As the innings clicked away Saturday, and Ole Miss had not put much dent into a 5-0 deficit I thought I was watching an excellent chance for the Rebels to host an NCAA regional slip away.
Ole Miss had 16 SEC wins going into Saturday’s series finale with Kentucky. Now with 17 wins Ole Miss still is not guaranteed a host spot, but if 17 doesn’t guarantee one, 16 definitely will not.
The Rebels have hosted with 16 wins before – once – but this is a different season. There’s a lot of competition for an unknown number of SEC host sites. The Rebels have also twice gone 17-13 in league play and been sent on the road.
While Henri Lartigue’s three-run walk-off home run was duly celebrated there was also a sense of relief Saturday, a sense of Ole Miss winning a game it knew it had to win.
If it wants to play home baseball in the tournament the Rebels removed a lot of pressure Saturday by completing the sweep of Kentucky.
Now they have a great opportunity against Texas A&M. It will take a lot to win the series at College Station, which is likely what would had to have happened had Ole Miss not picked up SEC Win No. 17 against Kentucky.
It’s not a stretch to think that Ole Miss could go down to College Station and get a game against No. 4 Texas A&M.
I think winning one game there would solidify a host spot. NCAA bids and host spots do not occur in a vacuum. While it’s always important to look at the Ole Miss resume, it’s just as important to look at what other teams are doing.
However, my guess is an 18th SEC win and an RPI that at that point would likely be no lower than top eight at selection time would lock in an Oxford Regional.
On a side note, Mississippi State keeps winning too. Two years ago Ole Miss went down to A&M on the final weekend, won two games and clinched the Western Division. That was against a good team but not as good a team as the Aggies have now.
While Ole Miss’ second half of the SEC season has built a strong resume, MSU has been impressive as well and has the advantage of a 3-1 record against the Rebels. Can’t we all see this MSU-Ole Miss super regional building? Well, maybe not.
For that to happen at least one team would have to be seeded 2 or lower somewhere.
This from the NCAA manual: “Teams from the same conference and seeded first in their respective regional will be placed on the bracket to avoid meeting in the super regionals.”
We start talking regional host sites from a long way out. Well, there’s not that much baseball left to play now. Just three regular season SEC games left, and Ole Miss has a real opportunity.
Before A&M there’s a stop-over game at Arkansas State on Tuesday. Ole Miss doesn’t have a real stinker loss on its resume, and that’s one reason it has remained so strong. It would be a shame to add one now. Arkansas State is 11-15 and nine games out in the Sun Belt. The Red Wolves have a 136 RPI, and the Rebels need to take care of business in the Boro.
About the weekend …
Mike Bianco took the chance after Lartigue’s walk-off home run to salute his offense.
The Rebels hit .374 for the Kentucky series, but the body of work was not as impressive as that sounds. They had 11 hits in the opener but did not hit well with runners in scoring position.
As mentioned above, they didn’t hit well against Kentucky starter Kyle Cody. The Cats committed a couple of errors to help the Rebels’ cause, and Ole Miss got its own timely hits too. Ultimately the offense came late, but late counts.
Pitching for this Ole Miss team has been pretty good all year, particularly from the bullpen.
It’s a testament to the strength of this staff that Bianco has been able to re-make his SEC rotation on the fly and still win games.
Putting James McArthur into the rotation hasn’t fixed Game 3. McArthur hasn’t reached the fifth inning in an SEC start yet and gave up the two home runs to put the Rebels behind on Saturday. I think he’ll be a good SEC starter.
David Parkinson’s addition has been very good. Only once in six starts has he gone less than five innings. The Rebels have won four of his starts.
No, offense has been the lingering inconsistency. It’s not that Ole Miss has been a bad offense. It just hasn’t always hit good SEC pitching enough. We’re not talking about hitting elite SEC pitching. We’re talking about hitting the second or third guys on a staff. That didn’t happen enough against South Carolina, MSU and Alabama.
That’s changed. Ole Miss in the back half of the SEC season has had more success against good pitching, though it looked like the Rebels had reverted in the first half of Saturday’s game.
Lartigue has been a steady bat most of the year. Woodman has upped his average and has really upped his power, and Errol Robinson, who struggled mightily at the outset of the season, has really come on. Robinson just had a 16-game hit streak snapped Saturday. The day before he torched Kentucky pitching for five hits.
There was a lot of celebration on the Swayze Field outfield grass as we were getting ready for postgame interviews Saturday.
One of the first to reach and celebrate with Bianco was athletics director Ross Bjork. Never hurts to celebrate with your boss.
Ole Miss baseball has a great opportunity in the week ahead. If it’s handled correctly and with a little success there will be more celebrations to come.