Best of 2013

There was no shortage of memorable moments fro Ole Miss athletics in 2013. With the New Year upon us, we take a look back at the year that was.

Follow SpiritJeff on Twitter

13. Ole Miss baseball takes two of three from Mississippi State

Why it mattered: Ole Miss defeated Mississippi State two out of three baseball games in the regular season series in Oxford in May. The Friday night game was halted by rain after only half an inning and was picked up at that point on Saturday. Ole Miss won 3-0. In game two that followed on Saturday, the Rebels again picked up the victory in a high-scoring affair 10-8. In game three on Sunday, it appeared the Rebels were on their way to claiming a sweep of the arch-rival when they scored early and often for a 6-0 lead, only to collapse and lose 7-6. Ole Miss, which finished 15-15 in the SEC, went to Raleigh, N.C., for a NCAA Regional and failed to advance. The Bulldogs, which finished 16-14 in the SEC, hosted a Regional, won a Super Regional at Virginia, and advanced to the national championship series, falling to UCLA. If Ole Miss had held on to the 6-0 lead Sunday, it could have been the Rebels who hosted and the Bulldogs who played on the NCAA road. However, that did not turn out to be the case.

Quotable: "It wasn't easy," manager Mike Bianco said. "They're tough. They're good. They battle. We knew that going in. I'm proud of the way the guys hung in there They're obviously a very good (Mississippi) State team."

12. Ole Miss soccer makes history with banner season

Why it mattered: Head coach Matt Mott and staff guided the Ole Miss soccer team to a 16-6-2 record in the fall of 2013 and a second-round appearance in the NCAA tournament. The 16 wins marked the most in school history, while the Rebels also hosted an NCAA tournament game for the first time. They defeated Jackson State 9-0 in the opening round. Florida State eliminated Ole Miss in round two. Ole Miss finished fourth in the overall standings in the Southeastern Conference with a 7-3-1 record. The team spent seven weeks ranked in the top 25, marking the longest time spent in the rankings by a Rebel soccer team in a single season. Mott earned South Region Coach of the Year honors.

Kelly McCormick
File Photo

Mandy McCalla and Rafaelle Souza were both named All-SEC and All-Region selections, while Souza was also named an All-America selection by the National Soccer Coaches Association of America. Souza also earned SEC Scholar Athlete of the Year honors. Gretchen Harknett also became the most recent Rebel to earn All-Freshman honors.

Quotable: "This is another step forward for us. That's what we're trying to do every year," Mott said of the NCAA tournament. "It gives us a chance to compete at home and gives these seniors another home game. It's really awesome."

11. Sam Kendricks claims Ole Miss' first NCAA pole vault title

Why it mattered: With his winning clearance of 18-8.25, Kendricks, an Oxford, Miss., product, became the first person in school history to win an NCAA title in the pole vault. His title was the 13th individual national championship in program history, while Kendricks became the eighth Rebel to win at least one NCAA title.

Quotable: "I feel proud to be an Ole Miss Rebel," Kendricks would say following the feat. "I feel accomplished. At the same time, who can be fully satisfied with something like this? I went there and did what I knew I could do. I was victorious and right now I'm looking toward the future."

10. Marshall Henderson sinks 30-foot buzzer-beater, carries Ole Miss to OT win over Vanderbilt

Why it mattered: In a season filled with memorable moments for Henderson, the SEC's leading scorer and an All-SEC selection, a midweek SEC tilt early in the conference slate sticks out. Henderson dropped 26 points on the Commodores, including a buzzer-beating 3-pointer that sent the game into overtime. The shot, an absurd 30-foot bomb, was the final bucket of an Ole Miss rally from 13 points down over the final 8:39. The win was the first for Ole Miss in Memorial Gym since 2001, and the Rebels moved to 3-0 in league play for the first time since 2005-06. The win was just the sixth in 53 games for Ole Miss in Nashville.

