One Step Forward, One Back

Ole Miss needs wins. Tuesday night they got one. Wednesday night they didn’t.

Once again for the Rebel baseball team, it was one step forward and one step back. Other times it’s been two forward and two back.

But as the season has moved on through 42 games now, with Ole Miss standing at 21-21, it’s become apparent the Rebels could be in jeopardy of not making the NCAA Tournament for only the third time in the 15 years Mike Bianco has been head coach and a season after the College World Series third place finish..

Why? Because the Rebels must have a record of above .500, according to NCAA regulations, after the Southeastern Conference Tournament is over. That means for them to be on the safe side, they need to finish 8-6 the rest of the regular season to move on to Hoover, Ala., with a 29-27 overall record.

The first day there is single elimination. So at 29-28, if they lose, then there is still hope for the NCAA Tournament. How much hope remains to be seen, if they lose on that Tuesday.

If they are 29-27 and win that single-elimination game, then at 30-27 they are also assured of staying above the .500 mark. From then on it’s double elimination. And the Rebels would have secured their .500 record for sure at that point.

That’s all why it was important to beat both Central Arkansas and Memphis this week at home. But Ole Miss could only go 1-1. They are hopeful of better things the final four weeks.

“We’ve done it, and we’ve done it against the best competition in the country,” Bianco said of what gives him hope his team can win enough games from here on out to be above .500. “It would be one thing if we hadn’t done it or against the good teams in conference play. But like these two games. We played well (Tuesday night) and we played poorly (Wednesday night). It’s a much different season than I’ve ever had in the sense that usually when you’re at this point you’ve been streaky. But the longest win streak (this season) I think is three games.”

Forget the Southeastern Conference mark. That’s 8-10 at the moment with three of four series to be played in Oxford. It’s the non-conference games that could cost Ole Miss another trip to the NCAA Tournament, which has become a commonplace event each spring for Ole Miss in this era.

Prior to Bianco’s arrival, the Rebels had only been in the NCAA Tournament field twice between 1977 and 2000. The Alabama series this weekend looms large, and the game in Pearl against Mississippi State Tuesday night does as well if the Rebels are going to find some momentum to go along with any wins they might get.

It’s hard to fathom any Ole Miss baseball team standing 13-11 in non-conference games with only two remaining. They’ve been so good through the years at winning 19 or 20 or more non-conference regular season games. This year the best they can do is to win 15.

None of those remaining two contests are at home. After MSU in Pearl on April 28, the Rebels are at Arkansas State on May 12.

In conference play, after Alabama this weekend at home, it’s on the road to Missouri, which is having a surprisingly good season, followed by MSU here and Texas A&M here.

Most likely they will have won enough at that point to make the SEC tourney. Between now and then, it becomes that matter of staying over .500 – if they can actually do that.

Sophomore third baseman Colby Bortles, swinging one of the Rebels’ hottest bats lately and going 3-for-4 with 2 RBI and a run scored against Memphis, said the main thing now is staying above .500 to be able to reach the NCAA postseason.

“That’s the goal. To go to the (NCAA) Tournament,” he said. “It’s in our own hands. We control that. If we play well, we can go to the tournament.”

There’s still time, and there are still chances. But an important four-game stretch begins Friday and ends Tuesday. We will know more about this team and its season at that point – one way or the other.


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