Rebels look good

Published 7:00 am Wednesday, June 25, 2014

By David Brandt

AP Sports Writer

The Ole Miss baseball program has been among the nation’s elite in terms of fan support and facilities for the better part of a decade.

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Now the Rebels finally have some results on the field to match.

Ole Miss (48-21) made it to the College World Series for the first time since 1972 — and even hung around Omaha for a while — before falling to Virginia 4-1 on Saturday.

It was the deep postseason run Ole Miss fans have been craving for a long time. The Rebels came close to reaching the CWS in 2005, ‘06, ‘07 and ‘09, but lost in the super regional round each season, giving the program a hard-luck reputation tough to shed.

Now that label is gone and more trips to the CWS will be expected.

It’s a goal that veteran coach Mike Bianco mentioned shortly after his team’s season-ending loss.

“I’m proud that we’re here,” Bianco said on Saturday. “And hopefully it won’t take so long to get back.”

The Rebels might not need 42 years to get back to Omaha, but at least in the near future, a substantial rebuilding job awaits.

Ole Miss could lose several important veterans after nine players were selected in the Major League Baseball amateur draft.

Among the underclassmen who must make the stay-or-go decision: starting pitchers Chris Ellis (10-3, 2.55 ERA) and Christian Trent (9-0, 2.05 ERA), outfielders Braxton Lee (30 stolen bases) and Auston Bousfield (.336, 50 RBIs) and closer Josh Laxer (6 saves, 1.47 ERA).

Seniors stalwarts like catcher Will Allen (.339, 64 RBIs), reliever Aaron Greenwood (2.03 ERA) and third baseman Austin Anderson (.323, 41 RBIs) are also gone.

“This is a special group of guys — a special group of older guys,” Bianco said. “(They) were such great mentors to the younger group that is so talented, but wasn’t sure what to do when they got here. These guys put them on their back and were tremendous all year.”

The younger group Bianco referenced includes freshmen like shortstop Errol Robinson and outfielders J.B. Woodman and Colby Bortles. All three provided big moments during the postseason.

The mix of veterans and freshmen proved to be the right mix to push the program to Omaha. Ole Miss won the SEC’s Western Division with a 19-11 record — despite being picked near the bottom of the league during the preseason by the league’s coaches — and the 48 overall wins tied a school record set in 2005.

The Rebels had one of the best lineups in the country, hitting .297 as a team with 42 homers.

One of the few times the Ole Miss offense struggled was in Omaha, where TD Ameritrade’s cavernous dimensions and windy conditions took a toll. The Rebels scored just 10 runs over four games.

But the season’s final loss did little to diminish the magnitude of the team’s accomplishments this season. Bianco said this year’s group will “go down as the best team that ever played at Ole Miss.”