Rebels control hosting fate down stretch
Published 12:00 pm Friday, May 6, 2016
Last weekend’s Southeastern Conference series between Ole Miss and LSU was the first of what will be a key stretch of four weekends in a row for the Rebels.
The No. 7 Rebels handled their business, taking two of three from the No. 13 Tigers to claim their second straight SEC series win and fourth of the season. Many national college baseball writers such as D1Baseball.com’s Kendall Rogers viewed that weekend battle as for the final regional hosting spot to be awarded to an SEC team.
Ole Miss (34-12) put itself in the driver’s seat as evidenced by the projections that came out on Wednesday from D1Baseball and Baseball America. Both sites projected Oxford to be a host site come June and also agreed on the three opponents that would fill the rest of the four-team bracket.
Louisiana-Lafayette, California and Southeastern Missouri State were the three schools projected to come play at Oxford-University Stadium the first weekend of the NCAA baseball tournament.
Where the two websites differed came with what regional Ole Miss was projected to be paired with. D1Baseball put Oxford with the Louisville Regional, setting up a potential rematch between the Rebels and the projected No. 6 national-seeded Cardinals after Ole Miss took the weekend series over then-No. 2-ranked Louisville back in late February.
Baseball America had Oxford paired with a No. 6 national seed, but it had Florida State filling that spot in the Tallahassee Regional.
“We’ve kind of been stressing that all year, hosting a regional and being able to be here in Oxford when we play,” Ole Miss shortstop Errol Robinson said when asked if the clubhouse chatter has turned to regional talk. “The postseason is big for us, and right now, every game matters. When you talk about the midweeks and the SEC (games), we just have to stay consistent and everything will work out.”
The midweek and weekend non-conference performances are a big reason why Ole Miss is back in the hosting conversation after spending last year out west in Los Angeles and going 0-2 in the UCLA Regional.
After Wednesday’s victory over Arkansas-Pine Bluff, the Rebels have a record of 22-3 in non-conference games, a season removed from when they were a .500 team at best all year. If they are able to pull a victory out at Arkansas State on May 17, they can tie the best non-conference record during the Mike Bianco era.
“We’ve pitched better,” Bianco said when asked what he viewed as the improved success. “I think last year, there was times where we were good and we beat some good teams and there was times when we weren’t very good and there was enough blame to go around. The biggest thing is you got to pitch and that’s the constant. I think certainly the experience and the maturity, but we are also just a better team than we were a year ago.”
Ole Miss is 12-9 in the SEC, two and a half games back in the Western Division standings of No. 2 Texas A&M, who they close out the regular season against in three weeks in College Station, Texas. That series could have much larger implications than most expected to start the season, but first the Rebels have to get through Georgia on the road beginning tonight (6:30 p.m., SEC Network+) and Kentucky next weekend in their home SEC finale.
Getting two of those three series would be key to their postseason chances to stay home as well as earning any wins they can in Hoover, Alabama, during the SEC Tournament later this month.