Knocking Again

After capturing the Oxford Regional Monday with a win in the championship game over 14th-ranked Washington, the Ole Miss Rebels are two wins away from the thus-far elusive goal, the College World Series in Omaha, NEB. Is this the team and time for the Rebs to do it?

Once again, from a baseball perspective, the Ole Miss Rebels are knock-knock-knocking on Heaven's door, Omaha and the College World Series.

After dispatching a very stubborn and talented Washington Husky team in the Oxford Regional, the Rebels now face their historical Waterloo, a Super Regional for the right to go to the CWS.

We won't bore you with in-depth details of past attempts at Supers, home and away, but every Reb knows there have been four under Coach Mike Bianco and all four have left the Rebels at the altar, heartbroken.

In 2005, the nemesis was Texas, a storied baseball program that came to Oxford and won two of three in a heavyweight slugfest to earn a trip to college baseball's promised land. In 2006, the Rebs drew Miami at home and got the same bridesmaid results. In 2007, it was a trip to Tempe, AZ, to face Arizona State in a super and again the Rebs came up short.

2009 may have been the best chance. After winning the SEC title with a 20-10 mark, the Rebels had Virginia at home and on the ropes with a 1-0 series lead, but simply could not close the deal.

The haunting of a program began with four mediocre, based on the previous bar that had been set, seasons that produced road regional appearances, but no supers.

The marginal results left some Rebel fans wondering if Bianco's program had peaked before the decade change. A valid sentiment. Even though the previous four years' results can't be categorized as "bad," they just were not up to snuff with what Bianco had accomplished previously and with the vast financial investment and fan support Ole Miss had made to baseball. There was definitely the proverbial monkey-on-the-back syndrome going on.

Skeptics were abundant prior to the 2014 season. Again, valid concern. All the key pitching from '13 was gone and there were new faces in a lot of key positions, including the whole weekend starting rotation.

Bianco was very optimistic after fall baseball, but some wondered if he had lost his magic wand that had produced those great years the first half of his tenure.

After getting off to a blistering start prior to SEC play, a lot of people started sitting up and taking notice of this squad, but others had a wait-and-see approach until conference play rolled around.

A 4-5 start in the SEC did little to alleviate the doubters, but many noticed there was a different "look" about this team. They seemed tougher mentally, they liked getting down and dirty, and they would scrap until the last out.

The weekend pitching was surprisingly strong and the combination of determined veterans and talented newcomers produced what was quickly becoming a potent, SEC leading offense.

Defensively, freshman SS Errol Robinson plugged that hole, Will Allen became a rock behind the plate and the speedy outfield didn't let many fly balls hit the ground.

The only real blemishes and reasons for concern were what seemed like snakebit results in some key mid-week games, namely to Memphis and Southern Mississippi.

A sweep of Auburn at home, taking two of three from MSU in Starkville and a sweep of #17 Kentucky in Lexington started getting more and more fans off the fence. Maybe this team is for real. . . .

The Rebs ended up the regular season as the SEC West Division Champions and got to host a regional again, which they just put the finishing touches on.

Now, it's Super Regional time, the Sweet 16 of college baseball, where the Ole Miss program belongs on a regular basis - the definition of "regular" varies, but you get the drift.

Make no mistake, participation in the super is not the ultimate goal of Bianco or any of the assistants or his players, but you can't reach the heartland of America without winning a super, as we can all attest.

Will this team make it to Omaha? Who the heck can say? Any three-game series, we have painfully learned, is a crap shoot. Anyone can beat anyone, but if odds have anything at all to do with it, the Rebs are due.

Total focus, solid play in all three phases and, yes, a little luck will be required. Having said that, however, this team has the goods to do it. They have proven they can play, and beat, anyone.

My suspicion, and hope, is this contingent of Rebs will kick the door down this time. The program has been knocking on it long enough.

Regardless, this is a quality Rebel team and one for all the Reb faithful to be proud of.

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