Quotable: "I didn't actually shoot it the way I wanted to," Henderson said. "It didn't have any rotation on it, it just kind of floated in, but hey, I'll take it."

9. Ole Miss closes another successful season with a win in the Music City Bowl

Why it mattered: Ole Miss closed the 2013 regular season in disappointing fashion, with consecutive losses to Missouri and in-state rival Mississippi State. The Egg Bowl loss was the most egregious of the two, with the Rebels, vying for their eighth win of the season and better bowl positioning, playing arguably their worst game of the season in what was a deflating, 17-10, final. They dropped to 7-5 and 3-5 in the SEC. Even worse, the Bulldogs earned bowl eligibility because of the win. However, Ole Miss erased some of the frustrations of that final month by holding on to beat Georgia Tech, 25-17, to claim its sixth straight bowl victory, which is the longest in the country.

Quotable: "We're thrilled with the outcome of the game," head coach Hugh Freeze said. "We've had more than our share of some things that have hit us at the end of the year. Not just injuries, but loss of loved ones and of children. Just difficult things. Those are the times that the love of a team or a group are really tested. I couldn't be more proud of our young men who went out and battled today."

8. Ole Miss rolls over Texas

Why it mattered: Provided a national stage early in the 2013 campaign, Ole Miss shined, whipped Texas, 44-23, to run its record to 3-0 for the first time since 1989. Ole Miss led 14-0 midway through the first quarter before Texas scored 23 straight points. The Rebels rallied, however, scoring 30 (!) unanswered points.

Ole Miss upended Case McCoy and the Longhorns in Austin
USA TODAY images

Jeff Scott followed up his dynamic Vanderbilt performance with a career-high 164 rushing yards in the win, adding a 73-yard punt return for a touchdown for good measure.

Quotable: "I'm just really proud of that group of guys in the locker room, players and coaches and managers and our administration," Freeze said. "To represent our university on a stage like this is a blessing to us. We just feel great to come into this kind of arena as a young program with young kids and fight for 60 minutes and see what the scoreboard says. It's what our kids did tonight."

7. Ole Miss beats Wisconsin in the first round of the NCAA tournament

Why it mattered: After its three-win-in-three-days run through the SEC tournament, Ole Miss would earn a No. 12 seed in the NCAA tournament - its first appearance in the Big Dance in a decade and the first for head coach Andy Kennedy in seven years at Ole Miss. Ole Miss was placed in Kansas City, Mo., for a first-round tilt with Wisconsin, the No. 5 seed. The Rebels claimed their first tournament win since the 2001 Sweet Sixteen run with a 57-46 final, earning their 27th win, which tied the school record for wins in a season.

Quotable: "Everybody's been talking about their offense and all that," guard Nick Williams said. "We knew we were fine. We knew we were going to win that game. We just had to be quicker to the ball than they were. We used our athletes today."

6. Ole Miss stuns Vanderbilt on Jeff Scott's 75-yard touchdown run

Why it mattered: Ole Miss and Vanderbilt kicked off the college football season in explosive fashion Aug. 29, in a game that had followed the script of so many close losses for Ole Miss the year before. The Rebels held a 32-28 lead late. But, as usual, they coughed it up, as Austyn Carta-Samuels found Stephen Scheu for a 34-yard touchdown with 1:30 left. The Commodores, it seemed, were on their way to their fourth-straight win in the series. Scott, however, had other ideas. A play designed to gain 10-15 yards resulted in a thrilling 75-yard bolt with 1:07 showing in the fourth quarter. A stunned Vanderbilt crowd could only watch in silence.

Quotable: "I was watching it from behind and it was a great run. The OL and his speed got him to the outside, Donte (Moncrief) and Evan (Engram) gave him the sideline and he did the rest on his own," Ole Miss quarterback Bo Wallace said. "It was a thing of beauty."

5. Ole Miss wins the BBVA Compass Bowl

Denzel Nkemdiche
USA TODAY images

Why it mattered: Freeze inherited a mess when he arrived at Ole Miss in December of 2011. Taking over for Houston Nutt, his program was fresh off a 2-10 (0-8 SEC) season, far and away the worst in school history.

