Been Here Before

It would have been nice for the Rebels to go to the College World Series for the fifth time ever and first in 37 years. But it would have been nice for them to go after any of those other Super Regional years.

And they'll get another chance. This program is built for moments like this, to have that opportunity to play for Omaha. It's been that way for nearly a decade.

It is disheartening for all involved when a first-time Super Regional team celebrates on your field. At least Texas and Miami had been there before, many times. Virginia will be making its first trip to Omaha. Ever.

Everybody seems to want to know what it will take for the Rebels to get there. Maybe going on the road and winning a Regional and then going on the road and winning a Super Regional is just the right combination. Worked like a charm for Virginia.

This was a different Rebel team than the earlier Super Regional teams. The 2005 team was built on power and pitching as well as the normal solid Rebel defense. Texas was just a little bit better than everybody in the field when all was said and done and proved it in Omaha.

The 2006 Rebel team had some of all of that, too. And it had some big moments, like a Mark Wright home run that lifted the Rebs past Bethune Cookman on Friday night of the Oxford Regional. Then they moved on from there until a strong hitting Miami team did them in on the third day of the Super Regional.

The 2007 Super Regional was on the road and a different deal completely. Arizona State won it in two games.

Three years removed from the series with the Hurricanes and the Rebels have three-peated at home. That's win game one of a Super Regional at home and lose the next two.

So why can't they build on that first win at home? Mike Bianco is a firm believer that the team that plays the best wins almost every time. He said so today after this one.

That also isn't necessarily always the best team. He didn't say that today, but it's true.

"Today they just did more than we did," Bianco did say after this one. "I thought we played hard. But again, we didn't do enough."

Game two of the three Super Regionals at home have been basically the same. The Rebels can't hit in that second game.

Texas won 3-1 and sent it to game three. Miami thumped Ole Miss 7-0 and sent that year's to game three.

Then Saturday against the visiting Cavaliers, who had never been to a Super Regional before, bounced back from Matt Smith's dramatic game-winning shot in the 12th on Friday like they'd been there every year. And when a door opened late on Saturday, they walked right in.

Virginia pitching was sensational at the Regional in Irvine. The Cavs only gave up two runs in three games. UVa head coach Brian O'Connor said Thursday we may never see that type performance again by a staff.

That same staff was equally up to the task this weekend in Oxford.

This year's Rebel team couldn't hit home runs like earlier teams of the era, so it played more station to station, small ball if you will. It wasn't what Bianco cut his teeth on at LSU as player or assistant coach, but he adjusted when his team wasn't built for power.

But against the Cavalier pitching, maybe the country's best overall, the Rebels weren't effective enough offensively. Some of it was strategy. Some of it was execution.

Some of it was UVa pitching. As a staff this weekend, the Cavaliers had an ERA of 2.33 in three games against the Rebels. They allowed just seven earned runs in 30 innings.

Combine that with last week's three games in Irvine, and Virginia has a two weekend ERA of 1.50 in 54 innings and given up just nine earned runs.

O'Connor talked about adjusting as a coach, much like Bianco has done.

"Our style has changed this year," O'Conner said. "In the previous five years we bunted a lot, moved runners over a lot. This year as the season progressed, we really didn't bunt much, partly because we weren't very good at it. We also had some guys that could really swing the bats. I think the evolution of myself in coaching is you have to try to change when things don't work, and you try to develop a new plan. This year rather than moving runners over that much with a bunt, it was more with swinging the bat and stealing bases."

So once again a Rebel season has ended in a Super Regional. If you took a poll of most fans, to get to a third game of a home Super Regional would likely not have been what they predicted for this team in February or even early March.

Not after last season's road regional in Miami and failure to win 40 games. Not after it didn't appear this team was going to be as good as the previous several, following a 1-2 start in Mobile, Ala., and getting ripped apart in the only game they played against TCU.

But the Rebels finished 44-20, champions of the SEC, and were awarded a host site for an NCAA Regional for the fifth time in six seasons.

Then, like in 2006, they were able to host a Super Regional after a home national seed was upset.

And lest we forget, there has been no Scott Bittle available through all of May and into June. As well as the Rebels still pitched it, he would have made a difference.

In the end, Texas was too good. Miami was too good. Virginia was too good. Or at least all three played better than the Rebels over a three-game series.

In each case, the Rebels just weren't good enough to get the job done.

You have to play better than the other team, Bianco has always said and continues to say. Someday the Rebels will do that in a Super Regional. But they haven't to date.


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