Following a Southeastern Conference championship regular season in 2009, an NCAA Regional title, and a Super Regional hosting, the Rebels hadn’t been themselves. At times this season they weren’t either. After all, they did have a losing SEC regular season at 14-16.
But it was here on Olson Field at Blue Bell Park that Ole Miss arguably lifted the program again, beating second-seeded TCU on Friday and following that up with a win against top-seeded Texas A&M Saturday night. The next two days belonged to the Horned Frogs, but the Rebels had put themselves into position to win it.
As the program appears to continue to rebuild from the stellar days of Regionals and Super Regionals – the ones hosted in Oxford, that is – this was a better season. It was a lot like 2003.
In 2002 they failed to make any postseason. Then in ’03 they went on the road to the Regional at Rice, failed to get out of there, but that started a roll the next several seasons, and the Rebels hosted for the first time in 2004.
That year at Rice was when more people began to follow Ole Miss baseball. Names like Babineaux, Tolbert, Head, Pettway, Smith, Maloney, Presley, Coghlan, Fowler, Cupps, Gunther and more were beginning to turn heads and draw fans to the ballpark.
Ole Miss wasn’t really competitive in the Charlottesville Regional in 2010. The Rebels beat St. John’s 10-5, lost to the host Virginia Cavaliers 13-7, and were knocked out by St. John’s 20-16.
Last year Ole Miss failed to make the SEC Tournament field which meant its season ended before ever reaching Hoover. They did catch a break this season when the tournament was expanded from eight to 10 teams.
This weekend the ninth-place finisher in the SEC went to a competitive regional on the road, won two games against teams that had been to the College World Series lately – Texas A&M last year and TCU two years ago – and played on championship Monday.
But the Rebels, who won 37 games, need to make a move up from a bottom four finish in the SEC, which is where they’ve been now for the past two seasons. Can they do that next year and continue on a path of improvement? They want to host; need to host. It’s where Mike Bianco’s teams and program were just a short time ago.
This year’s downfall was likely two-fold. Not enough timely hitting when runners were on base and in scoring position. And not enough pitching depth they felt confident putting out there.
Bianco’s hire of Cliff Godwin meant there was going to be a change in the way the Rebels played the game offensively. It’s been gradual. We saw some of that from time to time, more bunting for sure, some aggressiveness now and then on the bases, but maybe not as many stolen base attempts as we thought we’d see.
There’ll be more of that. There is some adjustment from everything to personnel and mindset. How many times were the Rebels thrown out at home plate? Some might question that, but that was being more aggressive.
So what’s next? What’s next season hold? For starters, the next three games are scheduled to be against the same team they played three times this weekend. The Horned Frogs are scheduled to be in Oxford to open the regular season next February.
Personnel? Start with the return of Bobby Wahl and Mike Mayers. They’ll be at the top of the SEC as far as a one-two punch on the mound in 2013.
Who steps up after that will be interesting to see. The Rebels have to find that third starter.
Will it be Hawtin Buchanan or Chris Ellis? Josh Laxer or Aaron Greenwood? Will other pitchers, like, Sam Smith and Dylan Chavez who faded this season, make a move to help next season.
R.J. Hively is gone. How valuable has he been this season? Matt Snyder is gone. He had a solid career and was healthy this season which helped him and his team.
Alex Yarbrough. Count him gone. The draft will likely get him today. The Rebels will miss the Collegiate Baseball first-team All-American. Mr. Dependable.
Zach Kirksey and Blake Newalu are gone. Jon Andy Scott departs through graduation as well.
Brett Huber might get drafted and be gone. We’ll see on him. Tanner Bailey will likely be back.
In the field, Tanner Mathis might get drafted but should return. What a great leadoff guy he was this weekend. Will Allen, Andrew Mistone, and Austin Anderson all return and showed improvement this season. Mistone at third base was strong defensively and made some truly spectacular plays.
Auston Bousfield has been compared to Yarbrough when he was a freshman. Austin Knight more than got his feet wet as did Will Jamison. Sikes Orvis came on strong lately. Jake Overbey gained valuable experience as did John Gatlin. Preston Overbey didn’t make much of a move from year one to year two. Maybe he will in year three.
Then there are the newcomers. Left-handed junior college pitcher Austin Blount was in College Station to watch his new team play. There are others who will join him in Oxford this summer.
The draft, as expected, appears to have claimed some future Rebels. Likely never to see Swayze Field are shortstop Gavin Cecchini, 12th pick to the Mets, catcher Stryker Trahan, 26th pick to the Diamondbacks, and RHP Ty Hensley, 30th pick to the Yankees.
Today will be interesting to see what other current or future Rebels are drafted.
For now, the 2012 Rebel season is in the books. Sixteen teams play on. Ole Miss heads home.