COMMENTARY: Friday First for Rebels

CORAL GABLES, Fla. - Mike Bianco sported a sarcastic smile on Thursday and admitted he was excited when an Internet site predicted Ole Miss would be slotted in top-ranked Miami's regional.

Days later when that suspicion was confirmed, Bianco's emotions were far less joyous.

"I always laugh at them because anyone can pick that," Bianco said when referring to regional projections. "But I knew that since they picked us there, at least we weren't going to Miami. And a few days later, we find out we are coming here against the number one team in the country.

"What an unbelievable regional."

Yes, unbelievable does seem to fit. The headline team has only lost eight games and one series all season. Miami features a lineup with players that have for the most part already ended Ole Miss' dreams of Omaha once in their careers. The Hurricanes are an unblemished 38-0 when holding an opponent to five runs or less. They are 73-11 all-time in regional games they host, and Miami has advanced to the College World Series 10 times in Jim Morris' 14 years.

All that is impressive and definitely noteworthy, but Bianco has heeded the correct warning this week: first things first, and it isn't the Hurricanes. It is the Tigers.

"Missouri and Crow are a challenge by themselves," the head coach stated. "Worrying about Miami right now does nothing but get you beat."

Collective gasps were displayed all around Rebel Nation when the brackets were announced, but most were probably directed in the wrong direction. Getting Miami wasn't necessarily unlucky. But getting Mizzou in the opener undoubtedly was.

The Tigers may not be the best No. 2 seed in the NCAA Tournament, but they are with Aaron Crow on the mound. The junior, who is 12-0 this year, has a sharp fastball that starts at right-handers before late movement tails it into the strike zone and a solid offspeed pitch that keeps the competition from sitting dead red.

Missouri or Ole Miss will likely be in the unenviable position of facing the overall top seed in a winner's bracket game Saturday, but the alternative is even less welcoming. Dropping the opener means the season is over barring a miracle.

Having Miami in your regional eliminates all room for error. Lose game one, and four straight wins must be rattled off – possibly two against the host ‘Canes.

So, Lance Lynn needs to be his dominant self. The defense needs to find those elusive nine perfect innings, and the offense must battle and succeed with a bevy of quality at-bats. Ole Miss is a talented team and has the chance to finally fulfill expectations, but Friday at 11 a.m. (CST) will be culture shock compared to the previous three times the Rebels suited up for the first round of regional competition – or even in 2001 or 2003 for that matter.

Nobody on Ole Miss' roster has ever been anything but a No. 1 seed or played anywhere but Swayze Field, and Bianco has never coached a Rebel team that wasn't the favorite in regional round one. His first two regional squads traveled, but they were seeded second.

The Rebels were loose and ready during practice Thursday, and the unusual surroundings of Mark Light Field were welcomed. For the first time in several years, and ironically this season, Ole Miss is the David. It is Miami, and maybe Missouri in an odd way that is holding down the pressures of being Goliath.

Ole Miss can beat Missouri. Lynn can match Crow pitch-for-pitch, and the Rebels are a proud program that won't be intimidated if the Hurricanes do loom Saturday. Some payback may even be on the Rebels' minds.

The goal should be a showdown with the top team, but the thoughts of such can't be generated right now. A worthy opponent awaits Friday. Bianco sees it, and the team would be well served to do the same.

Ole Miss will have to beat Miami to move on from this weekend.

But if the Rebels don't take down the Tigers first, all else is likely irrelevant.

The weekend is double elimination. However, Ole Miss is playing for its season on day one.

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