The Ole Miss baseball team’s electrifying late-season run featuring their snazzy powder blue threads, dugout costumes and all-around spectacular plays came to a screeching halt as they lost two of three games to Arkansas in the Fayetteville Super Regional.
An unexpected run had a bit of an anticlimactic ending as the Rebels seemed to lose it, find it briefly, and then lose it again all in a matter of three days. The weekend was similar to how the season went as a whole.
“Obviously a disappointing ending for us. it’s hard to put into words. I’m just proud of our guys,” Mike Bianco said after the game on Monday. “Many of you know the story. Three weeks ago, nobody thought we would be here, and they hung together and got one game away from making it to Omaha. Unfortunately, we had to come here and play maybe the team that will win the national championship, and certainly one of the best teams in the country.”
The loss Monday marked the end of the 2019 campaign and the end of the celebrated No. 1 recruiting class of 2016 — most of which will leave Oxford to play professionally. In the class’s three years in Oxford, they missed the postseason, suffered heartbreak against Tennessee Tech in their own regional and lost a Super Regional in Fayetteville.
“My freshman year we weren’t a very good baseball team. We competed in some games just because we were talented. Last year I think was one of the better teams I’ve ever played on. It seemed like every game we were in, we never played bad, and I think this year was kind of a mix of both,” Thomas Dillard said. “We went through periods where we were just really dominant. We went through periods where it looked like we never picked up a baseball.”
The Rebels caught fire in Hoover, Alabama, at the SEC Tournament after getting swept by Mississippi State at Swayze, losing at Arkansas State and dropping a series in Knoxville to end a suspect regular season. Rumblings among fans calling for Mike Bianco’s termination got louder and louder as all signs pointed to the Rebels having yet another disappointing end to a season.
Ole Miss arrived at Hoover Met Stadium with a mission as most projections had them out of the top-16. Not only were the Rebels playing to defend their SEC title from a year ago, but also to earn a chance at hosting a regional. An early exit would mean a No. 2 seed in the NCAA Regionals and a tougher road to Super Regionals.
After sweeping what, in hindsight, was one of the least challenging Regional fields in the tournament, Ole Miss had a date with the Arkansas Razorbacks, who had swept their Regional as well.
The Rebels would lose two of three games in Fayetteville that were just as bizarre as the seasons as a whole. In all three games, one team would take an early lead and proceed to get blown out in the next innings.
Ole Miss lost game one 11-2, roared back on Sunday to win 13-5 and sputtered out on Monday in a 14-1 rout to give Arkansas their second-consecutive trip to Omaha.
The Rebels’ explosive offense that lead the team through the postseason was stifled by the Razorbacks’ second-rounder Isaiah Cambell and experienced relievers Cody Scroggins and Jacob Kostyshock.
The top-scoring Regional offense had no answer for in Campbell’s 8.1 innings and seven strikeouts in his last start at Baum Stadium. After giving up a solo home run to Grae Kessinger, Campbell put the clamp down, showing his second-round arm as the Razorback proceeded to pepper baseballs in and out of the park on Will Ethridge. His last start in the red and blue was less than stellar.
The junior fifth-round pick allowed eight runs, six of those earned, on six hits in 3.1 innings. In an effort to save the top arms in the bullpen. Bianco trotted out Tyler Myers, Kaleb Hill and Max Cioffi.
With the season on the line Sunday, the Rebels called upon none other than freshman superstar Doug Nikhazy. The skateboarding rookie who established himself in the rotation gave up a first-inning homer, but anchored down as the Rebels smashed the Razorback bullpen for 13 runs. As Nikhazy started to tail off, Houston Roth came in for the save, allowing only two hits in 4.0 innings.
In a winner-take-all Monday matchup, It was Gunnar Hoglaund who struggled early, and by the time Austin Miller and Parker Caracci could come to the rescue, it was too late.
The 14-1 loss marks another disappointing end to a season with an abundance of talent on the roster. The postseason struggles are nothing new for Mike Bianco, as he’s only been able to get to the College World Series once in his 19 years at Ole Miss.
Bianco will also lose a large chunk of talent as its expected that all eight draftees will sign with their respective MLB teams. Those junior draftees will move on from Ole Miss with memories of highs and lows.
“I don’t think anybody has any regrets about what we did. There’s going to be a lot of outside of baseball. I think we truly loved each other,” Dillard said. “We truly cared about everybody, and I don’t think we left anything out there. I think we did it wholeheartedly. I think it’ll be rough at first, but it’s something that you can hang your hat on.”
Cooper Johnson also said his three years in Oxford were important for his growth as a player
“Over the three years, these guys have grown into my best friends and people that I’ll continue to have relationships with for the rest of my life,” Johnson said. “I couldn’t be more thankful and proud of the way we’ve grown since I was a freshman. Growing from boys into men off the field and on the field.”