The quest for Omaha has ended for Ole Miss.
Arkansas clinched a return trip to Omaha with a 14-1 super regional win before 10,092 fans at Baum-Walker Stadium on Monday.
This is an Ole Miss team that beat some of the best teams in the SEC. But it’s also a team built around four players taken in the first six rounds of the MLB Draft that happened to lose to North Alabama (16-38) and Arkansas State (26-29).
In a way, junior left fielder Thomas Dillard described the team best.
“My freshman year we weren’t a very good baseball team. We competed in some games just because we were talented. Last year was probably the best team I ever played on. It seemed like every game we played in we were in,” said Dillard, a former Pillow Academy athlete and Greenwood native. “This year was kind of a mix of both. We went through periods where we were really dominant, and we went through periods where it looked like we never picked up a baseball.”
The Rebels won their regular season finale 5-4 at Tennessee to avoid a sweep. Then in Hoover, Alabama, they won four straight elimination games before falling to Vanderbilt in the SEC Tournament championship game.
Earning a host seed following the run in Hoover, the Rebels peaked at home in the Oxford regional — scoring 41 runs in three games and wiping the floor with every team that even attempted to hang with them, the Rebels were finally playing up to their potential.
“Three weeks ago, nobody thought we’d be here,” said head coach Mike Bianco.
“There were some weekends when we were as good as any team in the country. There were some weekend’s we’d like to forget. But they hung together and we came one game away from making it to Omaha… We played well in Hoover. We played super last week at home, and we just came up one game short.”
The team got shelled to open the supers and bounced right back in Game 2 with a dominating performance of its own. Coming into Monday, the Rebels were just one game away from their first trip to Omaha since 2014 and the program’s second appearance since 1972.
Despite the ugly 14-1 ending to the season, the team is processing just how special these two weeks have been.
“Overall, I’m just proud of where we are right now. No one really thought we’d be in the last game of a Super Regional a few weeks ago. We had a six-game losing streak and lost to Arkansas State in there, but we turned it on when we needed too,” Dillard said. “The SEC Tournament, regionals and super regionals, I think we looked like a different team than we were all year.”
The season highs: sweeps of Texas A&M and Florida, road series wins at Arkansas and LSU. Then there was the aforementioned run in the SEC Tournament that ended with a heartbreaking walk-off loss in the championship game versus Vanderbilt.
It was a dominant showing in the regional, with the Rebels averaging 13.6 runs per game in a three-game sweep.
That all happened in the same season as these lows: eight midweek losses — including one to a team in its first season as a Division I program — four losses against archrival Mississippi State by 18 combined runs, six straight losses in mid-May, including a baffling loss against Arkansas State.
The Rebels have had great success under Bianco, but the fact is the Rebels are 1-5 in super regionals under him.
Let Ole Miss fans chew on that over the summer.