So, here’s where we are.
The SEC regular season is complete. Has there been improvement from 2011?
The answer is yes but to what degree remains to be seen. The Rebels are one game better in league play (14-16) than they were a year ago (13-17) when they missed out on the SEC and NCAA tournaments.
The goal from the beginning had to be to get back to postseason, to begin a new streak after an eight-year run in both tournaments ended last season. Getting into postseason is the first step of reaching the real goal, Omaha.
While Omaha is always a stated goal of the program, this isn’t the team to get there regardless of what happens this week in Hoover and next Monday when NCAA bids are announced. But getting into postseason has to be the first goal, getting the opportunity to play as long as you can and one day make the CWS field.
There’s a general belief that Ole Miss, with 14 regular season wins in the No. 2 rated RPI conference and an RPI currently of 23 as its own, has done enough to get into the NCAA tournament.
But rarely have I seen an emotional turnaround such as the Rebels have achieved in seven days, going from a sweep of an SEC opponent, albeit a bad one, to a loss at Arkansas State and scoring just five runs in three games at Vanderbilt. I understand that Tim Corbin has recruited good pitching and that Vanderbilt is peaking. That’s fine. You’re still, if you’re going to be a team can realistically pursue the goals Ole Miss pursues, going to have to compete against quality pitching.
The hitting is much improved from last season, the scoring is not. So many times – including yesterday in a 6-3 loss – the Rebels put up enough hits to win the game but not enough runs, not enough pressure on the opposing defense in which this offense was described at the beginning of the season. This Ole Miss team was noticeably better in laying down a bunt and advancing a runner with a sacrifice, and finished second against SEC foes in batting average at .285. But a team that struck out less than any other SEC team, and one with more speed to work with than last year, finished sixth in on-base percentage, 10th in runs, 11th in stolen bases and last in stolen base attempts.
The hitting is better, but something is missing. Something else has to happen to get the Rebels around the bases and to home plate. Thursday and Friday it was like they sent recon agents out to second base only to go back to the dugout and file a report. Rarely did those runners get around to third base and home. Ole Miss left 34 runners on base for three games, almost 12 a game.
Trends that go on for a season are rarely dramatically different in postseason, so if the Rebels are going to have any more success in Hoover, they’re going to have to pitch it better. They’re going to have to have outstanding starting pitching and relief pitching in the same game, and they’re going to have to score enough for it to matter.
At this point in assessing postseason goals, Ole Miss is back in the SEC tournament but barely. Had the field not expanded to 10 teams, the No. 9-seeded Rebels would not be there.
The RPI is strong, but an RPI in the 20s wasn’t enough to get LSU in the field last year when the Tigers had 13 regular season wins and did not make the SEC tournament.
It will be interesting to see if making it to Hoover works for or against Ole Miss. LSU did not have the chance to improve its resume beyond the regular seaosn last year. Ole Miss does.
While certain components remain significant to earn an NCAA at-large bid, there’s still a human element to every selection committee. If the Rebels, who open with Kentucky Tuesday morning at 9:30, go 0-2 in Hoover it will be interesting to see if 14 regular season wins really are enough to keep playing.