Off days happen in baseball, and that is what appears to have occurred Sunday for Ole Miss.
The Rebels suffered a one-run defeat at the hands of Auburn and lost the opportunity for a major weekend swing in the conference standings. Ole Miss did achieve one main objective by taking the series two games to one, but should this particular three-game set be considered a success because of that feat?
Auburn was easily identified as a team lacking confidence Sunday, and Ole Miss should have been juiced due to its five-game winning streak. An early Rebel lead would have been detrimental to the Tigers, but instead, Auburn's first inning advantage deflated the visitors.
Poor base running and a lack of quality at-bats hurt the Rebels a lot more than the expected thunderstorms that never came. Letdowns are a common, normal occurrence, but it was an odd time for one to rear its head.
Coach Mike Bianco has turned Ole Miss into one of the best baseball programs in the country, and it is clearly a good sign that a critical complaint appears after a weekend where the Rebels technically took care of business. However, Bianco himself will tell you that a win in March or April means just as much as one in the middle of May. And so does a loss.
Certain parity exists among the upper-echelon of college baseball when it comes to talent. What separates a national seed (top eight) from the other host teams is the ability to win one-run games and not have a large amount of "going through the motions" days.
It is an easy assumption that Ole Miss and Arkansas could very well battle for the SEC West right down to the last weekend of the season in Fayetteville. If the records are tied and the Hogs take two of three, then the first opinion will be that Ole Miss lost the division at Baum Stadium. But, on another side, the loss against the Tigers at Plainsman Park could be just as much to blame.
The Sunday loss stings due to the opportunity that was in front of Ole Miss. Openings for advancement in the SEC and nation don't come easy, but one was cracked a bit for the Rebels because of a firm resume' after half of the overall season.
Midweek and early success will build a solid foundation for any team that is trying to jockey for postseason positioning, and the Rebels avoided duplicating the rough start of a year ago (13-11). Ole Miss has already knocked over the 20-win plateau as that was a mark not reached by the 2006 team until Will Kline's coming-out party in the Mayor's Trophy game. The respectable record has also been achieved against must better competition.
Ole Miss has faced the toughest schedule of the Bianco era this season and is doing quite well against ranked opponents. Thus far, the Rebels are 8-5 against the top-25 and are 2-2 against top-five teams with wins over Arkansas and Vanderbilt.
The Rebels have been an image of regular season success during the previous three years with Regionals in Oxford being the proof and the same goal is just as in focus this time around. Three teams remain on the upcoming schedule that Ole Miss swept last season including Georgia, who is traveling west this weekend.
Ole Miss is better or at least comparable in the talent department no matter what team is across the field from it. Showing up every day for a full nine innings will most likely reap rewards and have the Rebels at Swayze when NCAA competition begins.
However, having too many letdowns or wasted chances could slip Ole Miss down a tier and into a No. 2 seed that is headed somewhere like a respected ACC power's backyard.
Another point also worth noting is that the habit of occasional lackluster appearances could be a tough thing to turn off at critical times of the season.
Tension would already be high with the West on the line or during a do-or-die postseason situation, and the Diamond Rebs don't need a large number of sluggish outings in the back of their minds.
The Auburn loss wasn't a deadly defeat on the standings sheet, but the Rebels need to make sure it isn't a setback to their psyche either.
Every success that can be attained is still directly in view for Ole Miss and that is the goal at this juncture. One series could have the Rebels alone at the top of the SEC, and it is always stated that conference baseball is a marathon, not a sprint.
But even so, a little critical analysis isn't a bad thing with Ole Miss at the ten-mile mark.
Commentary: Letdown lessens series' luster
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