Ole Miss baseball sweated through the selection show like a Mississippi jogger in July. Rebels coach Mike Bianco maintains the joy he saw from his players when they were announced as the No. 3 seed in the Coral Gables Regional was unlike anything he’d seen in 22 years leading the Rebels.
Despite a 14-16 SEC record, three series losses against teams that missed the NCAA Tournament and a one-and-done performance in the SEC Tournament, the Rebels snuck into the field of 64 with the last at-large bid remaining.
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Selection committee chairman Mike Buddie — athletics director at Army and five-year MLB veteran — explained to the Clarion Ledger what ultimately pushed the Rebels onto the right side of the bubble.
“We understand the game of baseball, there are going to be ebbs and flows,” Buddie said. “But throughout it all, they played a really difficult schedule. If you look at the sum of their parts and the amount of talent on the team, it just seemed like the mixture of looking at their whole season, some great wins over some highly ranked teams and a high level of talent, it kind of felt like if this team clicks then they could be really good. I’m glad that they made us look good.”
A few factors helped get the Rebels in, but nothing proved more valuable than Ole Miss’ late-season wins against LSU, Southern Miss and Texas A&M. Buddie repeatedly emphasized the value of wins against top-tier opponents, saying that’s an advantage that Power 5 schools on the bubble almost always have over mid-major competitors.
Still, there were reasons the Rebels were the last team in instead of sliding into the field comfortably. Buddie mentioned Ole Miss’ low finish in the SEC regular season standings and quick exit from the SEC Tournament as two factors that gave the committee pause. However, he added the committee felt the Rebels solidified their standing enough before the SEC Tournament that the loss to Vanderbilt didn’t hurt too much.
“It’s interesting looking back in retrospect, Ole Miss certainly proved to everyone that they deserved to be in, which makes us feel good that we landed where we did,” Buddie said. “But some of those last four in went 0-2. That’s baseball for you.”
In some ways Buddie and his committee are validated by their inclusion of Ole Miss. In other ways, Ole Miss’ success proved how tough seeding baseball teams actually is. Consider the case of Miami, the Coral Gables Regional host and No. 6 national seed that didn’t even make it to the regional final. Or the case of Southern Miss, the No. 11 national seed that won a home regional but couldn’t manage to score one run in two games against the Rebels in a super regional.
Getting the right 64 teams in the field is important. But Buddie will be the first to acknowledge what happens after that involves a lot more luck than some people are willing to admit recognize. That’s how the team with the 33rd at-large bid can win a national championship while six of the top-eight seeds missed the College World Series entirely.
“There were some other teams that we had very clearly high expectations of that didn’t play well,” Buddie said. “Sometimes you go on a cold streak at the wrong time and others get hot at the same time. That’s the beauty of college baseball.”
Contact Nick Suss at 601-408-2674 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @nicksuss on Twitter.