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Ole Miss’ NCAA Tournament fate is up in the air after an early exit from Hoover

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The Rebels lost their first game of the SEC Tournament, casting serious doubt on their postseason chances.

Josh McCoy/Ole Miss Athletics

After a one-and-done showing in Hoover, Ole Miss baseball is in serious danger of missing the NCAA Tournament for just the third time in Mike Bianco’s 17 years at the helm.

The Rebels, who came into the SEC Tournament with a 14-16 conference record, needed to add wins this week. Instead, they blew an early two-run lead against Auburn on Tuesday night, a passed ball in the eighth inning eventually serving as the difference in a 5-4 loss. The L knocks their RPI down three spots to No. 35, which combined with the sub-.500 league record makes for a shaky resume.

Five of the last seven SEC teams to finish 14-16 made it into the tourney, though all of them had a top-30 RPI.

“Tuesday is important...,” D1 Baseball’s Kendall Rogers told RebelGrove.com before the tournament, “because [Ole Miss] wouldn’t want to be 14-17 in the league after that loss and exit in a day.”

That doesn’t mean the Rebels are done. In fact, Rogers tweeted after the loss that he still thinks Ole Miss will make the field of 64, but that “tense moments are coming.”

It doesn’t help matters that South Carolina and Missouri, both of which are trying to play themselves back onto the bubble, won their games on Tuesday. The Gamecocks still have significant work to do (ESPN’s Kyle Peterson predicted they’d have to make it to the title game), but a couple more wins from Mizzou could push them in front of Ole Miss if the selection committee opts to take nine SEC teams. The Tigers also finished 14-16 in conference play and currently hold an RPI rank of 48.

The bigger threat comes from mid-majors who could pull upsets in their conference tournaments, decreasing the available number of at-large invitations. Look at the Big East, where St. John’s has probably locked itself into the field of 64. If St. John’s were to lose in the conference tournament, it would hand the automatic qualifier to another team and take an at-large bid for itself. If enough of those upsets occur in conference tourneys across the country, it could eat up an at-large bid that would otherwise be designated for Ole Miss.

Bianco, for one, thinks his team has done enough.

“We went 5-5 in our league weekends and beat Vandy, Texas A&M and then Arkansas, who are all supposedly in, and our losses are up for national seeds,” he told RebelGrove.com. “We lost four of the five weekend losses on the road to tournament teams and host teams.

“It wasn’t the year we expected or wanted, but certainly I think it’s worthy of playing in the postseason. We’re one of the best teams around when you talk about the 64.”

We’ll have to wait until Sunday’s selection show to find out if the committee agrees.