Getting swept in College Station would have been bad news for Ole Miss baseball. Not only would it have shaken the Rebels' resume in what's become a very tight hosting race, it would have sent them to Hoover riding a four-game losing streak.
And in the bottom of the ninth on Saturday, a sweep looked inevitable. The second-ranked Aggies, which used sudden offensive onslaughts to take Games 1 and 2, were down just one run with the bases loaded and one out. Worse yet, veteran closer Wyatt Short (he of 23 career saves) was showing some uncharacteristic nerves: after a one-out bunt single, he'd walked two straight batters and was in a 2-0 hole against the SEC's RBI leader, Hunter Melton.
But Short kept cool, coaxing an infield popup from Melton and forcing a game-winning groundout in the next at-bat.
At that moment, it almost felt like Ole Miss had won the series. After three straight losses (don't forget that midweek letdown at Arkansas State), this team needed something to feel good about. Sure, they lost the series and likely any shot at a national seed, but they got the win they needed and now head into the SEC Tourney with some swag.
So is there any chance for a national seed?
Certainly not a good one. Florida, Miami, Texas A&M, Louisville, Mississippi State and Texas Tech are all locks at this point, leaving just two spots. Virginia, which swept Virginia Tech this weekend and has won 12 of its last 14 games, looks like it'll grab a third spot for the ACC.
That probably leaves the committee picking between Ole Miss and South Carolina (which just swept Bama) for a fourth SEC team, and at this point the Gamecocks seem like the easy call. Even before you factor in their sweep in Oxford, they have slightly better metrics: they're one spot above the Rebs in the RPI (No. 5 vs. No. 6), have a better record against the RPI top 25 (8-8 vs. 8-11) and won the East. Ole Miss has better high-end wins and a better strength of schedule (No. 10 vs. No. 22), but that isn't enough.
Ole Miss could end up getting another shot at South Carolina in the second round of the SEC Tourney, so maybe a win there pushes them back in front. The only other path I see is a deep run in Hoover coupled with Virginia bombing out in the first round of the ACC Tourney, which could theoretically convince the committee to give the SEC five national seeds.
But the Rebs are safe as a regional host, right?
I'd have to think so. Saturday's win in College Station gives Ole Miss 18 conference wins and 40 overall. Factor in a top-10 RPI and series wins over Louisville (which is now No. 1 in the RPI) and LSU (which is up to No. 9 in the RPI) and that should be an air-tight hosting resume even if Ole Miss goes one-and-done in Hoover.
Hell, Mark Etheridge of D1 Baseball had the Rebs hosting even if they'd been swept in College Station.
I think Ole Miss is a solid host even with a loss today and Tuesday. https://t.co/gsLAA5e2OW— Mark Etheridge (@ethmark) May 21, 2016
The only cause for concern is how loaded the SEC is.
Florida, A&M, State and South Carolina are locked in. Ole Miss, LSU and Vandy all have host-quality resumes. With the West Coast floundering this season, I expect the committee will have room to give the SEC seven hosts, but that's never happened before. If they decide to cap the conference at six, you'll have three teams fighting for two spots.
Here's a quick resume comparison:
|vs. RPI top 50
|Best series Ws
|vs Louisville, vs LSU
|vs South Carolina
|vs Florida, vs Vandy
LSU closed the regular season by winning 11 of its last 12 games, including a monster series win over No. 1 Florida this weekend. But Ole Miss has the head-to-head advantage and a slightly better RPI.
The SEC Tournament field is set.
The Rebs land the No. 7 seed, which pits them against 10th-seeded Georgia on Tuesday. Ole Miss took two of three from Georgia at home three weeks ago.
State clinched its first SEC regular season championship since 1989 (COMING TO A BILLBOARD NEAR YOU) by sweeping Arkansas on the final weekend to finish a game above A&M. In a surreal moment on Saturday, the home crowd in Starkville cheered when Ole Miss' win over the Aggies was announced. Kinda surprised they didn't boo out of pure spite.
Arkansas and Auburn win the cellar race, which comes with the reward of a nice relaxing week at home. It'll be the first time the Hogs miss the NCAA Tournament in the Dave Van Horn era.
Here's the full bracket, via SEC Network (click to biggify):