It must be like living a repetitive nightmare for Ole Miss Baseball fans. For the third time in five seasons, the Ole Miss Rebels had one foot on the plane to the College World Series only to blow a 1-0 series lead at home. Like Texas and Miami in 2005 and 2006, the University of Virginia rallied back from an opening game defeat to clinch their ticket to Omaha at the expense of Mike Bianco’s Rebels.
After Matt Smith’s game one heroics in extra innings, this felt like the time that Ole Miss would return to the College World Series for the first time since 1972. However, a late game collapse in game two, started by a shocking throwing error from second baseman Evan Button, and a dominant Cavalier pitching performance in game three saw the same stunned and dismayed faces return to the Ole Miss faithful that were present in years before.
After Sunday’s 5-1 defeat saw the Rebel’s season end at 44-20 and ranked #13 by Baseball America, the Ole Miss program must now reflect on the past, and garner some idea of how to avoid another Superior Regional Collapse in the future.
The facts suggest that Ole Miss stacks up against many of the top baseball programs in the country. Ole Miss has won over 35 games in the past nine seasons, captured a split overall SEC title this season, and in the University of Miami’s Regional in 2008, the Rebels became one of only six teams to play for a Regional Championship from ’05-’08. However, for Bianco and Ole Miss to solidify their position as a college baseball powerhouse, a trip to Omaha is in order, and soon.
Super Regional No Longer Enough in Oxford
The resources and facilities are in place for the Rebels to compete at the very top of college baseball, so the excuse of a level playing field being nonexistent is out the window. Ole Miss has a premier playing venue in a revamped Oxford-University Stadium, a facility that holds more than seven of the eight teams participating in the College World Series this season, the exception being Arkansas.
As well as having premier facilities, the university brass has made Bianco’s salary, which is in the region of $500,000 with incentives and annual pay, on par with most coaches throughout the country.
There is little doubt that Bianco is worth every penny of his salary, after all, the Rebel program was depleted at best before he took over in June 2000, but at what point should the Ole Miss Faithful demand more?
Bianco’s coaching tactics have been a lighting rod for criticism from sections of the Rebel fan base, and the fact that in-state rivals Mississippi State and Southern Miss have both clinched tickets to Omaha in recent memory has not helped the skipper’s case at all. Falling short of the College World Series is something that many programs across the country have to deal with, but being a well established stop on the road to the Omaha without punching your own ticket is tough to bear.
I do not believe that Bianco’s job should be in serious jeopardy at this point in time, but falling short of Omaha should no longer be acceptable for a program with the rapid growth and large fan base of Ole Miss. Change does not look imminent in Oxford, but if Ole Miss fails to reach Rosenblatt in the near future, Bianco could find himself on the proverbial hot seat.