When they had to, they did

Ole Miss had to beat Kentucky Saturday to get to the Southeastern Conference Tournament. Or they had to wait to see if Mississippi State beat Arkansas for the third straight day. They didn't count on the Bulldogs, and instead they went out and took care of things themselves.

Make no mistake about it. Today was big, this 7-5 win over the Wildcats. For this team. For this program. Not making it to Hoover isn't acceptable anymore.

Not for the players, the coaches, the fans, the administrators. Not for anybody involved with Ole Miss baseball.

And so they play on.

A repeat of the 2002 season, when all the Rebels had to do the last weekend was win one game at State to get in and didn't, didn't materialize. Remember that one? MSU had to sweep Ole Miss to get to Hoover and did just that.

That was the original low point for the Mike Bianco era of this program. Today they avoided what could have been another one.

Not that the '02 team did, but this Ole Miss team refused to fold. And it had its chances.

Give much of the credit to Scott Bittle. The kid is awesome. That goes for his pitching and his mental makeup.

If ever a guy had an opportunity to cut and run, it was Bittle last year after he was drafted. But he came back, and look what he's done.

"Thank God for Scott Bittle," Bianco said on his postgame radio show after this one.

Bianco told us all last season how good Bittle is. It took this season for most to believe him.

If he isn't the best reliever in college baseball, certainly the clear-cut guy to win the Ferriss Award, then I might as well be from Missouri. Show me.

Playing in Hoover is never the ultimate goal. But back in 2002 no SEC team had ever made the NCAA Tournament without first making the SEC tourney. Then, of course, Florida did it right after that, and then MSU did. So the Rebels were the last program ever told, "You can't make the NCAA without first going through Hoover."

Well now that that theory has been proven wrong and they're going again, it is still in the Rebels' best interest to go over and win a couple of games. Oh sure, they are going to say their eyes are on the prize and that they want to win the whole thing, like 2006, and it's one game at a time until a Sunday title game, etc.

That would all be nice. Terrific. And it could happen, especially if they win the first two games they play there.

But they need to make sure to win a couple for insurance, and get back to the NCAA Tournament for a sixth straight year.

There are a lot of people breathing easier right now. From coaches to players, from fans to administrators. It's always a battle in the SEC, a battle at some level to the end of the regular season. Bianco has taught us that.

But what we've also learned is that this program he's built is supposed to be in Hoover every year. It's supposed to be in the NCAA Tournament. It's supposed to compete for a national championship.

Because of one gutsy performance, not only by Bittle but by a bunch of Rebels with too much pride to fold, they have a chance to once again do all that and more.

On to Hoover.


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