Rebs' reloading season falls game short again

Ole Miss wants to win a national championship in baseball. First it has to get to Omaha again, where it hasn't been since 1972. The College World Series eluded the Rebels once more as perennial powerhouse Miami Hurricanes blew through Oxford on their way to a 22nd appearance in the CWS.

What we might not have learned last year we did this year. If you win the first game of a Super Regional, even at home, there is a lot more baseball to play.

We also learned that if you bring in mega-programs like Texas and Miami, you'd better play your best baseball. Those who have national championship banners already hanging play like they want another one.

Of course, I don't know how a lesser program might play in the same situation. College of Charleston or Oral Roberts or Mississippi Valley State have yet to make an appearance in a Super Regional in Oxford. Maybe next year.

Did the Rebels of 2006 overachieve? In the eyes of many they did, but only if those people think back to what they thought of this team in the preseason or even in March. Most I heard from said rebuilding year. This was no rebuilding year. It was a reloading year.

And a find-themselves year for this team. The Rebels didn't settle on weekend starters for a while. The ones it finally had weren't any one of the three at the beginning of the season.

Baumgardner, Hetland, and Satterwhite. Those were your weekend starters back in February. That's probably another thing we've learned through two Super Regionals in Oxford. It's a long time from February to mid-June. Lots can happen. Lots of changes will be made.

Especially when you've lost eight key players from the season before, many of them pitchers.

But this year's team excelled because of several reasons. It was talented again. It did some things past Mike Bianco teams didn't, like play more "small ball" by bunting more and moving runners station to station. It seemed to have more speed so it could play that way. Some fans thought Ole Miss got some of that from the Texas playbook after last season's Super Regional. Maybe so.

The players admitted this team might not have had the power of last year's ballclub; therefore they tried to do some other things than hit the longball. But don't include Mark Wright in that number, especially in the postseason. The fourth-year junior, with a team-high 16 roundtrippers on the season, had some of the most electrifying home runs ever seen in these parts.

C.J. Ketchum had the biggest shoes to fill at first base with Stephen Head gone. Ketchum, 23 years old, handled it admirably all season. A younger player might not have been able to do so. If Wright hadn't sent a three-run blast over the wall in Hoover to make it 9-3 in the ninth vs. Vandy on Title Sunday, Ketchum, not Wright, is your SEC tourney MVP.

Leftfield was a question mark until Logan Power emerged as a special young player. Justin Brashear, the Oxford Regional MVP, proved he is a better player for having become an everyday player this season.

But it was the growth of the pitchers - guys like Kline and White and Bukvich and Rodriguez and Lynn - that may have accounted as much for a 44-22 season as any group of players.

Bianco said the last game this season was almost indescribable.

"I was thinking around the seventh inning that this might be the greatest game I've ever been a part of, a real heavyweight fight," he said. "We would take a shot and they would answer and vice versa. It had to be unbelievable in the stands and on television."

It was. And there was a pretty special moment when all those in attendance - and most of the announced crowd of 7,684 was still there - stood and cheered the Rebels in the ninth, though six runs down and with time running out. Team captain Justin Henry strolled to the plate. What a job he's done this season leading the troops. He'll be back next year and will be better for having been through this season.

That he got a base hit to left to start the final frame was doing what a good captain should - lead the fight until the battle is over.

So his teammates followed. Coghlan base hit. Cozart base hit. Bases loaded. No outs.

But all the Rebs could get was a run. Again it wasn't to be, and for the second straight year Ole Miss concluded its season one win short of Omaha.

There's a lot to be said about getting to this point - hosting an NCAA Regional for three straight years, hosting a Super Regional the past two seasons, and finishing among the best in the nation.

But the ones who consider themselves the most elite programs of all make it to Omaha. Someday the Rebels will. They were there four times from 1956-72. But not in 34 years.

Miami's been to NCAA Regionals for 34 straight seasons, that's every year since the Rebels last attended the CWS.

Texas has six national championships. The Longhorns got their last one by going through Oxford. Who knows? The Hurricanes might win their fifth one this year. They're playing like it.

And someday, the Ole Miss Rebels will do the same thing by getting there and playing better than any of the others. We saw a glimpse of that type play with this year's team in Hoover as they won the SEC Tournament by playing the best they had all season and rolling through four games.

As for the College World Series, it didn't happen either last year or this year for Ole Miss. But it might happen next year.

And for sure some year.

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