Oh so close
Ole Miss has been on threshold of CWS in recent years
LAFAYETTE, La. -- Some call it a curse. Some call them one of the better baseball programs not to win a College World Series. Certainly not in the realm of Florida State based upon shear Omaha appearances, but it still makes you scratch your head.
Mississippi hasn’t made the trek to Omaha since 1972. How can that be? That team that plays on television in front of some of the more raucous crowds the sport of college baseball sees year in and year out?
The Rebels have been so close. This will be the fifth time in 10 seasons head coach Mike Bianco has led his Rebels to a Super Regional when they meet Louisiana-Lafayette in a best two-of-three series.
"As a player and a coach, I always felt Ole Miss has what it takes to be a national contender with strong academic standards, first-class facilities and a unique college town in Oxford,” Bianco said after taking over the program. “Ole Miss has all the ingredients to play big-time baseball in the Southeastern Conference.”
When you start to dig into the history, you start to understand why some fans feel that it is time for this program to get over the proverbial hump. Even to this college baseball fan, writer and editor, one of those previous postseason failures came at the hands of my alma mater, Miami (Florida), in 2006.
It was the second year in a row that the Rebels lost a Super Regional after winning the first game of the series. One win is all they needed against Texas in 2005 and the Hurricanes in 2006. Both series in Oxford. Both ended with losses.
Then came 2007, when Arizona State swept the Rebels in Tempe. And again in 2009 when Virginia came into Oxford and won two of three to advance to Omaha.
Cursed? Maybe. Unlucky? Probably. Due? Yes.
No one on the 2014 roster was on any of the teams that fell short between 2005 and '09, those times where it seemed like a mere formality that the rowdy Rebels would be heading to the CWS. Everyone knows what Omaha means. Everyone knows the history.
"That's your goal and it is for every program," Bianco told the Biloxi-Gulfport Sun Herald. "You want to end up in the final eight of college baseball in Omaha, Nebraska, and playing for a national championship."
The passion I saw in 2006 on campus for Ole Miss baseball as a visiting broadcaster in that Super Regional fueled what has become my career. A Danny Valencia seventh-inning grand slam doomed the Rebels in Game 3, sending Miami and myself to Omaha.
“This might be the greatest game I've ever been a part of," Bianco said after that Game 3 in 2006. "It had to be unbelievable in the stands. It had to be unbelievable to watch on television. It was electric early and throughout the game."
Now, the Ragin’ Cajuns stand in their way. Not the elite of college baseball’s history pages like the Sun Devils or Longhorns or Canes. Nobody’s been closer than Bianco and his Rebels. And no fan base in college baseball deserves another taste of Omaha more.
So maybe my return to an Ole Miss Super Regional will help the cause as I travel on the #RoadToOmaha?