The Field Is Set

Ole Miss didn't get a national seed, but as expected the Rebels appeared to be close.

It likely won't ever be known had the Rebels beaten Florida in the SEC Tournament if they'd flipped spots. That kind of definite info doesn't usually become available.

Ole Miss defeated Florida two of three games in Gainesville earlier this season. The Gators rolled to victory last Thursday in Hoover, Ala.

Florida, the eighth national seed, has an RPI among the top eight while Ole Miss does not. Much more talk centered around Oklahoma getting the seventh national seed with an RPI in the mid-teens at best, near where Ole Miss' RPI falls. In one RPI poll today, OU is 16th and in another 19th. Ole Miss was 17th in one, 16th in another.

Those aren't the only criteria for the NCAA committee, and those numbers aren't necessarily the ones the NCAA is using. But they are at least a guide to what is going on.

So the Rebels should have been as close to a top eight seeding as Oklahoma. Maybe the committee didn't want to place three SEC teams (which would have been LSU, Florida, and Ole Miss) and only one Big 12 team (Texas) among the top eight.

But at this point what's done is done, and some of that falls on what the Rebels could have done throughout the course of a three-month season.

They actually did quite a bit. Their body of work was outstanding. The Rebels are 40-17 and finished 20-10 in conference play to tie LSU for the regular season SEC crown.

The Rebs had a chance to pad the resume' along the way somewhere – at Vandy with one more win, at LSU with one more win, with another win against Mississippi State in Oxford, in the SEC tourney against Georgia and Florida and would have gone even deeper there had they won just one game.

What if they'd played the two TCU games that were called because of weather? The Horned Frogs are hosting, and obviously the Rebels could have used those games against a quality RPI foe, which is around 10.

Now that the path to get to Omaha has been laid out before them, the Rebels get ready to advance through all the twists and turns the next couple of weekends should hold.

Ole Miss and Monmouth meet at 7 p.m. Friday, following a 3 p.m. game with Missouri taking on Western Kentucky.

"Certainly we're really excited," Ole Miss head coach Mike Bianco said of hosting for the fifth time in the last six seasons. "Really happy and proud for the players. It's an opportunity and an honor and neat to play at home in a Regional. And certainly it was one of our goals.

"And we're excited for our fans," he continued. "They'll get to see us play at least one more weekend here. The atmosphere here is as good as it is anywhere in college baseball."

The Oxford Regional is matched with No. 6 national seed Cal-Irvine's Regional. Also in that regional field are second-seeded Virginia, third-seeded San Diego State (coached by former major leaguer Tony Gwynn who has the nation's best pitcher in Stephen Strasburg - 1.24 ERA, 13-0 on the season), and fourth-seeded and defending national champion Fresno State.

Monmouth, the fourth seed in Oxford, is 32-23 on the year. The Hawks won the Northeast Conference Tournament Championship over the weekend to claim the league's automatic berth into the NCAA Tournament. Monmouth is led by Chris Callozo who hits .385 on the year with 46 RBI.

The Rebels played Monmouth in the 1999 Regional at College Station, Texas, and eliminated the Hawks 12-3. Ole Miss had lost to Long Beach State the day before, while Monmouth had lost to the host Aggies.

Missouri, the second-seeded team in the Oxford Regional, lost in the Big 12 Championship game last weekend to Texas 12-7. Missouri is 34-25 record on the season and is led by pitcher Kyle Gibson. The 6-foot-6, junior RHP, who faced the Rebels last season in the NCAA Regional at Miami, has a 10-3 record this season with a 3.47 ERA and 123 strikeouts.

Ole Miss and Missouri played twice last year in the Regional at Miami. The Tigers won the first game 7-0 and the Rebels eliminated Mizzou two days later 9-6.

Western Kentucky, the third seed in Oxford, is 39-18 record and a 21-8 record in Sun Belt play. Matt Rice is the top hitter for the Hilltoppers, batting .393 on the year with 66 RBI.

WKU has a couple of Ole Miss/Oxford ties. The older brother of Rebel freshman catcher Taylor Hightower is on the Hilltoppers' team. Matt Hightower is a senior oufielder/left-handed pitcher for Western Kentucky.

He has started 14 games with a 3.92 ERA and a 6-3 record. He's hitting .312 in 202 at-bats with 11 home runs, five doubles, and three triples with 51 RBI.

Also former Oxford High and Northwest Mississippi CC player Chad Cregar, a senior outfielder, is one of Western's leading hitters. He's batting .316 with 17 home runs, 11 doubles, two triples and has 56 RBI.

Bianco said he doesn't spend a whole lot of time prior to the announcement trying to figure out who might be coming to a Regional or if his team might host.

"Probably early on in my first few years I tried to figure it all out," he said. "It rarely turns out (how one might guess). You look in your area to see, but you can't even figure that out. You see a Southern Miss or you figure a Middle Tennessee or a Tennessee Tech (might be coming to Oxford).

"So we looked at it a little bit, and we figured Western Kentucky would go to Louisville, like everybody else," he continued. "But it's pretty much wasted energy to do that."

Now all their energy is focused on getting ready for more baseball. And up next is Monmouth in Oxford Friday at 7 p.m.

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