By John Davis, Oxford Citizen
It could have been easy for Ole Miss to give in to Mississippi State in the final game of the best-of-three series last Saturday.
The Bulldogs were up five runs and the Rebels had already earned the series, clinching the second game 13-10. Nobody would have thought differently about the outcome other than to say it would have been nice to earn the series sweep over the Bulldogs.
Losing to the Bulldogs wasn’t in the plan of the Rebels, however. They fought back, tied the game, and then won in extra innings. It was the first sweep of the season for the Rebels, who had struggled to close out other teams in third games. A big reason was the opponent. Mississippi State is the biggest rival, of course, even if the three wins count the same in the SEC standings as defeating any other team.
When a season isn’t going as well as you would like, beating a top rival always makes things better. And when that team has made shirts that take a shot at your school, just rolling over at the first sign of adversity wasn’t an option.
It’s amazing how a sweep of the Bulldogs can change the outlook of a season. Ole Miss is 29-24 heading into the final SEC series with Texas A&M. For a program that has been used to winning a lot more, and hosting regionals more often than not, the sweep is significant for the players as much as it is for the fans.
The Rebels, who have played one of the top schedules this season, can finally start to look at the postseason. A spot in the SEC Tournament has been garnered. Unless they are swept by the Aggies, the Rebels will be more than a couple of games above the .500 mark heading to Hoover, Alabama. That’s good news because as long as they stay there, they will be back in the NCAA Tournament.
Ole Miss will not be hosting a regional this season at Oxford-University Stadium, but that doesn’t mean the Rebels can’t be factors in the postseason. A sweep over the Bulldogs gives the team a lot of momentum. How long it lasts depends on them, but the way they have fought down the stretch is encouraging to say the least.
The Rebels are 14-13 in the SEC now with the sweep. Ole Miss coach Mike Bianco has talked about the SEC race and standings at different points this season. He’s always been one to wait and see how things shake out. For a club that has played more doubleheaders in a season since doubleheaders were the way SEC weekends used to be decided, that’s a great record to have. It’s even better when you factor in the injuries.
And the schedule. As frustrating as some of the losses have been, Ole Miss has fared well against some of the nation’s best teams. The Rebels were 5-4 against clubs that were ranked No. 1 in one of the major polls. They have series wins over Florida and Vanderbilt, two teams that will be hosting regionals this next month. They have a win over LSU, the team that will likely be the No. 1 overall seed when the field of 64 is unveiled. And now they have a sweep of their biggest rival.
One win over A&M will ensure at least 15 victories in the SEC and there have been other, more talented Bianco-led teams that have only been able to get to that mark. That’s also significant in that some people thought this team couldn’t accomplish that win total this season.
Time will tell just how far the 2015 Rebels advance. They aren’t the favorites to win the SEC Tournament, but the way they’re playing now suggests a better finish than 0-2. And if the Rebels get a favorable draw in the NCAAs, then who knows what can happen. The bottom line is the team fought hard to get to this point. They haven’t quit on a season that didn’t start out like anyone would have hoped. That’s the mark of a true champion.
It’s a team that Bianco is proud of even if he doesn’t have time to stop and smell the roses or really appreciate what this team has accomplished. It’s a team that should lay the ground work for even better days ahead, and that could include the final few weeks. A sweep over the Bulldogs means so much right now. It adds perspective and hope to the mix. It also adds confidence to a young team that will need it heading into the time of the year that often elevates teams to memorable status.