HATTIESBURG — Ole Miss baseball has been here before. Many, many times.
The Rebels surged past Southern Miss with a 10-0 win in Game 1 of the Hattiesburg Super Regional on Saturday, pulling the Rebels within one win of their first College World Series berth since 2014. Ole Miss will get two chances to secure that win, with the first chance coming Sunday with a chance to sweep the series (3 pm, ESPNU).
Ole Miss has won its four postseason games by a combined score of 41-11. The Rebels are playing their best baseball. And 80% of teams that win Game 1 of a Super Regional end up advancing to the College World Series. It’s easy to feel good about the way things are headed.
But Ole Miss has history. The Rebels won Game 1s in super regionals in 2005, 2006 and 2009 and missed the College World Series all three times. In 2019 and 2021, the Rebels lost Game 1 but won Game 2 to set up a winner-take-all Game 3 and lost both of those.
Since the NCAA adopted the super regional format in 1999, the Rebels are 1-8 in games that could’ve sent them to the College World Series. The lone win in 2014 came after the Rebels lost their first game to Louisiana-Lafayette and rallied to win two straight.
The ghosts of 2005, 2006 and 2009 have long haunted the program. The wounds from 2019 and 2021 are still fresh. About 60% of the Rebels’ 2022 roster experienced defeat in the 2021 Tucson Super Regional, and four holdovers — Tim Elko, Kevin Graham, Justin Bench and Max Cioffi — were on the team for the 2019 Fayetteville Super Regional loss.
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“I don’t think they’re going to look too far ahead,” Ole Miss coach Mike Bianco said of his team. “They know what’s at stake. You don’t have to remind them.”
Every team is different. The 2021 squad ran out of reliable pitching for Game 3, something that won’t be an issue for the Rebels on Sunday. Freshman left-hander Hunter Elliott has been Ole Miss’ best starter down the stretch and threw five crucial innings to help the Rebels beat No. 6 national seed Miami in the regional. And the Rebels’ top four relieving options—right-handers Brandon Johnson, Mason Nichols and Josh Mallitz and left-hander John Gaddis—are all rested and available, too.
Having those arms available is huge. Having those arms available to back up an offense that has scored 32 runs in its last two games is a godsend.
That said, Ole Miss has been here before this year, too. The Rebels had a 7-3 record in SEC series openers but a 3-7 record in SEC Game 2s. Ole Miss started 1-0 and finished 1-2 in series against South Carolina, Mississippi State and Arkansas, the exact situation the Rebels have to avoid this weekend.
The good news is the Rebels’ three Game 2 wins came in their last three series. Elliott was a difference-maker, owning a 3.06 ERA across those three games and a 2.78 ERA when factoring in Game 2 of the Coral Gables Regional. Run support also wasn’t an issue: the Rebels scored 31 runs in their first seven SEC Game 2s and scored 33 runs in the final three.
Ole Miss’ players understand the position they’re in. Some of them might know the program’s super regionals history but none of them are letting it bleed into their preparation for Sunday.
“What else is there to focus on?” Graham said. “What do you come here for other than being right here? Focus isn’t the issue. It’s just about going out and trying to play ball.”
Contact Nick Suss at 601-408-2674 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @nicksuss on Twitter.