Ole Miss hosts Washington, Georgia Tech, and Jacksonville State in the Oxford Regional this weekend…
That big palace, reconfigured as it is now after the 2008 season, hasn't hosted NCAA postseason play since 2009. But it's back, and the 2014 team is to be saluted for it. None of the players on this team had hosted. All were still in high school, in some cases junior high school, the last time Ole Miss hosted. But it's time to look ahead. The Rebels are three wins this weekend and two wins the following weekend from a trip to the College World Series. So are 15 other teams that will host and 63 other total teams in the field. The key to this season may have been, as much as anything, that this team believed it could get it done. They are the ones who before the season began told us they thought they were pretty good. They are the ones that said they would be tougher this year than in year's past. That all proved to be the case. You could see the progress of the program from bottoming out in 2011 with only 13 SEC wins to making it back to the NCAA Tournament in 2012 in College Station, Texas, and 14 SEC wins, to last season and the Raleigh, N.C., Regional with 15 conference wins. Now 19 league wins and a runnerup finish, a solo second place spot in the league. And hosting. We'll know by lunchtime Monday who the other three teams coming to Oxford are. There won't be any SEC teams in the mix. That doesn't happen in opening weekend Regionals. Conferences don't play at other conference locales. I've heard Jackson State might be coming. I've heard Samford might be. Some say Houston, Cal-Irvine, Jacksonville State. Really, it's all a guess. That five SEC sites are hosting is accurate. Five should be. Florida, Ole Miss, LSU, South Carolina, and Vanderbilt all had the resume's and the RPI to host. And the committee saw fit to reward them. We'll also find out Monday who those Top 8 national seeds are. And if the Rebels aren't one, and signs point to that not being the case, we'll see what other Regional they are matched against. We meet with the coaches and team to watch the Selection Show at 11 a.m. on ESPNU. We do that every year. Will Allen Bruce Newman This will be the most celebrated one of those for the program since 2009, when the Rebels found out they were hosting and almost made it to Omaha two weeks later. That postseason we saw Drew Pomeranz pitch twice in one weekend and give two performances like none seen in stadium history in that '09 Regional. We saw Matt Smith with the walkoff to win game one in the Super Regional against Virginia. We saw the unspeakable end of game two that sent the series to a third game and the Rebels not make it out of Oxford once again onto the biggest stage. From time to time I see Evan Button. Class guy. Some Ole Miss students were doing a documentary for a class project at the end of the school year earlier this month. It was on Ole Miss moments where teams failed to move on and either win a big game, or a championship, or move on to the next round of a tournament. They asked me to be a part of it since I'd been around here a long time. They were right so I did. They asked a few others. One of them was Evan. I was told he talked about it and thought about it for a minute and said, Rebels stick together and I'll do it. I didn't actually hear him say it, so no quote marks. But if ever a guy could run from a moment, it was him. And he didn't. He faced the media in the postgame that day in 2009, has come back to Ole Miss from time to time since then, and has now even consented to talk in a student video about a day he knows was not only painful for him but for all Rebel Nation. The game could have still been won or lost, even with that moment. But we know how things turned out. Hosting Regionals and perhaps Super Regionals assure nothing, except that once again Ole Miss baseball is in the spotlight and has the opportunity to make something happen. Whether it will or not remains to be seen. But if most are honest, this team has already surprised most of Rebel Nation. So who knows what's in store this weekend and beyond? We'll know more what they're dealing with before midday on Monday. To date, they've done some pretty special things.
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