The Robertson Report

The Bulldogs were dead and buried by most. The Rebs were still expecting to host a regional and the icing on the cake was the chance to keep arch-rival MSU and old nemesis Ron Polk out of the post-season for the first time in 16 years. It was billed by many as the changing of the guard in Mississippi college baseball, but a funny thing happened on the way to Omaha.

The Rebs had found the going a little tough as of late after taking 2 of 3 from league-leader Alabama. This was their year. Mike Bianco was being lavished with the type of adoration usually reserved for people named Manning. Bianco, a former LSU standout, was the candidate of choice by most to succeed struggling LSU baseball coach Smoke Laval. Conventional wisdom would lead one to believe that if an opening became available in Baton Rouge that Bianco was gone. LSU was struggling, Ole Miss was rolling, and the folks in Oxford were sweating. For decades they had played second fiddle to Mississippi State in baseball. Bianco seemed to be the man that could change that. He has a strong pedigree and a good baseball mind.

The powers that be at Ole Miss began to formulate a plan to keep Bianco Ball in session a few seasons longer. After all, the Rebs were virtually assured of a high seed in the coming NCAA baseball tournament. In fact the Rebs were even hopeful that they would host a regional just like those folks in Starkville used to do. That would surely be a sign to recruits which team was the Mississippi team of the future. Not only that, but if the Rebs could host a super regional, then their berth into the field at Omaha was a near certainty.

Well, a series against a mediocre Tennessee Volunteer squad didn't work out as planned, but the Rebs were due for a letdown after beating Bama. Then the Razorbacks, who had been hot and cold all season, suddenly got hot when they hit Oxford, taking all three. However, good things could still happen for the Rebel fans. They only had to win one against MSU. The Reb fans were just downright giddy. It couldn't have worked out better. This was their chance to wrap up their dream season and rub MSU's nose in it on the way to Rosenblatt Stadium. After all, MSU had been swept in two straight series and they hadn't swept anybody all year. The Rebs were confident. They had the Mayor's Trophy for crying out loud.

The Bulldogs were hurting. MSU needed a sweep or a little help from the up and down Auburn Tigers. It seemed that every Dawg fan's nightmare was coming true. Ole Miss was going to wrestle away from the stranglehold that MSU baseball has had on them for decades. For once, Ole Miss could say we're better and there wouldn't have been much we could say back. After all, our baseball season would have ended with the end of the school year for the first time since Ronald Reagan was president.

A cold front blew into town just as the Ole Miss team bus arrived. The temperatures dropped to football weather. Then came the rains. MSU, which had virtually been unbeatable on Friday nights behind the strong left arm of ace starting pitcher Paul Maholm, would have to play two on Saturday. How would the team respond?

Ole Miss staked former ace Montrenes to an early 2-0 lead. The second time through the order something happen; Montrenes seem to unravel. The Rebs hurler couldn't find the plate and the balls that did find the plate met aluminum. A couple of pitchers and several innings later the Rebs found themselves shell shocked after falling behind 12-2. Bianco collected his trembling troops between games to assure them and remind them they only needed one.

Former reliever Horne didn't fare much better in game 2. It didn't take the Dawg hitters long to send him to the showers. Almost every Rebel pitcher just got more of the same. Brock and company were strong on the hill for the Dogs. It was another humbling loss for the visitors.

Sunday was a game for all the marbles and with an Arkansas win, the loser of this game would be relegated to a role of spectators for the SEC Tournament. Coach Polk sent 2001 SEC Tournament hero Chris Young to the hill to close out the series. Young, who had been very effective all season long in middle relief duty, was making his first conference start. If Chris was nervous, it didn't show. Chris went after the Rebel hitters and had tremendous success early. The game remained scoreless until Rebel-Killer, Matthew Brinson hit a monster shot into the wind that cleared the wall. Young seemed to bear down even harder with a lead. Ole Miss just couldn't seem to solve him. Before game-end Brinson hit another home run and the Rebs pitching fell apart for the third time in three games and the Dawgs owned another lopsided win.

Chris Young will long be remembered for his performance last season to win the SEC Tournament, but his performance this past Sunday will not soon be forgotten either. Young seems to have a flare for the dramatic when it comes time for the post-season. His fresh arm should pay dividends for the Diamond Dogs going into tournament and, hopefully, regional play.

Meanwhile, the mighty Rebel baseball team that was once ranked 6th in the country finished 9th in the SEC. Ninth in the SEC leaves you on the outside looking in. Bianco Ball once again will have to go back to the drawing board to not only figure out the reasons for its second straight season-ending collapse but also how to contend with Mississippi's best, Mississippi State baseball and its masterful skipper, Ron Polk.

I don't know what it all means, but I do know this: You cannot talk your way into the College World Series. You can politic your way up the polls based on who you are or where you are from, but that won't win you any games. The games are still played on the field, and all things being equal, it appears that MSU is still better. Based on this weekend, one would have to conclude that the divide is much, much greater than anyone first believed.

I wonder how many college baseball programs that didn't qualify for the post-season gave their coach a huge pay raise? I know one that did, U of M. It was a sad, sad day all across Oxford on Monday. When they woke up they realized that one of their greatest teams ever got swept by MSU. I know some of our fans don't feel that we've had a very successful sports year over the last 12 months, but at least we ruined Ole Miss' football and baseball seasons. It may not mean much in the long run, but at least it makes life a little easier when visiting with our Rebel friends. Speaking of football, maybe Eli should have pitched on Sunday!

Until next time,

Steve Robertson
Hebrews 13:8


Steve Robertson is a free-lance correspondent who writes The Robertson Report for the premium site portion of Gene's Page. Steve's email address is therobertsonreport@hotmail.com.

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