With each passing winter, there appears to be more anticipation for the college baseball season at Ole Miss. People actually start talking about Rebel baseball as soon as football season is over, it appears. In some cases, year ‘round.
There's a confidence surrounding the baseball program here now, and that's especially true for the coaches and players. There is a great sense that every year can be a breakthrough season.
Actually if you're realistic about it, they've broken through some longstanding barriers every year since the current staff has been in place. In 2001, the first spring of the current regime, the Rebels made it to the NCAA Tournament, playing in the regional at Tulane.
The next year they stumbled at the end and didn't make the field, but along the way during the season they'd broken through and soared into the polls, climbing as high as sixth nationally during the season.
In 2003, the Rebels were ranked all season and made their way to the NCAA regional at Rice. Last season, Ole Miss won a school-record 18 SEC games in the regular season and hosted a regional for the first time.
Enough of the refresher course. The point is that while there have been disappointments at the finish, the seasons as a whole have been positive.
Now to finish the job. What exactly does that mean?
Perhaps it means the Rebels, ranked as high as No. 16 nationally already this preseason, need to be playing their best baseball in May and June rather than March and April. Maybe it means more consistency so that they are solid throughout all four months of the season and not have the ups and downs of the past.
Like all sports and maybe moreso than some, baseball can be up and down – from winning and losing streaks to hitting slumps and streaks to confidence mentally and sore arms. Ups and downs in baseball always abound at every level.
No doubt the confidence on this year's Rebel team is the highest I've seen it. They know they're pretty good and they know they can win big this season. Obviously some things have to fall in place for them. And as the competition of May and June gets tougher, as it always does, the Rebels need to find a way to dig deep and press on, as co-captain Barry Gunther says.
"Obviously (losing two games in the Oxford Regional) was a big disappointment," said the senior catcher, in his fourth season with the UM program. "We had such high expectations, and it was a letdown for everybody.
"I met with Coach Bianco after the season and he asked me what I thought about the end of the year and what happened. I told him I thought the big thing is we needed to learn to persevere. The great teams always seem to make it back to Omaha. Coach is trying to build a program like that here with a team that can get there all the time. We just have to know how to turn it on and keep it on. You have to play the last few games like the earlier games."
Perseverance. This Rebel team appears to have what it takes to see the season through.
There will be ups and downs and bumps and bruises along the way. There is no doubt Ole Miss baseball needs to win more games toward the end of the season than it has. This team believes that it will.
First pitch is at 3 p.m. next Tuesday against Arkansas State in Oxford.
The Ole Miss men's tennis team, ranked No. 6 in the country, will try to make it 14 wins in a row over Mississippi State.
Let that sink in for a moment. That's 14 in a row over the arch-rival.
The Rebels and the Bulldogs meet in the annual Mississippi Cup at River Hills Club in Jackson Thursday with doubles play beginning at 5 p.m. and singles to follow.
Mississippi State is an improved team this season. Coach Billy Chadwick and company know they have their work cut out for them.
But it's that way every year in every sport when Ole Miss and State get together.
If you're in the Jackson area and haven't checked this event out – which began in 1998 – make plans to attend and see some of the best college tennis in America Thursday evening at River Hills Club.
The event is $25 and that includes food and entertainment as well as the tennis action, which can last up to three hours or more (usually more), depending on the length of the matches. The event is played indoors at the courts alongside Lakeland Drive.
The Rebels want to continue their winning streak over the Dogs. State is tired of losing to Ole Miss.
You won't see a more competitive situation in any sport this school year than the one in Jackson Thursday night when these two get together.
It won't be a battle, it'll be a war.
The Ole Miss basketball teams don't play again until this weekend. Both probably need the time away from games.
Last week wasn't good for them. The Rebels started off with a nice 15-point win over Auburn. Saturday did a lot of damage to any postseason hopes they had left as Arkansas won in Oxford by a single point, the first time the Razorbacks had won in Oxford since 1996 – then, too, by a single point.
Ole Miss' domination of Arkansas in men's basketball, following the Hogs' national title in 1994, has been amazing. This year, for the first time since '96, the Razorbacks won both meetings.
At 12-11 overall and 3-7 in SEC play, the Rebels are looking for a miracle now to even get in the NIT. That's because of who's left and where they're played. To get even one win at Alabama, at Florida, or at Mississippi State will be a tall task. The regular season finale at South Carolina might be their best shot, but few teams lose at home on Senior Day, which it will be in Columbia.
The home games with Tennessee and LSU are more winnable for the Rebels. But so was Arkansas and the Razorbacks came in and pulled the upset.
That loss, with 13 missed free throws by the Rebels and a dismal 2 of 16 from 3-point range as well as some questionable officiating, damaged the Ole Miss cause like no other game this season.
They are back on the court Saturday night at Alabama, their next opportunity for something miraculous to get them back in the NIT hunt.
On the women's side, the SEC has two great teams this year and then the rest of us. No doubt that LSU and Tennessee – both 8-0 in league play and who meet in Baton Rouge Thursday night – are the class of the conference by a long shot. Everybody else has three league losses or more.
Ole Miss met both last week and lost by a combined score of 56 points. The Lady Rebels host Alabama Sunday at 2 p.m. in a game they need to win to keep pace for a second straight NCAA bid. The Lady Rebs are now 15-7 overall and 5-4 in SEC play, currently alone in fifth place and just ahead of the Lady Tide, who are 4-4.
The Lady Rebels had been on a roll prior to last week, winning four straight SEC games against Vanderbilt, Florida, Mississippi State, and Arkansas. Then came the giants.
After hosting Alabama, they travel to Starkville to try to complete the sweep of the Lady Bulldogs, just like last season. That's on Thursday, Feb. 17 at 7 p.m.
To continue on the road to March Madness, two important games are up for the Lady Rebels next week. They need to win them both.
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