PARRISH ALFORD: Road to Final Four special for Rebels

PARRISH ALFORD

PARRISH ALFORD

OMAHA, Neb.

A Twitter follower and fan of a rival school reached out to me after John Gatlin’s walk-off home run to express something less than full support of Ole Miss and its College World Series experience.

Gatlin’s hit lifted the Rebels past Texas Tech on Tuesday. It seems like ages ago.

Since that time Ole Miss knocked off TCU on Thursday, for the second time this postseason eliminating a national seed.

The Rebels were less fortunate Saturday, losing 4-1 to Virginia, the No. 3 national seed and favorite to win the national championship early next week.

The reader’s message was this: “1.5 runs a game won’t get it done.”

At the time, Ole Miss had struggled offensively while splitting its first two games. What was lost on the messenger was this: “It” was already done.

It was done for this team by simply getting here. After that it was playing with house money.

Nobody at Ole Miss would ever say that. No one would have been pleased had the Rebels arrived and laid two big eggs in their first two games, failed to compete and embarrassed themselves.

That isn’t what happened.

While getting here is a triumph for all teams – kind of like winning an NCAA basketball regional final and getting to the Final Four – it meant something more for Ole Miss.

There was the history of not having played in the CWS since 1972, the history of not having won in Omaha since 1969.

That history was brought into sharper focus because the school began to care more about baseball, to pump resources into the program, to get to Omaha’s doorstep four times previously only to be turned away. Losses like that hurt.

There’s also the history of watching your rival achieve in the CWS when you know how close you’ve been yourself.

Then there’s the sub-plot of the head coach’s contract, how it offered no definitive view of the future at the beginning of the season with only half the maximum years allowed by state law.

No, getting to Omaha was a big, big deal.

What the Rebels found when they arrived was that they were good enough to win it.

They forced Virginia to win in a walk-off in the opener and went on to oust TCU, the No. 1 ERA team in the country, against which the Rebels posted 11 hits and six earned runs.

As Ole Miss coach Mike Bianco likes to say, it’s not necessarily the best team that wins, it’s the team that plays the best.

This Ole Miss team didn’t play the best on Saturday, but a team picked sixth the SEC West reached the Final Four and gave itself chances to win its bracket and reach the championship series.

So while smart thinking would in fact agree that 1.5 runs a game won’t get it done, to paraphrase a line from a former president, you really have to determine the meaning of “it.”

In spite of Saturday’s outcome, for Ole Miss baseball, “it” had really already occurred.

Parrish Alford (parrish.alford@journalinc.com) covers Ole Miss for the Daily Journal.com. He blogs daily at InsideOleMissSports.com.