A REBUILDING SPRING TOUGH FOR THE REBEL SENIORS
This wasn’t the way it was supposed to work out for Ole Miss seniors Richy Harrelson and Joe Ignatius.
A month ago, the two co-captains and roommates were anxiously waiting for the start of the SEC season. The Rebels were 9-3 and had dreams of returning to the NCAA Tournament Regionals.
“When you’ve had a taste of it, like we did last year, you want it again,” said Ignatius, an outfielder from Westchester, Illinois. “I knew we lost some key guys, but I believed we had the team to get back and maybe play ourselves into the College World Series.”
Those dreams are gone.
The Rebels are 1-11 in SEC play, a disappointment that Harrelson, a four-year starter from Iuka, terms, “unbelievable. Absolutely unbelievable. There’s no way we should be 1-11, but we are.”
Before it gets better, it might get worse.
The Rebels visit Tennessee tonight, opening a series with a team that’s ranked among the nation’s best in every poll. Ole Miss hasn’t won an SEC road game.
Next week, the nation’s best team in the 1990s, LSU, comes to Oxford-University Stadium for a three-game set. It’s not inconceivable the Rebels could be 1-17. And after that? Another road trip. This time to Alabama.
What is most disappointing to Ignatius and Harrelson is how the bad start has taken place.
There have been days the Rebels have gotten good pitching and lost: 2-1, 5-3, 2-1, 4-1. There have been days the Rebels have hit the ball and lost: 17-11, 22-12, 8-6. The Rebels rank among the nation’s best defensive teams and it hasn’t mattered.
“With the exception of one series, we haven’t played horrible. We’re 14-14 overall and we’re not that bad,” Harrelson said. “We’re just not winning. We’re not bad, we’re just not winning. Do you understand what I’m trying to say?”
Ignatius does. “Last year, we had an attitude like I’ll get it done, or if I don’t, somebody else will. This year, our attitude has been more like if I don’t get it done myself, it won’t get done. We’ve tried to do it ourselves.
“I’m a captain. I take responsibility for that.”
Rebels are down, but not out
Lest you think the Rebels will fold the tent, think again.
The mood is upbeat, considering the numbers. Baseball is the sport with the highest margin of error and “luck”, so players tend to keep their emotions from being too high or too low.
“DK (Don Kessinger) and the staff haven’t let us get down on ourselves,” Harrelson said. “They’ve coached harder than ever but they haven’t destroyed our confidence. They’ve hung in there with us, we’re just not catching a break.”
Ignatius and Harrelson realize it will be a stretch for the Rebels to qualify for the SEC Tournament, which will take eight of the league’s 12 teams. The Rebels would have to make up a minimum of five games in the final 18 and even then, it might not be enough.
“Our goals are to win every series the rest of the way and be a good team over the last half of the SEC season,” Ignatius said. “I know we’ve got some good young players and this program is a lot better than when I got here as a freshman.
“We’re just having one of those years that none of us can explain. Last year, everything broke our way and this time, it’s not. We’re not going to cry and whine about it. We’re going to keep playing hard and see if we can’t turn it back our way before it’s over.”
Chris Burrows covers college baseball for the Daily Journal.