The SEC champion Ole Miss Rebels gathered Monday in the players' lounge area of Oxford-University Stadium-Swayze Field. Nowadays the Monday after the SEC Tournament has become more relaxed there than in years' past.
That's because lately the Rebels have known they were going to host an NCAA Regional before the announcement of the 64-team field was made on Memorial Day Monday.
It was a calm, collected, and casual bunch of champion Rebels who sat in the floor, on couches, or stood against the walls in that room or in the main locker room where the SEC Tournament trophy now sits atop a table.
The Rebels knew they were in; knew they'd be playing at home. So bring on any other news, and it's all basically fine with them.
"There will be three solid clubs coming in," said All-SEC Tournament first baseman C.J. Ketchum. "We feel like we have an advantage of playing at home in front of our crowd and on our home field. So we're excited about playing this weekend and about playing at home."
The Rebels weren't named a national top 8 seed like last year. But that doesn't mean they won't host a Super Regional next weekend if they win the Oxford Regional this weekend.
The Oxford Regional is paired with the Lincoln Regional. If Nebraska wins that one, then a winning Rebel team would make the first of what would hopefully be two trips to the state of Nebraska in June; the other of course being the College World Series in Omaha.
But if Ole Miss wins its regional this weekend and one of the other teams in Lincoln wins it – second-seeded Miami (Fla.), third-seeded San Francisco, or fourth-seeded Manhattan – then a Super Regional would return to Oxford for a second straight season.
Ole Miss is the No. 1 seed in its own Regional this weekend. At 40-20 and SEC Tournament champs, the Rebels have won nine of their last 10 games and are on as big a roll as any team in the country.
Other Oxford Regional teams are No. 2 seed Tulane (41-19), coming off a College World Series appearance last year. The Green Wave won the Oxford Regional in 2004. Tulane will face No. 3 seed South Alabama (38-19) at 3 p.m. CT on Friday. The Rebels will take on No. 4 seed Bethune-Cookman (30-25) at 7 p.m. Friday.
Ole Miss last played South Alabama in a three-game series in Mobile early in the 2004 season and swept the Jaguars. South Alabama has great baseball tradition and is dubbed by some as the best program in the country to never make it to Omaha for the College World Series. USA will try again this weekend in Oxford to take another step toward that goal.
The Rebels and Tulane have been involved in three NCAA Regionals together the past six seasons but ironically have not played each other in the previous two tournaments. In addition to the Green Wave being in Oxford two years ago for the regional, Ole Miss played in New Orleans at Tulane in UM Coach Mike Bianco's first season.
In the 2001 New Orleans Regional, the Rebels played Oklahoma State and Southern University (Baton Rouge) in their first two games before being eliminated by the OSU Cowboys.
In 2004, Ole Miss fell to Western Kentucky and Washington and again did not face Tulane.
At this time there is no record of Ole Miss and Bethune-Cookman (of Daytona Beach, Fla.) ever meeting in baseball.
So as the field was set, the Rebels went back to work at practice today in a workout shortened by a typical summer thundershower that lasted only 10 minutes but drenched the field about half an hour into an intrasquad game.
It's the type weather baseball teams have to avoid this time of year in the Mid and Deep South. Last year, if you recall, the first day's practices of the Oxford Regional for Ole Miss, Oklahoma, Maine, and Southern Mississippi were held in the IPF because of rain.
The Ole Miss players are ready for the weekend to get here to continue their unfinished business for the 2006 season. Team captain Justin Henry, also an All-SEC Tournament selection at second base, said he knows the Rebels will have to continue to play as they have the past couple of weeks if they want to advance to a Super Regional.
"We're playing great baseball right now," he said. "We were playing pretty well going into the Regional last year (which Ole Miss won in Oxford). We have a lot of confidence right now. If we play as we did this past weekend, I like our chances against anybody. So we have to continue to play well."
Bianco says hosting an NCAA Regional is always special, but you never know who will actually be in the field until the announcements are made.
"There are all sorts of internet projections and some guessing and piecing together by some people," he said. "But until they are announced, nobody really knows. We do know the teams that are coming here are all quality or they wouldn't be in here. Much like we had to do last week, once you get into the tournament, you have to play well to win it. That's what we want to do."
Teams set, Rebs ready to host again
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