The Rebel baseball team has a huge hole to crawl out of if they want to make it to the NCAA tournament this year. After the incredible run Ole Miss had at the end of last season, some fans are still holding onto hope that it will happen again, while others have given up.
Not only have some fans lost hope, it looks as if the team has, too. This time last year, the Rebels held a 7-14 conference record and had a slim chance of making it to a regional tournament.
With a veteran team of very talented players, fans were upset with head coach Mike Bianco for the way the season had been shaping up. That’s when a hashtag went trending on twitter, #FireBianco.
Considering that the Rebels are 3-15 in conference play right now, people are once again hopping on the #FireBianco train.
On Twitter, @EverythingRebs said, “Following a National Championship, there is always the possibility of a down year. This is no longer a down year. This is not Ole Miss Baseball.”
With Hunter Elliot being injured and benched for the majority of the season, pitching has been a struggle for Ole Miss. All three of the Rebels’ weekend starters have earned run averages over five and have given up over 25 earned runs each.
To make matters worse, when Ole Miss has a good pitching night, the bats do not come alive. Fans think they have an explanation.
Sarah Sign, a junior integrated marketing communications major in Michael Katz’s sports writing class, blamed poor leadership for the Rebels’ woes.
“No one has filled Tim Elko’s shoes yet as a leader, and that’s what they’re missing,” Sign said.
After captain Tim Elko was drafted by the White Sox, senior Garrett Wood was named captain of the 2023 team. Wood is loved by the community of Oxford and his teammates, but he is not a regular in the team’s lineup.
This raises the question of who is really holding the team together on the field.
Austin Anderson, a former Ole Miss All-American, said that leadership does not necessarily come from someone with a title.
“I mean, someone [has to] take control. [You] don’t have to be a captain to be a captain,” Anderson said.
So, who is the backbone of this team? Fans agree that it is Calvin Harris and Kemp Alderman.
Both juniors lead the team in batting averages, and Alderman has even stepped in to pitch this year. They are the players who Rebel Nation feels that they can count.
On the other hand, Peyton Chatagnier and TJ McCants have the lowest batting averages on the team. The right fielder and second baseman have been staples in the Rebel lineup for the past few years, but some feel that it is time to end that.
After many tweets begging for McCants and Chatagnier to be taken out of the lineup, Coach Bianco finally did so in a game against Mississippi State.
Coach Bianco’s loyalty to his players is understandable,, but at a certain point, he must think about the effect his forgiveness has on the Rebels’ record.
Twitter user @EverythingRebs has the opinion that there shouldn’t be a game moving forward where both freshman Will Furniss and Judd Utermark aren’t both in the lineup. Many others agreed and think the two outstanding players are the future of Ole Miss baseball.
Ole Miss has players that rank within the SEC’s top 15 in categories like batting average, runs scored, hits, home runs, doubles and stolen bases. However, all of these accomplishments were achieved by the top four players of the order: Jacob Gonzalez, Ethan Groff, Harris and Alderman.
It is hard to make it in the Southeastern Conference when only four players are truly showing up.
As for pitching, the Indianapolis transfer Xavier Rivas is widely regarded as the best starting pitcher the Rebels have, as Elliot is just now getting back into the swing of things. Rivas is also tied for ninth in batters struck out this season.
Two weekends ago against LSU, Rivas threw 104 pitches and was struggling after two walks and a single. Fans were shocked Bianco did not make a call to the bullpen because the bases were loaded with only one out.
On the very first pitch to the next batter, Rivas gave up a grand slam. Red Cup Rebellion took to Twitter to defend Rivas, saying that “Xavier Rivas did admirable work for four innings, another baffling choice by Bianco to keep him in while he’s clearly struggling.”
Fans are clearly questioning Bianco’s decisions, just as they did last year.
To truly have a shot at making it to the NCAA tournament, the Rebels need to win at least 12 conference games, which still only gives them an 18% chance of hearing their name on selection day.
With only 12 SEC games remaining, that means Ole Miss has to win at least nine more regular season games and hopefully make a run in the SEC tournament to give them a little more room to breathe.
While it is doable, fans think it is only possible if the team gets hot and Bianco makes some serious changes.
As Ole Miss Baseball fan @LandonB78 tweeted, “Look, a Natty is awesome, but people can’t just let this go by and use the Natty as a blanket. There are changes that need to happen.”