When looking back, Ole Miss softball coach Missy Dickerson finds the word "frustrating" most fitting when attempting to explain the Rebels' lethargic conference start
Ole Miss concluded pre-SEC action at 13-5 and was living up to the billing - of being the most talented under Dickerson - during the early portion of this season. The hits were coming, the pitching was sharp and the wins far outweighed the losses. But then league play began and so did a detrimental slide.
Then-No. 5 Florida invaded Oxford and picked up two one-run victories and swept the Rebels a day later. That wasn't the end of the world. Problem is, the next four SEC opponents swept Ole Miss as well.
The impressive record vanished and in its place a goose egg emerged. The Rebels found themselves 0-15 in conference action during early April. A series loss to a less-than talented Kentucky team followed, as did a defeat to begin a three-game set at No. 12 LSU.
But during the middle of the Saturday doubleheader in Baton Rouge, La., a switch occurred. The Rebels began getting breaks, and the early-season team was taking the field again. Ole Miss rolled off two straight over the Lady Tigers and have been torching teams ever since.
Left dead nearly a month from today, the Rebels took five straight to end the regular season and with the courtesy of some help last weekend, Ole Miss earned the No. 8 seed in the SEC tournament that begins Thursday in Baton Rouge. It is a symmetrical situation. The Rebels get a rematch at 1:30 p.m. with Florida, the team that started the slide, and at the venue where the resurgence occurred.
"This is our third straight year in the tournament, but I think the girls appreciate this one a little more because of how far we had to come," Dickerson said. "That stretch was definitely frustrating, but we kept coming. I knew it was possible if we stayed together.
"The thing is that we weren't that bad during the losses. Every bloop fell in, and we hit the ball right at people. The potential has always been there."
And the potential showed during the latter part of the campaign. After taking the series over LSU, the Rebels split a pair against No. 9 Tennessee before falling in the opener against Arkansas days later.
It was gut check time after the defeat.
The SEC Tourney was there, but every contest from then on out was more than likely a must win. So that is what Ole Miss did – five games and five victories.
The Rebels trounced the Hogs twice and hosted South Carolina in a three game series two weekends ago. The Gamecocks entered Oxford in that coveted No. 8 spot, but Ole Miss traded places over the two days with three wins and a sweep.
The Rebels took both games of a doubleheader Saturday and then pulled out a tension-filled 1-0 decision on Sunday. Not only was the game close, but also two rain delays added drama to the already monumental day.
"The rain was interesting because we had to have that game," Dickerson said. "Both teams wanted to play, and luckily the rain held off just long enough. There was definitely some hoping and praying going on. It was tough to be in the situation but not have control."
With the sweep of South Carolina, Ole Miss became fans of LSU this past weekend. The tremendous SEC comeback and tourney berth would be secured if the Tigers took at least two from the Lady Gamecocks. And although they may be rivals, LSU did the Rebels good. The Tigers whitewashed South Carolina and punched Ole Miss' ticket. At 9-19, the Rebels were in.
"LiveStats were my best friend that weekend," Dickerson said. "It is very gratifying after a frustrating portion of the season. Now there is an opportunity in front of us."
The Gators have lost just twice all season, but Florida topped Ole Miss by just four combined runs in the three games earlier this year.
"Playing them close will give us some confidence. We know we are better now than we were then, and if we are sound defensively, we have a shot. That is all you can ask for."
At 26-27 overall, the Rebels need two wins this week to finish at .500 and give themselves a shot at the NCAA Tournament.
If Ole Miss could upset the 59-2 Gators, a match-up versus Tennessee or Georgia could get the Rebels into the Big Dance.
It may seem like a long shot, but the Rebels know anything is possible.
This season has already proven that.
Softball Set for SEC Tourney
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