In just his first year, Freeze led an impressive, five-game turnaround, with the Compass Bowl win the icing on the proverbial cake. The Rebels easily disposed of Pittsburgh, 38-17, to finish the year with a 7-6 overall record; a win Freeze would say afterwards "no question advances our journey a bit."

Quotable: "To be where we're sitting in year one far surpasses certainly the prognosticators and whatever they had for us," Freeze said.

4. Ole Miss signs a consensus top-10 recruiting class

Why it mattered: Ole Miss was the story of National Signing Day. As the LOIs rolled in Feb. 6, the Rebels saw their class ranking across all recruiting services continue to climb until ultimately they settled in the top-10. ESPN set up cameras in Ole Miss' recruiting war room, and a nationally-televised broadcast caught a number of program-changing moments.

Robert Nkemdiche, the top prospect in the country, got the day started off with a commitment ceremony that included his brother, Denzel, an Ole Miss freshman All-American. Then top overall offensive lineman Laremy Tunsil announced for Ole Miss on ESPN, a shocking revelation to every school not named Ole Miss. Antonio Conner, from nearby South Panola, soon followed, capping a day never before seen in Ole Miss recruiting.

Quotable: "It was thrilling to finish strong today with the year-long plan that we had," Freeze said. "It all came together very nicely, and today to receive all our NLI's back except for one that we sent out made for a hugely successful day. I do think it has the possibility of being a program changer. It's all on paper right now."

3. Derrick Millinghaus sinks a game-deciding, eight-foot runner to beat Missouri

Why it mattered: Ole Miss entered the SEC tournament in desperate need of quality wins to boost its NCAA tournament resume. The Rebels drew Missouri, an NCAA tournament lock, in the first round - a must-win game if there ever was one. Ole Miss trailed by as many as 14 points in the second half before engineering a furious rally late. Millinghaus fueled the rally, scoring all 11 of his points in the second half, including nine in the final six minutes. No shot, however, was more important than his runner with 1.1 seconds left. It was the spark that lit the fire for one of the more memorable weekends in Ole Miss history.

Quotable: "I looked and saw the lane was open, so I took one dribble and just threw it up," Millinghaus said. "I was kind of shaky. I was like I don't want to miss and take all the blame for this loss. It went in and I was like, ‘Yes.'"

2. Andrew Ritter kicks Ole Miss to upset win of LSU

Why it mattered: Ole Miss opened the 2013 season with three wins, only to drop three straight, including ugly losses at Alabama and at SEC champion Auburn. The Rebels weren't given much of a chance against LSU, then ranked No. 6 in the country, especially with their myriad of injuries on defense. However, Ole Miss forced three Zach Mettenberger interceptions and Ritter, the senior kicker, was true on a 41-yard, last-second field goal to give Ole Miss its first win over a top-10 opponent since 2009. More importantly, the win reversed the course of the season. Ole Miss would win its next three games.

Quotable: "I keep pinching myself, thinking I'll wake up from a dream," Ritter said. "It's been unbelievable."

1. Ole Miss basketball wins the SEC tournament

Why it mattered: Ole Miss entered conference tournament week in Nashville, Tenn., needing quality wins. An upset of Missouri in the opening round, followed by wins over Vanderbilt and top-seeded Florida, secured the Rebels' place in the Big Dance. Ole Miss captured its first SEC tournament since 1981, sending the Rebels to the NCAA tournament for the first time in a decade and giving them their second all-time tournament crown.

Quotable: "We worked so hard to get to this point, and it just feels so good to celebrate with the guys in the locker room," senior guard Nick Williams said. "I don't know man. I'm at a loss for words."

"So much is made about the NCAA tournament," Kennedy said. "I was just glad to get the albatross that is the NCAA tournament off the neck of our program so people can now exhale and get a new focal point."

OM Spirit Top Stories