Thursday, October 6, 2022

Column: Wins vs. Vandy set up final regular season week

By Jeff Roberson

Finally, a Sunday that was good to Ole Miss when the Rebels needed to take a two-of-three weekend series the most. They were running out of time — and weekends. 

It has been an interesting season. It’s been a team that’s sometimes hard to figure out, except for a few important things. 

They play the game with passion and never quit. They face adversity head-on and don’t back down. The fans love them, and they love their fans back. 

Top-flight Vanderbilt went up 2-0 in the top of the third Sunday. Ole Miss did them five times better in the bottom of the third scoring 10 runs. 

But you know how Sundays can go, even when a bullpen has been better than the Rebels’ has this season. Sundays are for scoring, and those 10 would prove to not be quite enough. Ole Miss never lost its lead and eventually won 13-10. 

Friday night was vintage SEC first-game baseball. A remarkable college baseball game. 

Two outstanding pitchers, Kumar Rocker of Vandy and Doug Nikhazy of Ole Miss. Six hits apiece for each team. No errors for either. A 3-1 Ole Miss win. 

If you had to draw up a scenario when someone said, “I’ve never been to a college baseball game in the SEC; I need to go sometime,” Friday night — Ole Miss and Vanderbilt in Oxford, Miss., on May 14, 2021 — would be as good as any to explain to them what it’s like.

Rocker came in with more hype. Nikhazy can be every bit as effective. And he was. Seven innings of 10 strikeouts and one earned run against a Commodore team that many believe can win it all again. 

Without injured ace Gunnar Hoglund to call on, Mike Bianco chose to move Nikhazy to the first game from his normal game two start. It worked. 

What college baseball is supposed to be all about. That was Friday night this past weekend. Saturday? Cap tip to Vandy. Seven home runs and a 13-2 win. 

But it was Sunday that the Rebels proved who they are. Or at least who they can be the remainder of the season.

That’s without Hoglund the rest of the way to pitch and without captain Tim Elko except in certain hitting situations. Those are key losses for this team and would be for any ballclub. 

That this team showed toughness and resiliency this past weekend against the Commodores shouldn’t really surprise anyone. Nobody should have expected anything less. 

But it was definitely a battle. Taylor Broadway closed out both wins, got the save on Friday for his 10th of the season, and shut down the Commodores late on Sunday. 

And finally, there it was, a Sunday win to claim a series. 

Two sweeps to open SEC play back in March against Auburn and Alabama gave Ole Miss some wiggle room the rest of the way, and they used it all up. Besides a sweep of South Carolina, the Rebels had not won another league series. Until Vandy came to Oxford. 

It’s mid-May now, and a trip to Georgia remains to wrap up the regular season. That comes after a 6:30 contest against UT-Martin in Oxford on SEC Network+ tonight. 

Everybody talks about what it will take to make sure being one of the 20 already named potential host sites translates into a 16 host site certainty. So how many wins are enough based on the formulas the committee uses to choose? 

At 36-15 overall and 16-11 in the SEC and one of the 20, the Rebels are currently alone in sixth place overall in the conference. National seed possibility? Some still mention it but not as many. 

I’ve been around Bianco’s Ole Miss program since day one. He taught us a long time ago that there’s always something to play for the final weekend of the regular season. That goes for not just his but all teams, including Georgia. 

Fans hope to have things wrapped up nicely before then, of course. It never happens. Always there’s something to play for that last weekend. 

Keep winning. Win your way in. First up is UT-Martin. Then go to Georgia this weekend, win games, and leave no doubt. 

A tall order against a competitive Bulldog team playing at home? Sure. That’s life in the SEC. 

But so was playing one of the country’s best teams in Vanderbilt this weekend, and the Rebels got it done. 

And they can again.

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