One Man's Opinion

HOOVER, Ala. – Full disclosure: Friday was the first Ole Miss baseball game I've covered in two years. Really. I know, I know. Take a deep breath. Clear your mind. Good? OK. Moving on.

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Baseball is my favorite sport. I'm an unabashed, obnoxious Braves fan. And I can be somewhat of a baseball snob. I prefer advanced statistical analysis to flawed stats valued by more traditional, casual fans. Like, say, batting average, RBIs and ERA – all of which don't belong in the conversation when evaluating player performance.

Unfortunately, because of the current environment of college baseball where head coaches control the dissemination of statistics, there isn't a place for advanced metrics. You won't be hearing about Auston Bousfield's wOBA or Chris Ellis' FIP. Sorry. I know you're devastated.

But I love baseball, even if college baseball isn't really for me. I blame all the bunting. There's room for bunting in baseball. A well-timed squeeze, for example, or having a pitcher move a runner into scoring position. But the frequency of sacrifice bunting in the college game is simply incorrect strategy.

There I go again. My bad. Where was I? Oh yeah, my love of baseball.

Will Allen
Josh McCoy/Ole Miss

Believe it or not, I used to be quite the college baseball fan not so long ago. I was in left field in 2005 when Stephen Head, now coaching first base for the Rebels, struck out with two men on in a 6-4 Texas win in Oxford. The Longhorns went on to win the College World Series.

When Evan Button booted a routine ground ball in 2009, Ole Miss five outs away from Omaha, I was sitting along the first base line. Drew Pomeranz had pitched seven strong innings, allowing two runs with 10 strikeouts, and left the game with a 3-2 lead. This after he threw 116 pitches in a regional win over Western Kentucky in the same week, which I still consider one of the greatest baseball games – no matter the level – I've ever seen. The error, as you know, turned into two runs for Virginia, who went on to win the series.

Friday wasn't unfamiliar territory for me. If anything, it was first chance to see this Ole Miss team in person; a team that won 40 regular-season game for the fifth time under Mike Bianco and the sixth all-time.

So much for a good first impression.

The No. 10-ranked Rebels were eliminated from the SEC Tournament with an 8-7 loss to Arkansas, the second loss to the unranked Razorbacks this week. The game was a comedy of errors, too. Ole Miss committed two officially, but many more on the base paths, including a running mistake by veteran Austin Anderson. Representing the tying run in the bottom of the ninth, he was thrown out by a significant margin attempting to stretch a single into a double.

He wasn't alone. Senior Will Allen was doubled off second base on a sacrifice fly to left field in the first inning. Insignificant when Ole Miss was leading 6-0. When the game is decided by a run? Eesh.

"We didn't play our best baseball," Allen said. "I don't think we gave it away, but I think we got to play hard for nine innings."

Plenty will be made of the blown calls at third base in the fourth inning, which prolonged an already ugly fourth inning, and at second base in the ninth inning, when second base umpire Scott Erby erroneously called Joe Serrano safe at second for a double off Wyatt Short despite replay showing the Razorback designated hitter obviously out. Serrano went on to score the go-ahead, and ultimately deciding, run.

"Was he out or safe? It doesn't matter now," Bianco said.

Bianco's right. It doesn't matter, mainly because blown calls weren't the reason Ole Miss lost Friday afternoon. The Rebels couldn't get out of their own way, despite the cushiest of cushions, a 6-0 lead, after three innings.

Give Major League Baseball this, though. At least it has replay challenges.

"The truth is in my opinion and what little of I've seen of it in major league baseball, it's worked," Bianco said. "I don't know if we can do that on a college level. I think people want the calls right. They want the pace of play, and don't want it to be slowed down."

Austin Anderson
Josh McCoy/Ole Miss

Well, one solution would be designated, regional replay officials whose sole purpose is to review such plays. STOP. BACK ON TOPIC, BEN.

I haven't seen enough of Errol Robinson to say his fourth-inning error on what should have been a double play that resulted in the three of six runs surrendered by Sam Smith is a common occurrence. His 17 errors on the year, though, are disconcerting. Smith got rattled after that, admitting afterwards he pressed and forced a few pitches. But he was strong through three, and he could be a weapon as a third starter in postseason play if he rounds back into the form of the pitcher who strung together eight quality outings in a row earlier this season.

(Yes, I'm aware four of his last five outings have been non-quality.)

There's a lot to like. The lineup is strong one through six. The one-two punch of Chris Ellis, a top-100 MLB prospect and sure-fire ace, and Christian Trent, who Bianco said would have started Saturday had Ole Miss advanced, give Ole Miss a chance in regional and super regional play. Momentum is the next day's starting pitcher.

Ole Miss hasn't been to Omaha since 1972. Is it such a stretch to say this is the team that can be the one to get back to the baseball city Ole Miss forgot? The Rebels proved resilient all year, leaving Tuscaloosa 4-5 in the SEC only to go 15-6 the rest of the way. They were down 4-0 in the first inning of a Saturday game in the regular season to these same Razorbacks, but rallied to win 7-4.

Twenty-seven outs does not an opinion make. One game is too small a sample size. As ugly as Friday was – and, boy, was it ugly – count me as a believer.

But what do I know? I've been out of the loop for two years.

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