[EDITOR'S NOTE: Today's The Local Voice column is just a brief preview of the College Station Regional for those folks in and about Oxford who happen to snag a print copy. More in depth previews of the teams in this regional are to come later today/tomorrow.]
Two weeks ago in this very space of your favorite locally printed newspaper, we at the Cup were optimistic about Mike Bianco and his diamond Rebels' chances to finish the season on a high note and perhaps put themselves in a position to see some NCAA postseason play in the friendly confines of Swayze Field. The team was fresh off of a rare sweep against an SEC opponent - an admittedly bad Tennessee Volunteers squad - and still very much a part of the discussion as a program worthy of hosting one of the sixteen regional tournaments which begin the NCAA's baseball playoffs.
Well, that's not going to happen. We, yet again, overestimated the grit and determination, and perhaps the talent, of this baseball team and set ourselves up for yet another disappointing finish to the regular season.
The Rebels lost four straight games to end the season: one to Arkansas State out of conference and all three of their final SEC games to Vanderbilt. Going from the sweeper to the sweepee, the Rebels stumbled into the SEC Baseball Tournament where they quickly lost the event's first game to the Kentucky wildcats. They did bounce back a bit to beat the Arkansas Razorbacks, but all before being eliminated by the rival LSU Tigers. So, instead of being a potential sleeper pick to host an NCAA regional, the Rebels fell all the way to the three-seed (out of four) in someone else's regional.
This weekend, the Rebels will travel to College Station, Texas - one of the least clever names for a college town in the United States - to take on incoming Southeastern Conference member Texas A&M as well as Texas Christian University and the University of Dayton in the NCAA regional. This issue of RCR via TLV will look at these teams, why they made it as far as they have, and what our Rebels' chances of defeating them to earn a trip to an NCAA super regional may be.
Texas A&M, being the host team, is the #1 seed in this regional. They compiled an impressive 42-16 record on the year and a 16-8 record in the Big XII conference. An Aggie of note is pitcher Michael Wacha, a likely first round pick in the upcoming Major League Baseball draft. Wacha is 8-1 on the year with 2.21 earned run average, 107 strikeouts and only 17 walks. If the Rebels are to win their opening round game and the Aggies to do the same, it isn't unreasonable to suspect that the Rebels will face Wacha in the regional's second game. This is a disconcerting possibility when considering how flaccid the Rebel bats can become against top-flight pitching.
The Aggies will take on Dayton (31-28, 17-7 A-10), the #4 seed, in their opening game. Dayton, whose teams are called the "Flyers" and whose mascot is a frightening homage to one of the Wright Brothers, surprisingly won the Atlantic 10 conference title by winning nine of their last ten games. Tim Bury and Burny Mitchem, the latter of which was named the A-10 tournament MVP, are the arms that Dayton will rely on with hopes of surprising the College Station regional.
The #2 seed, and the team the Rebels will play in their first appearance in the regional, is a team the 2012 Rebels are rather familiar with. The TCU Horned Frogs (36-19, 18-16 MWC), the Mountain West Conference's regular season champions, opened up their season playing host to the Ole Miss Rebels in a two game series - which was originally scheduled as a three game series before one game was cancelled due to rain. The Rebs and Frogs split that series 1-1. TCU is sure to start Preston Morrison against the Rebels, who went 9-1 on the year with an incredible 1.73 ERA. In the game that TCU defeated Ole Miss, Morrison earned the win.
It will be a tough, tough road, but it is not impossible for the Rebels to make it out of College Station victorious. It's highly improbable, sure, but if the Rebel bats can come alive in a way they haven't over the past few weeks, they can defeat any team in this regional.
With regards to the destination, it's no Oxford, but it'll be worth the road trip for those of you looking to watch some college baseball in person this summer, especially considering that, being an incoming member of the SEC West, the Aggies and the Rebels are to become annual opponents on the gridiron. Perhaps the trip is worth it just to acquaint yourself with Aggiedom and serve as an ambassador of sorts to Ole Miss. Or perhaps it's worth it to see Texas A&M's brand new baseball stadium, Blue Bell Park. I'm assuming there will be free ice cream involved so, really, no excuses if you're a day's drive away. If you are more than a day's drive away or aren't easily convinced by the presumed presence of frozen dairy products, you can watch the regional matches at your favorite local watering hole or on WatchESPN.com. Do it.