East programs in the region that aren’t bad. But there’s something to say about having the ability to stay in the region and play in a conference such as the ACC. Second, the academic prowess of the institution helps Aoki with many players in the region.

Look around the nation at rosters at programs such as Vanderbilt and Clemson, and you’ll find a fair share of players hailing from the Northeast. What if Boston College all of a sudden started attracting those players?

It’s certainly a distinct possibility. At least Aoki hopes it will be.

“People thought we were creating baseball suicide when we decided to join the ACC. But the move has given us a great niche with players in the region,” Aoki said. “We now have a combination that no one else in the region can offer. We’ve been able to get involved with some very good players in the region because of it.”

Junior infielder Mickey Wiswall is one of those guys. Wiswall had the opportunity to go to other programs in the region. But when it came down to decision time, Wiswall couldn’t turn down Aoki and the combination of a great academic school and competing in the ACC.

“I grew up a New England guy and Coach Aoki kind of sold me on the fact that he wanted a New England core to lead them to regional and things like that,” Wiswall said. “It was just awesome to see that dream come true last season.”

Boston College took the first step to respectability by putting together a solid record in a power conference and making an NCAA regional. There’s no question it will help the program attract more highly touted recruits in the future.

But even after the accomplishments of last season, the Eagles feel like there’s much more they can accomplish in the upcoming season to attract more high-profile prospects, such as a super regional berth and College World Series appearance.

“I think I would be disappointed if we didn’t get to a super regional this season,” Aoki said. “I know we don’t want to get our hands blown out of proportion after just making a regional last season, but I think this is a talented team with the ability to go on a streak in the postseason. I think we could be a very dangerous super regional team.”

Sure, making a regional last season was great and all, and the Eagles wouldn’t necessarily think it was a bad thing to only make two-straight regional appearances. But the Eagles have high expectations with the return of a very solid weekend rotation with Pat Dean and Kevin Moran leading the way. The offense, even without catcher Tony Sanchez, also is in good shape.

The Eagles know exactly where they want to be. Now, they hope to get there.

“Coach is really harping on some things this year, such as he doesn’t want us thinking about last season,” Wiswall said. “We broke on the national stage last season, but now we’re focused on securing ourselves as one of the ACC’s better programs. We don’t want to be considered an underdog anymore.”

The bar officially has been raised.

Boston College is ready for the next obstacle.

Kendall Rogers is the college baseball editor for Yahoo! Sports and Follow him on Twitter and follow Yahoo! Sports College Baseball on Facebook. Send Kendall a question or comment for potential use in a future column or webcast.
Updated Saturday, Jan 30, 2010