The opportunity, of course, is to advance to the College World Series by winning a pair of games this weekend in Oxford. Ole Miss hasn't been to Omaha since 1972 when Texas eliminated them there, 9-8. Conversely, the Horns have been to Rosenblatt Stadium so many times since the Rebels' last appearance that Burnt Orange teammates could almost have their mail directed there every June. Garrido's bunch is looking to extend the program's NCAA-leading CWS appearances to 32.
Texas' best-of-three-series at Oxford begins 6 p.m. (Central), Saturday in an ESPN2 telecast and will be followed by a 5 p.m. match on Sunday. If necessary, the deciding game will be played Monday to determine which team will advance to the field of dreams in Omaha. Ole Miss athletic officials announced Monday that all reserved seats at Swayze Field were sold out and began issuing 'standing room only' tickets for what shapes up as the biggest baseball series in program history. (Texas was allocated 600 tickets, prompting Garrido to comment, "We don't plan on giving any of them back".) The Rebels have never played in a Super Regional while the Horns are vying for their fifth Super Regional crown in six seasons.
Fifth-year coach Mike Bianco has gradually created a national program in Oxford, tying LSU for the SEC West title in America's toughest league before falling short in the SEC Tournament championship game. Ole Miss (47-18) advanced after blasting OU, 20-5, at the Oxford Regional while Texas (49-15) reached after battling back from the loser's bracket at the Austin Regional last weekend.
Garrido was still musing over his starting rotation just before the team departed for Mississippi, but revealed (tongue-in-cheek) that it will be a right-hander. (The only southpaws on this year's squad are reservists Jordon Street, Buck Cody and Bryan Herrera.)
"We're basically a right-handed staff," Garrido said. "It's not a matter of saying they (Ole Miss) are not as effective against a left-handed pitcher. We don't have that luxury. It will be a right-handed pitcher who starts."
Garrido said Thursday he will lead with ace Kyle McCulloch (10-3, 2.70 ERA). Freshman Kenn Kasparek (7-0 on the season and with an ERA of just under 1.0 the past six games) will be on the hill before the weekend is through.
With Texas' pitching depth, the Longhorn on the mound is not as critical as the Longhorn behind the plate. Junior C Taylor Teagarden, the Texas Rangers' third-round pick this week, was named the Austin Regional 'Most Outstanding Player' after tagging 13 hits and eight RBIs in 23 plate appearances. But it's his defensive presence, chemistry with pitchers and ability to call that matters most to Garrido.
"If Teagarden doesn't catch, the whole pitching staff is so affected that's pretty much insurmountable," Garrido said. "That (catcher position) is the one that sinks the ship."
Even if Garrido is unfamiliar with Ole Miss, Major League scouts are not. Eight Rebels were selected in the Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft this week.
Junior 1B Stephen Head was the Cleveland Indians' second round pick (the 62nd overall pick of the Draft) and the first Rebel selected. In this case, one Head may be better than two as the infielder leads his club both in RBIs and his bullpen in saves. Head is a two-time first-team All-American is currently batting .319 with 18 home runs and a team-best with 68 RBIs. He is three RBI shy of tying the school career record (168) set by Kyle Gordon from 1984-1987. He also has a 7-3 pitching record this season with a 2.59 ERA and seven saves. He is the school's all-time leader in saves with 25 in his three-year tenure.
Outfielder Brian Pettway is a first-team All-American (Collegiate Baseball) and is hitting .391 while boasting a team-high 20 home runs. The junior has 65 RBIs and was the third pick of the Toronto Blue Jays. He also has a .704 slugging percentage and has been among the SEC leaders in several offensive statistical categories all season. His 20 home runs are one shy of the all-time single season record for Ole Miss.
There aren't many pitching staffs as deep as Texas' but Ole Miss has one of them. Four Rebel pitchers were taken between the third and seventh rounds of the MLB Draft, starting with LHP Matt Maloney. The junior (8-2 record, 3.14 ERA) was a third round pick of the Philadelphia Phillies and has recorded 104 strikeouts in 97-1/3 innings. He worked his way into the starting rotation midway through the season and is part of the reason why the Rebels own a staff ERA of 3.64.
RHP Mark Holliman (8-4, 3.85 ERA) is the usual Friday night starter and was taken in the third round by the Chicago Cubs. He has 117 Ks in 110 innings pitched as his fastball has been clocked at 96 MPH. His 278 career strikeouts are just four short of the school record held by Jeff Calhoun (1977-80).
LHP Eric Fowler (7-2, 3.09 ERA) was Toronto's fifth round choice while LHP Anthony Cupps (8-3, 5.08 ERA) pitched a two-hitter in seven-innings during Mississippi's 14-1 win over Florida in the SEC Tournament.
Senior 2B Cooper Osteen was taken in the 31st round by the Philadelphia Phillies after batting .321 and leading the team with 13 stolen bases this season. He is also second on the team with 60 runs scored. He has spent most of this season as Mississippi's leadoff hitter. Senior C Barry Gunther, taken in the 25th round by the San Francisco Giants, is batting .285 this season with four home runs and 27 RBI.
The last time the Longhorns set sail for a Super Regional road trip, Garrido's club swept top-seeded Florida State at Tallahassee just two seasons ago. Texas' sweep of the Seminoles was largely the result of "getting focused and staying focused on the game itself," Garrido said, "and recognizing that every team has an opportunity to win in any environment, and then playing the game to the best of your ability. It's harder to do than to talk about."
And winning two in Oxford? For the first time in recent memory, it's harder to do than talk about as well.