Ole Miss Baseball 1 CWS win. Can the rebels end the super regional curse?
HATTIESBURG — Ole Miss baseball has been here before. Many, many time.
The Rebels overtook Southern Miss with a 10-0 win in Game 1 of the Hattiesburg Super Regional on Saturday, drawing the Rebels one win away from their first College World Series berth since 2014. Ole Miss will have two chances for that victory, with the first chance coming Sunday with a chance to sweep the series (3 p.m., ESPNU).
Ole Miss won all four playoff games by a combined score of 41-11. The Rebels play their best baseball. And 80% of teams that win the first game of a super regional end up advancing to the College World Series. It’s easy to feel good about the direction things are going.
But Ole Miss has a story. The Rebels won Game 1 of the super regionals in 2005, 2006 and 2009 and missed the College World Series three times. In 2019 and 2021, the Rebels lost Game 1 but won Game 2 to set up a win-win Game 3 and lost both.
Since the NCAA adopted the super regional format in 1999, the Rebels are 1-8 in games that could have sent them to the College World Series. The lone win in 2014 came after the Rebels lost their opener to Louisiana-Lafayette and rallied to win twice in a row.
The ghosts of 2005, 2006 and 2009 have long haunted the program. The wounds of 2019 and 2021 are still fresh. About 60% of the Rebels’ roster in 2022 suffered a loss in the 2021 Tucson regional super, and four survivors — Tim Elko, Kevin Graham, Justin Bench and Max Cioffi — were on the team for the super regional loss. Fayetteville Regional in 2019.
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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 lacked reliable pitchers for Game 3, which won’t be a problem for the Rebels on Sunday. First-year southpaw Hunter Elliott was Ole Miss’ leading starter down the stretch and pitched five crucial innings to help the Rebels beat No. 6 national seed Miami in the area. And the Rebels’ top four backup options — right-handers Brandon Johnson, Mason Nichols and Josh Mallitz and left-hander John Gaddis — are all rested and available as well.
Having these weapons available is huge. Having these weapons available to support an offense that has scored 32 points in its last two games is a godsend.
That said, Ole Miss has been here before This year, too. The Rebels were 7-3 in the early SEC series, but 3-7 in SEC 2 games. Ole Miss started 1-0 and finished 1-2 in the series against North Carolina. South, Mississippi State and Arkansas, the exact situation the Rebels must avoid this weekend.
The good news is that all three of the Rebels’ Game 2 wins have come in their last three series. Elliott was the difference maker, owning a 3.06 ERA over those three games and a 2.78 ERA when factoring in Game 2 of the Coral Gables Regional. Running support wasn’t an issue either: The Rebels scored 31 points in their first seven SEC 2 games and scored 33 points in the last three.
Ole Miss players understand the position they are in. Some of them may know the program’s super-regional history, but none of them let it bleed into their preparation for Sunday.
“What else can you focus on?” Graham said. “Why do you come here other than being here? Concentration isn’t the issue. It’s just about getting out there and trying to play the ball.”
Contact Nick Suss at 601-408-2674 or [email protected] Follow @nicksuss on Twitter.