Postseason baseball is back on Old Taylor Road as Ole Miss will welcome Illinois, Clemson and Jacksonville State to Swayze Field for the Oxford Regional this weekend.
The selection committee rewarded the Rebels with a No. 12 seed after a series of gutsy performances at the SEC Championship Tournament in Hoover. While it was a debate that Ole Miss would even have the resume strong enough to earn a hosting bid, the Rebels ended up getting in the top-16 handily with the hot run over the week.
“I don’t want to say it was a surprise. We were still hopeful, but I think it was maybe the shot in the arm that they needed,” Mike Bianco said “I’m excited for them because I know they really put it on the line.”
The Rebels are one of six SEC schools with a hosting bid and have the chance of a possible all-SEC Super Regional being matched up with the Fayetteville Regional on the bracket. Ole Miss is 3-2 against the Arkansas Razorbacks this season.
“All the teams are really good when you get to this part of the season. It’s about playing well people can talk about all the matchups they want and how it shakes out as far as the bids, but at the end of the day it’s about playing well.”
They’ll need to use their Hoover mentality to get through the Oxford Regional and earn redemption from the collapse this time a year ago. The cloud of that Monday Game 7 loss to Tennessee Tech has hung over this team’s head the whole season. While the performance in Hoover made skies a bit clearer, it still feels like the storm could start rolling if the Rebels aren’t able to make it out of their own regional this year..
“It’ll motivate some of the older guys that played a lot last year to not end that way again, but it’s a new season and we’re just going to have to take it step-by-step.” Thomas Dillard said.
“It doesn’t drive me. Obviously that was disappointing, but to me that’s why I’ve got a great job,” Bianco said. “Every year you get a different club. Even with a lot of returners they’re different. They’re older, they’re wiser, and hopefully they’re better players.”
That job was in jeopardy towards the end of the regular season. With the tournament run and the absence of permanent leadership in the athletics department and the university, a Bianco firing is unlikely, but a result similar to last would be a major disappointment to fans and players alike.
“For a lot of them, it might be their last time at this. I know that they’ve mentioned that they want to leave their mark.,” Bianco said. “This is a team that deserved better than that last year. Hopefully we’ll play better this year in the regional.”
Among those players is senior Ryan Olenek, who will have the opportunity to play at Swayze Field one more weekend after missing senior week earlier this season.
Third baseman Tyler Keenan’s MRI came back negative on Monday morning. Keenan exited the SEC Championship Game after an injury sliding on a base.
He’ll rehab his strained shoulder and is hopeful for the weekend. Keenan batted third for most of the season and was awarded the team’s Most Outstanding Offensive Player.
Ole Miss will face the No. 4 seed Jacksonville State on Friday at 7 p.m. No. 2 seed Illinois will face the No. 3 seed Clemson.