By Parrish Alford/NEMS Daily Journal
OXFORD – The Rebels were at home last week, and the question is how did they get there?
We’re not talking mode of transportation. We’re talking the big picture. How did the Rebels, after eight consecutive trips to the SEC baseball tournament and four NCAA Super Regionals in that time, fail to qualify for Hoover?
This is a destination – missing your conference tournament and hoping for a back door invitation to the NCAAs – to which you don’t arrive overnight. There were warning signs last year, an inability to produce consistently on offense down the stretch occasionally masked by perhaps the top college pitcher in the nation.
The offense, after starting slowly, got better this season, but did the Rebels? Pitching was average, defense less than that, and base running was enough to produce a spin-off series to “What not to wear.”
Inconsistency can often be traced to injuries, and the Rebels certainly had their share, beginning the first weekend of practice when Matt Snyder’s surgically repaired shoulder popped free. An omen?
Snyder became healthy enough to swing, which is his most important contribution, but could only DH and not play the field.
The biggest loss on the injury front, though, was Jake Morgan.
Basically, the Rebels were without their best pitcher for 85 percent of the conference season.
When Morgan was on board he was dominant in saves against Alabama, South Carolina and Arkansas.
“Could you have gotten one more (SEC) game if he didn’t miss eight weeks of conference? I think everybody who watched us would say yes,” Ole Miss coach Mike Bianco said.
I would say yes. To this point in the season – which may in fact be complete – Jake Morgan has not allowed an earned run.
Clearly Morgan’s loss was damaging, but elite teams have depth to overcome such losses. This one did not.
A team that has more newcomers than veterans needed its newcomers to step in and compete as upper echelon SEC players. They did not.
There were success stories along the way, but there wasn’t enough consistency from start to finish.
Injuries played a part there. Freshman Bobby Wahl and junior college transfer R.J. Hively missed key time early with arm soreness, but no pitchers emerged as lock-down options from the bullpen.
You could see the development with young players like Will Allen and Austin Anderson, but at the end of the day, the Rebels had no representation on the SEC’s all-freshman team nor did they have a finalist for the Ferriss Trophy, the state’s college baseball MVP, which an Ole Miss player has won four times previously.
It wasn’t that long ago that an Ole Miss player was voted the SEC’s top freshman three times over a six-year span.
The lack of postseason notoriety underscores the need for a talent boost, which appears to be on the way, provided the Rebels can successfully navigate the draft in June. Fingers are crossed in the baseball offices.
Fingers will be crossed on Selection Monday too as the Rebels hope for an NCAA bid.
Maybe next season Ole Miss can mix enough improvement from returning players with an infusion of young talent and take hope out of the equation this time of year.
Parrish Alford (firstname.lastname@example.org) covers Ole Miss for the Daily Journal. He blogs daily about Ole Miss athletics at NEMS360.com.