Hosting an NCAA tournament regional is the gateway to Omaha, the launching pad.
Not everyone who qualifies for the College World Series does it, but the vast majority of those who don't get to Omaha certainly do not.
It has become the norm for Ole Miss, the expectation, that the postseason would begin at Swayze Field. It happened four straight seasons and five out of six.
But players come and go, sometimes coaches do too, and injuries have a way of changing things.
There were off-field considerations as well as a gut-shot with attrition, and educated Ole Miss fans didn't peg this team for Omaha at its inception.
Back in January, many of them would have gladly accepted 39 wins and a ninth NCAA regional appearance.
But things changed. Things changed, because Aaron Barrett was better than last year and became a solid No. 2 starter behind Drew Pomeranz. Barrett flamed out at the end, but his last two starts were against the best offenses Ole Miss faced all season. He also had quality starts without run support down the stretch.
Pitching was suspect at the beginning, and the lack of depth showed itself at the end. The consistency dropped dramatically after Pomeranz, Barrett and Brett Huber.
It wasn't pitching, though, that caused the Rebels struggle to the finish line. With nine SEC games to play, Ole Miss was tied for the SEC West lead and in contention for the overall title.
That wasn't pitching, it was hitting and run-production.
Hitting comes and goes over the course of the season, but for the Rebels it left after the Mississippi State series and didn't come back until postseason, and many games then carried some sort of pitching asterisk, whether it was South Carolina coach Ray Tanner not throwing his ace or a St. John's freshman starting for the third time in 10 days.
The lack of production placed first-year hitting coach Matt Mossberg under the microscope. Bianco said the problems weren't "all about Matt" and that Bianco himself should have been more involved in hitting.
Rebuilding job ahead
Moving forward, the same expectations will be in place next January. At least in 2010 there was one great pitcher to build around with Pomeranz. Next year's staff will begin to take shape soon, depending on whether signees Bobby Wahl and R.J. Hively skip college for pro baseball.
If that happens, pitching success will rely more heavily on Bianco's ability to develop what's on staff, as he did with Phillip Irwin two years ago and Barrett this year.
Not only in its pitching but with hitting, an infusion of talent is needed. The incoming class is highly regarded, but Bianco has to get them in school, and they need to be ready to contribute early.
The program is at a crossroads now, looking for its new stars. There weren't enough of them in 2010 to achieve at the level of reputation it has earned.
There were only middling expectations for this team, but the season's early exit was distasteful because of where the Rebels were at the beginning of May. Even so, from where it started there are positives to be found for this "bridge" squad, the one that kept the NCAA tournament streak going.
Early elimination from a regional can't be spun that way next year. The Rebels will be viewed as rising or in decline.
The bottom line is baseball for the Rebels is about Omaha. Either they got there or they didn't.
This time they didn't, and there's work to be done before Ole Miss will be knocking on the door again.
Parrish Alford (parrish.alford@ djournal.com) covers Ole Miss for the Daily Journal and blogs about Ole Miss athletics at NEMS360.com