Immediately after a hard loss, I try my best to keep my opinions to myself.
When I'm emotional, I tend to have foot-in-mouth disease and say (write) things I regret later.
While my disappointment and frustration levels have not subsided much - it's hard to be so close and yet so far away, at least some rational thinking has begun to sprout in my pint-sized brain.
First, the game.
I won't rehash it much because everyone here knows what happened to the nth detail. Briefly and bluntly, the Rebs didn't play good enough to win. Miami had a lot to do with that, but there was a degree of self-destruction - uncharacteristically - going on that had to be awfully frustrating to a team that had gotten to this point by not beating themselves. The Rebel pitching staff gave up eight free passes - five walks and three hit batters, and the fielders had three errors.
With those stats, and Miami jumping on every opportunity given them, the Rebs' production of nine runs on 11 hits - a very good offensive showing - was simply not enough.
To me, there were two very surprising aspects of the three-game series.
One, our starting pitching - in all three games - never got untracked and the Rebs were fighting from behind the whole series. In game one, they were able to prevail with an outstanding offensive outburst, but the constant pressure of being down finally broke them, despite valiant efforts in last night's game to answer Miami's torrid run-scoring pace.
All three starters were a "little" off and a little goes a long way against a good-hitting club like the Hurricanes. For the weekend, our pitchers left too many pitches in the wheelhouse and paid dearly for it, to the tune of eight home runs by the Canes.
The good side for these starters? Well, this is not much to latch on to, but every coach says experience is the best teacher. This is an experience our young hurlers can learn from. The next time they are in this type of pressure cooker - and there will be a next time - they will prosper.
Two, it was a tough pill for everyone to swallow to watch a team that prided itself on being an outstanding fielding team make three errors and a couple of more mental mistakes in the field in this all-or-nothing game.
I might have believed the starting pitching would falter, to a certain extent, because pitching can be an up and down, fickle proposition for even the best in the business, but I would have never imagined the fielding would crumble, under any circumstances. They had been too good for too long to make - or not make - some of the plays they did last night.
Some of that can be explained by tipping the hat to Miami. They constantly, for three games, put pressure on the Rebs to stop them. In the end, we didn't.
OK. That's my frustration and disappointment in a nutshell.
The morning after, however, also has some balance to it.
One, this team went further than I ever imagined it would and even did better than last year's team, proclaimed by many as one of our best ever. The 2006 Rebels have an SEC championship banner to hang, something the 2005 Rebs did not accomplish.
Two, this showing has to say something about the stability and strength of Coach Mike Bianco's program. You know the saying - we don't rebuild, we reload. His program seems to have reached that status.
Three, if you hem me up for a simple yes or no answer to the following question - will you take a Top 10-15 finish by every Ole Miss team year-in and year-out? - I'd have to say "yes." The final polls aren't in yet, but I'll be miffed if we aren't Top 12 in the country for the second year in a row. That's some pretty high cotton, folks. If we continue to garner those results, it's only a matter of time before it's our turn for something even bigger and better.
Four, I know nobody wants to hear this, but it has to be said. We were a young team. Yes, I know, so was Miami. Forget Miami, we will get better with this experience.
Five, our fans - and I can't stress this enough. I've been around here a long time and I have never been prouder, from the standpoint of our fans, than I was last night to call myself a member of our fan base. Forget the record crowds, which were unbelievable. Forget the environment, which was second to none.
Forget everything but this - when the ball left the bat on Danny Valencia's grand slam home run in the seventh inning, and everyone's heart sank, only a handful of Rebs "gave up" and left. 95% of the fans in attendance stayed and cheered on, even though we all knew the dream was over.
Folks, I can't tell you how important that was and is. I don't want to get all sappy here, but when there wasn't a mass exodus at that point, I was as thrilled as if we had won the game - almost.
That was the finest exhibition of support I have ever seen. Period. And that's the type of support it takes to spur a team to the next level. Don't think the team and coaches didn't notice it. Don't think for one instant that stay-to-the-last-pitch mentality didn't mean something when it was happening and for the future.
I talked to a lot of people behind the scenes after the game - people associated with Miami and some of the "outside" media outlets. They all said the same thing - that type of support is what it is all about. They were in awe. I was in awe.
Sure, the outcome was disappointing and it's a stretch to come up with the silver lining of that one particular game.
But I think it's very clear this Rebel team will keep knocking on the door and our fans - throngs of us - will be right behind them.
Soon, that door will come crashing down. I believe that with all my heart.
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