Rebels staying sharp while hoping for NCAAs

By Parrish Alford/NEMS Daily Journal

OXFORD – With a pleasant disposition on most days, Alex Yarbrough doesn’t often wish ill will for his SEC brethren.
But there are exceptions.
One of those was Thursday, when the Ole Miss baseball team returned to the practice field. The team had a few days away following a series loss at Arkansas that kept the Rebels out of the SEC tournament.
While games were being played in Hoover, Ala., the Rebels were playing games at Swayze Field – intrasquad workouts designed to help them stay sharp for NCAA tournament games that may or may not come.
If Ole Miss is to receive an at-large bid, it will benefit by stumbles from SEC teams Georgia and Auburn, who will be ineligible for the NCAA tournament if they fail to finish at least one game above .500 at the completion of conference tournament play.
“Today we want Georgia to beat Auburn, so that Auburn won’t be eligible. Then if Georgia could lose one of the next two, that’d be great for us,” said Yarbrough prior to the workout.
Georgia did, in fact, write the first half of that script, eliminating Auburn with a 3-2 win. The Tigers’ season is over with a 29-29 overall record.
Georgia, also 29-29, will play today against Thursday’s South Carolina-Vanderbilt loser. The Bulldogs must win today’s game and one more on Saturday to avoid the same fate as Auburn.
The right scenario
It’s all about scenarios for Ole Miss right now. If enough of them swing the Rebels’ way, they could very well reach the NCAA tournament for a ninth-straight season.
Most NCAA tournament projections have the Rebels firmly on the bubble – some in, some out.
Chances of making the field are strong enough that Ole Miss coach Mike Bianco laid out everything for his players in a team meeting on Monday.
“He had it drawn up on his piece of paper. He knew what he was talking about,” senior outfielder Matt Smith said. “I don’t know where he got everything from, but he laid it out pretty good for us. He took us through the way it’s supposed to work, took us through the equation.”
Said Bianco: “We went over it as much as anybody could. They’re here for a week, so they should understand where they’re at, as least as much as can be explained. At the end, there are so many scenarios it’s hard to really even get a grasp.”
The Rebels will go through intrasquad games again today and Sunday. Bianco said he’ll throw his starting pitchers at least four innings each to keep them in a rhythm for going deep in games.
He wants his hitters to get “live” at-bats in simulated game action.
Players won’t scatter this weekend. They’ll be on alert and hope they get the invitation on Monday, but there won’t be a Selection Show viewing party with media in attendance as had become a custom this time of year.
“It’s disappointing, but the season set up the way it is, 56 games, 30 conference games … it’s as fair as it can be. The games are there for you to win them, and we didn’t win enough,” Bianco said.
So the Rebels meet, practice, stay in routine and cheer for their scenarios at the expense of at least one other SEC team, maybe one more.
“You do the same things, stay hopeful and keep working hard till the say, ‘Hey, you’re done,'” Smith said.
Contact Parrish Alford at 678-1600
or parrish.alford@journalinc.com.

The Rebels’ case
– Why should Ole Miss make the 64-team NCAA tournament field after failing to reach the SEC tourney?
The Rebels are No. 40 in the NCAA’s official Ratings Percentage Index, a measure of strength used to help determine tourney seeding.
A Rivals.com projection on Sunday suggested that Ole Miss would make the 64-team field, but upsets could force the Rebels off the “bubble” of potential tourney teams.
If late-season play is taken into account, the Rebels’ 7-11 record in their last 18 games might not help – although two of those wins did come in a series victory over South Carolina, No. 6 in the latest RPIs.