Last Rebel Standing

OMAHA, Neb. – There was a last man standing for Ole Miss in 1972, the last time the Rebels made it to the College World Series. On the mound, that is.

Mike Park, a Jackson Callaway High graduate now living in Memphis, was the last Ole Miss pitcher to take the mound in this event prior to the scheduled start Sunday night for Chris Ellis.

Park and the Rebels were the Southeastern Conference champions that season and were playing in their first year under new head coach Jake Gibbs.

Park had been Gibbs' first signee for his new program. It was also the first year the NCAA allowed freshmen to play in games in any sport.

So Park had already pitched in some 29 of the Rebels' games that season as they progressed through the SEC wars, and on to Gastonia, N.C., for the NCAA District Tournament, which was like the Regional and Super Regional of today combined.

"We beat Jacksonville and then Virginia beat us," Park said of that District tourney. "We had to beat Florida State and we had to beat South Alabama. Then we were out of starters, and Jake started me against Virginia in the next game and I shut them out. We had to come back and beat South Alabama twice on a Sunday and we did that."

Mike Park

And so they advanced to Omaha for the fourth time in program history. No other SEC school had been to the College World Series more than once at that time. The Rebels were the premier program in the SEC by the standard of trips made to Omaha.

Ole Miss went 0-2 that year, losing to eventual champion Southern California and also Texas. The Rebels led the Longhorns 8-0, according to Park, but would eventually lose the game 9-8.

"I came in in relief that game," Park said. "Barry Gaddis had thrown a great game for six and a third innings. It just kind of blew up on us. They bunched together a few hits. We got a few walks. Jake looked at me and said I needed to go down to the bullpen. I think it was like 8-3 at that time. I went down and threw eight pitches in the bullpen and I was in. I closed it out."

Basically, in that final few innings, things fell apart for the SEC's top team.

"I came in with the bases loaded and one out," Park said. "We had a ground ball but made an error. Then we got a double play ball and made an error on that. The next hitter was Dave Chalk and he played with the Angels for about 15 or 20 years. He hit one off the center field wall off of me. Basically we gave up nine runs in one inning. We just couldn't get them out."

There was still time but the Rebels couldn't get it done. Park said he and the team were disappointed the way things ended. But it had been a very good year.

There were fewer college baseball games back then, and the Rebels finished 28-16.

"We went into the World Series ranked No. 4 in the country," Park said. "We outhit Southern Cal and Texas, but we just couldn't finish the job."

"Ole Miss has had some really, really fine baseball teams. I'm just so thankful they got over the hump."

Park said the Rebels were talented on the mound.

"We had Jim Pittman as a starter. Barry Gaddis as a starter. And Hank List as a starter. And I was the closer as a freshman."

Park, the uncle of former Rebel baseball player Michael Park and former Rebel football player Rob Park, held the Ole Miss record for saves in a season at 10 until Stephen Head surpassed that with 13 in 2003, also as a freshman.

Park admitted it's been way too long since an Ole Miss baseball team made it to the College World Series. And there have been plenty of teams capable in that span of 42 years.

"You have to be lucky and things have to go your way," he said. "Ole Miss has had some really, really fine baseball teams. I'm just so thankful they got over the hump."

Park will be in Omaha to see the Rebels but not Sunday night. He works at FTN Financial in Memphis, and he coaches his 13-year-old son Carter's team, the Memphis Tigers. He's going to be coaching that team this weekend.

"But I'll be there Monday and the rest of the time the Rebels are there," he said.

And while he won't be there at the start, he knows the Rebels are already having the time of their lives.

"I'm just so happy Ole Miss is able to experience this. These are memories that never go away," Park said.

The memories of 1972 in Omaha are still fresh for many on that Rebel team that made the final eight of college baseball.

"I was the last man on the mound," Park said. "We ended on a bad note. But we were really proud of what we had accomplished and still are."

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