Powder blue covered fans stood surrounding Swayze Field on June 4th, paralyzed with disbelief that their road to Omaha had just hit a dead end versus Tennessee Tech University.
Some alumni walked towards the exit with a lowered head, some fans held their face in their hands and some children wiped away tears from their face, but as the Ole Miss Baseball team walked out of the dugout the Ole Miss faithful did something else instead of sulking at their lost season. They applauded the baseball club.
From the start of the season, the Rebels’ talent was hard to deny. With a deep bullpen and a stacked lineup swinging the bat, Coach Bianco had seen his nationally ranked number one recruiting class from 2016 come to fruition by starting the season 17-1 before SEC play. The bats were hot and the bullpen was on fire tearing through teams as the Rebels made their way into conference play.
With series victories over Tennessee, #11 Texas A&M, LSU, #12 Georgia, #5 Arkansas, Alabama, and a sweep of #16 Auburn, the Ole Miss Rebels made it through their in conference competition with ease and onto the SEC Tournament. In Hoover, Alabama, Ole Miss dropped their first game of the Tournament to Auburn in a 9-3 loss. With its back against the wall from the first round lost, Ole Miss won four in a row allowing the Rebs to claim their third SEC Tournament Championship in program history.
Ending the regular season nationally ranked #4 and ready to host the Regional Round of the College World Series, the Rebels began the Oxford Regional with the most wins in program history entering the postseason. With aspirations of Omaha rising, the road was cut short by the nation’s leading offense, Tennessee Tech University, in Game 7 of the Oxford Regional.
The 2018 Rebel season concluded with a final record of 48-17 and a lot of memories filled with beer showers and victory chants.
Offensively, the Rebels did not have any holes in their lineup this past season as only one player finished the season with an average below .300. Leading the charge was junior outfielder and First Team All-SEC Player, Ryan Olenek, who finished the season batting .350 with 83 hits and is projected to come back for his Senior season in 2019.
Outfielder Thomas Dillard, who led the Ole Miss Club in home runs, RBIs and stolen bases is also projected to come back for the 2019 season.
Defensively, Oxford-native junior Grae Kessinger was superb at shortstop all season long as well as third baseman Tyler Keenan, who was named Collegiate Baseball All-Freshman team. Keenan earned the roll on third base and tallied only five errors all season for the Rebels.
In the bullpen, Second Team All-American, Parker Caracci, shined as a closer for Ole Miss. With an overall record of 5-2 and an ERA of 2.25, Caracci tormented opposing teams’ batters late in games when he was called upon to make a save. Freshman left-hander, Jordan Fowler, had an outstanding season and was named Freshman All-American by the Collegiate Baseball. Fowler ended the season with an undefeated record of 7-0 and a team low among starting pitchers of 3.20. The freshman pitched most likely his best game in the Rebels’ loss to Tennessee Tech University, only allowing four hits through 5.1 innings.
Ole Miss will lose a few key members of their ballclub to Major League Baseball. Ryan Rolison was drafted 22nd overall by the Colorado
Rockies. The Sophomore leftie, Rolison, was the ace pitcher on the mound for Coach Mike Bianco with an ERA of 3.70 and an overall record of 10-4. He is the first Rebel to be drafted in the first round of the major league draft since 2010.
Junior Catcher Nick Fortes will be leaving the Rebels as he was drafted by the Miami Marlins and chose to sign. Fortes ended the season with a .319 batting average, 75 hits, 49 RBI’s and 11 home runs.
Lastly, senior Captain Will Golsan will be leaving the Rebels after playing over 53 games every season for the past four years. Golsan ended his time as a Rebel by finishing the season with a .304 batting average, 75 hits and 48 RBI’s.
The 2018 season did not go how Coach Mike Bianco imagined it would, however, there is something special that will make Ole Miss fans remember this group of ball players. As hard as it is to look past the road not taken to Omaha by the Rebel Baseball Club, this group of talented Ole Miss athletes gave fans a reason to believe and get behind a program that last year missed the postseason all together.
This is why the Ole Miss faithful stood applauding the Rebel ball club as they walked onto the field following the loss to Tennessee Tech University. They were applauding to say “thank you” for all the memories created on the baseball diamond. With a heavy heart, the Ole Miss fan base tipped their cap to the 2018 Ole Miss Baseball Rebels one last time.