FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. – Ole Miss conducted a modest celebration at the pitcher’s mound after Taylor Hashman caught Ryan Cisterna’s fly ball to right field.
There was no mad rush to the mound, no players leaping into a pile of humanity. Instead there were smiles and a few high-fives.
A casual observer would probably not have known Ole Miss had just won a share of its first Southeastern Conference regular-season championship since 1977. No. 9 Ole Miss routed Arkansas, 16-3, Saturday to wrap up a sweep of the Razorbacks and share of the title with No. 2-ranked LSU, which blew out Mississippi State, 15-4.
“I think our whole team’s on Cloud Nine right now,” Ole Miss outfielder Jeremy Travis said. “I think we deserve it, too.”
“It’s awesome,” senior catcher Brett Basham said. “We’ve been close a couple of times, but it’s great to be champion of the best baseball conference in the country.”
LSU, by virtue of taking two of three against the Rebels in Baton Rouge, La., in March, will be the No. 1 seed in this week’s SEC tournament at Regions Park in Hoover, Ala. Ole Miss (40-15 overall, 20-10 in the SEC) will be the No. 3 seed. The Rebels will face sixth-seeded Georgia on Wednesday at 1:30 p.m.
The Rebels’ strong finish also strengthened Ole Miss’ case to serve as one of the 16 NCAA regional hosts and to land one of the coveted eight national seeds, a designation that assures those teams home field until the College World Series in Omaha, Neb.
“We want to host and we want to be a national seed,” Ole Miss coach Mike Bianco said. “It’s not in our control. All we can do is control the baseball games and go play, but I think when you sit back and look at it, the resume’s pretty darn good. …Certainly, I think our resume’s going to stand out.”
Arkansas (32-20, 14-15), once a strong candidate to earn one of those eight national seeds, lost its eighth consecutive SEC game. The Razorbacks will face SEC East champ Florida on Wednesday in Hoover.
“It kind of snowballed a little bit, but what do you do?” Arkansas coach Dave Van Horn said. “You just keep fighting, practice (Sunday), travel Monday and see what happens.”
Ole Miss, a team that had hit 48 home runs in its previous 54 games, hit four on Saturday. All were no-doubters.
Leading 2-0 in the third inning, the Rebels began to pull away. Logan Power led off the frame with his sixth home run of the season and Zach Miller followed with a two-run shot, his fifth of the year, later in the frame.
“It was an unbelievable day,” said Power, who was 3-for-6 at the plate. “We were just locked in all day in every phase. It’s an amazing feeling. …We couldn’t sleep last night. We just had that feeling today. It was awesome.”
Arkansas scratched out a run in the third, but the Rebels blew the game open in the fourth. Matt Smith drew a bases-loaded walk and Kyle Henson followed with a bases-clearing double. After Miller walked to put two on, Jeremy Travis hit a towering three-run blast to give the Rebels a 12-1 lead.
Tim Ferguson hit a solo shot down the left field line to lead off the fifth. The Rebels added three insurance runs in the sixth, keyed by RBI-singled from Kevin Mort and Jordan Henry, and all of that offense was more than enough to prevent any thoughts of an Arkansas comeback.
The Hogs added single runs in the fifth and sixth innings off Ole Miss starter Phillip Irwin but didn’t get a hit in the final three innings against Rebels relievers Wade Broyles and Rory McKean.
“I didn’t think I had my best stuff today,” said Irwin, who improved to 7-3 by scattering eight hits and three runs over six innings. “You don’t have to have your best stuff when your team scores 16 runs. It takes a lot of pressure off you. It’s awesome.”
Justin Wells, one of six Arkansas pitchers, took the loss. Wells (2-1) gave up five hits and five runs in 22/3 innings.
Neal McCready/Special to the Journal