Opinion: The state of Ole Miss Baseball

An Ole Miss Baseball cap with game-used ball.
Ole Miss Baseball cap with game-used ball.

Edward Grimes
Oxford Stories

The University of Mississippi baseball program may be at a crossroads. After much anticipation, the Ole Miss Rebels baseball team is in the midst of another competitive season in the Southeastern Conference.

According to many fans, this could perhaps be the year the Rebels break through their postseason troubles and reach the College World Series (CWS) in Omaha, Nebraska. Ole Miss, coached by Mike Bianco in his 22nd season, have only been able to qualify there once, in 2014.

Throughout Bianco’s tenure, Ole Miss has consistently been one of the best baseball teams in the SEC, winning the entire conference in 2006 and 2018, and finishing second in 2019. The Rebels again look to have a team capable of fighting for top-dog in the conference, and making a deep postseason run.

But the Achilles’ heel of the Rebels has been the postseason performance in many of the last 20 seasons. If this team were to not reach its College World Series aspirations this year, would it be a major disappointment for Ole Miss baseball? I tend to believe so.

SEC baseball is a high-level sport. Teams from all across the league are capable of beating each other, no matter how good or bad they are perceived to be. When a program rises to a high level in this league, expectations and excitement are palpable.

Ole Miss Baseball is no stranger to this, being one of the biggest college baseball brands in the country. The Rebel fans who fill Swayze Field every home game are ready to watch their team play like one of best in the nation.

This season, many Ole Miss fans’ expectations are making the College World Series or bust. In order to accomplish this goal, a team has to be good enough to reach postseason play, win a regional against three other teams, and then a super regional series to make Omaha.

A left field view of Oxford-University Stadium at Swayze Field
Left field view of Oxford-University Stadium at Swayze Field.

Under Bianco, the Rebels have made the postseason in 17 of his 22 seasons (excluding the canceled 2020 season). Ole Miss has been oh-so-close to many CWS appearances since 2005, making seven super regionals and only winning one, in 2014. The last few years for Ole Miss in the postseason have been tough for many fans to experience, most notably from 2018 to 2021.

The 2018 season saw the Rebels win the SEC with a 48-17 record, their best under Bianco, only to fall in their own regional with sky-high expectations. 2019 was another tough situation, as this time Ole Miss was able to make a super regional, only to fall to rival Arkansas and miss the CWS by one win.

In 2020, the Rebels were off to a hot start, even reaching the #1 national ranking, but the season was canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Lastly, the 2021 season saw Ole Miss win 45 games and make another super regional, dropping two of three to Arizona.

Due to this overall continued success, but not consistently reaching their aspirations, many fans have been desperate for the “dream year” of the CWS.

With the success of many fellow SEC programs around them, Ole Miss fans should expect the best. The Rebels have continuously recruited and competed at a high caliber with other teams, but do not have much of the same postseason success to show for.

Ole Miss’ four main rivals in baseball, Mississippi State, LSU, Arkansas, and Vanderbilt all have very storied programs with many CWS appearances and championships, except for Arkansas. Most recently, in-state rival Mississippi State won their first national championship, which was an important deal in the state.

Ole Miss needs to have more postseason success than it has in order for fans to feel like they are not wasting their time, being disappointed again and again.

Red, white and blue Rebel baseball jerseys.
Rebel baseball jerseys.

The 2022 edition of the Rebels has the makings of a team that should make a run to Omaha and compete with other teams that find their way there as well. The team is a veteran squad who has returned most of their players from the 2021 campaign and is well-versed in competing in the SEC.

The batting lineup for Ole Miss is regularly thought to be one of the best in college baseball, capable of hitting it out of the park at any notice, giving the students in right field at Swayze a reason to shower themselves with alcohol in their signature celebration.

Pitching-wise, while Ole Miss does not have the signature aces seen on teams of the last few years, they have a solid stable of pitchers who can get the job done to complement the offense. The atmosphere at Oxford-University Stadium is one of the best in college baseball, as Ole Miss has one of the highest attendance records in the country year-in and year-out.

Everything is there for the Rebels to break through. If they do, fans will be elated, giddy to cheer their team on as the travel to Nebraska to play for the chance of a national title. If they do not, the disappointment will be clear.

Rebel fans, including myself, will wonder if they missed their best shot, and when that next opportunity might come. It would be a stagnant repeat of what’s come before, and it could leave many fans jaded and pushing for some sort of change, whatever that might be.

Ole Miss fans have waited long enough, and they, along with this program, deserve to stand on that mountaintop that they aspire to reach.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s