Rebels got what they came for

The Ole Miss Rebels came to Hoover last year and finished second. This year they had no plans to finish anywhere but first. Bringing a quiet confidence with them Tuesday, the Rebels went home to Oxford late Sunday with the championship trophy that had a year ago eluded them.

HOOVER, Ala. - This time they got what they came for.

They believed they could win it and they did. For four games the Ole Miss Rebels were the best of the entire field of eight teams.

Ole Miss won the Southeastern Conference Tournament title with a resounding 9-3 victory against Vanderbilt Sunday afternoon. But it was the fourth game just about like it the Rebels had experienced over the past five days.

Ole Miss beat Arkansas 9-4 Wednesday night, LSU 12-1 Thursday night, took Friday off and came back to beat Alabama 9-2 on Saturday. All that stood between the Rebels' first SEC baseball tourney title since 1977 was a pretty good Commodore team.

The wins were anything but easy despite the final scores, according to sixth-year head coach Mike Bianco.

"They're never easy," said the Rebel mentor after Sunday's championship game. "But we played really well for four games in a row against some really good teams. That says a lot about how good this team really is."

At 40-20, they are indeed good. Regional-hosting good, as they found out just before first-pitch on Sunday here in suburban Birmingham.

Would the Rebels have been a bit demoralized against Vandy if they'd found out they weren't hosting and would have to travel to an NCAA Regional?

"I guess there could've been some disappointment," said All-SEC Tournament first baseman C.J. Ketchum, who played Sunday and went 2-for-4 with an RBI despite being sick all morning and into the afternoon, throwing up with a stomach problem. "Luckily there wasn't. Let's just say it's been a good day for us."

A good day for sure. Not just for Ole Miss baseball but for Rebel fans everywhere.

The attendance at Hoover Metropolitan Stadium was announced at 9,025. At least 7,000 of them had to be Ole Miss fans. The place was rocking from the get-go, and the coaches and players noticed.

"Our fans were here all week," Bianco said. "They were loud when we played Alabama yesterday. To have all these people show up today was special. Our fans and season ticket holders and the people who have followed us all year, they're a big part of this. I'm happy for them."

Will Kline said he had no trouble getting pumped up to pitch again, coming in on Sunday when things were on the line and difficult.

"With the support we had today, how could you not be ready to pitch in that situation?" said Kline, who got the game one win against Arkansas and the save against Vandy.

It's been a well-known fact that Ole Miss lost eight players from last year's team that was a win away from the College World Series. It's been well-documented that the Rebels were 13-11 overall and 1-5 in SEC play when they got through at Alabama in the second weekend of conference action two months ago.

The team reached down deep within its soul, each player trying to do what it could to help right the ship. The coaches obviously did the same, spending countless hours attempting to find out how in the world to turn this season into a success. Things weren't looking good.

I remember Bianco saying back then, "I still think we're a good team. We're just not playing very well."

Then came a comeback win over Southern Mississippi at home followed by a sweep of Georgia. Suddenly the Rebels were 17-11 overall and 4-5 in SEC play.

Suddenly, they had a chance, a chance to do some special things the rest of the way. But they were a long way from being the team they were the year before or the team most thought they could become this season.

In the back of the veteran players' minds were the SEC Tournament they didn't win and the Super Regional they didn't win. Those weren't easy things to forget. There were constant reminders.

There was great success last season as the program continued to build. But they wanted more.

"We've thought about last year a lot," said third baseman Chris Coghlan. "It was a heartbreaker when we lost the (SEC) tournament here and then lost to Texas. But that's all behind us now."

Step one: SEC Tournament champions.

Step two: Omaha?

As the Rebs headed home with the Hoover hardward now to host an NCAA Regional and hopefully a Super Regional, one thing's for certain.

This team believes. It truly believes.

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