Roll the Ball Out and Play

HOOVER, Ala. – Jake Gibbs was honored on the field during the Ole Miss-Arkansas game Friday as one of the SEC's legends. It was a special moment as his lengthy bio of a lifetime in sports was read to the crowd.

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It actually held up the game a few moments as the public address announcer talked about his football and baseball accomplishments on the field, his tenure as a New York Yankee, and his years as Ole Miss head baseball coach.

I didn't hear a couple of things. One, that he finished third in the Heisman Trophy race in 1960, and two, that he was the last Ole Miss baseball coach to take his team to Omaha. The latter was in his first year as head coach, 1972.

Ole Miss begins the road to get there again Friday at home. This is a team that can get there. There've been several Ole Miss teams the last 42 years that could have. But none have.

When you have the talent to do so, and Ole Miss does, it then goes back to a number of things.

In no certain order: player decisions on the field, coaching decisions from the dugout, umpires decisions in a split second, minimizing innings when the opposition gets guys on or scores a couple of runs, taking advantage of scoring opportunities when you have them, not making errors, the other team making errors, having players available that have helped along the way (see Christian Trent), not playing well the latter stages of the game as the Rebels did Friday against Arkansas, finishing what you start especially up 6-0 after three innings.

And so on.

Will Allen
Bruce Newman

In the last 42 years Ole Miss has always done things to not be good enough to get to the College World Series, and it's been a combination of all the above. Not finishing games like Friday after leading 6-0 and with an Arkansas team that was ready to pack it up and had already begun to play subs to get ready for the NCAA tourney next weekend always increase doubt that Ole Miss won't get there again this year.

It's already been one of the best seasons since 1972. Ole Miss is 41-18. SEC West solo champs. Won seven of ten SEC series, including sweeps of Missouri, Auburn, and Kentucky.

All that matters. Now none of it does.

It all starts again Friday night. It was good to hear Mike Bianco say that Trent is fine. He is available for the Regional. That's big.

Everybody seems healthy. That's important going into the real postseason.

Mentally this team has been able to bounce back all year. Toughness and resiliency have been two of its calling cards all season.

But now they'll need more. This is a championship team and has proven it already.

Everybody in baseball knows Ole Miss has a team this year that can get there in June. It will come down to that list above, among other things. Decisions that work. Confidence among players to get it done. Timely hits. Minimizing innings. Playing with the confidence of March and April in late May and June.

So many things go into succeeding from this point on.

They need to play as if nothing matters. And that everything matters.

They don't need to be tight and wound up like it's the end of the world. But they'd better be focused more than they were here, for example, to keep from getting picked off bases. Just one of those can kill you in a game.

They have to be at their best every game from here on out, every moment of every game. They have to believe in themselves, believe that they can win a Regional and Super Regional, all the while playing for a fanbase that, as soon as anything goes wrong, likely won't believe they will get there.

Jake Gibbs
Bruce Newman

There've been too many years since Ole Miss has gotten there for fans to collectively believe otherwise.

As for the players, they've only been a part of it four years or less. They have no idea Ole Miss hasn't seen Nebraska in June since 1972. Only when they hear from fans and media and maybe do a little research on their own do they know that.

They just need to block all that out and go play. Play like they did when they were kids. Play like they have most of this season.

Some of whatever success they have the rest of the way will be physical. And a lot of it will be mental.

But they go at it again Friday with the chance to do something not done since Jake Gibbs coached his first year at Ole Miss.

They are plenty capable. So are some of the teams they will face the next two weekends.

There's postseason baseball in Oxford again. Roll the ball out there and just play.

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