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Ole Miss baseball wins the West and secures No. 2 overall seed in SEC Tournament

The most wins in program history coupled with a relentless offense has Mike Bianco’s club in a very good spot.

Ole Miss Athletics

Coming into Saturday’s series finale against Alabama, the Rebs needed a little help from the Georgia Bulldogs if they wanted to hoist some hardware when the regular season had come to a close. Well, somewhere around the second or third inning, the Bulldogs held up their end of the bargain, beating Arkansas and leaving the door open for the Rebels to win and take home the West title.

And that they did, closing out an Alabama team that just wouldn’t die, 10-8, to win the series, win the West, and add to an already sparkling national seed resume that has 42 wins at the very top. A program record 42 wins, might I add.

It was an odd feeling all day, asking someone else for a little help because this Ole Miss team hasn’t needed shit from anybody all season long. The 42 wins is now just six away from the all-time overall wins record, posted by the 2014 College World Series team. And they are are one of six teams to win 40 or more games three of the last five years.

As of this writing, the Rebels boast one of the best resumes in college baseball:

  • 42-14 overall record, second-most overall wins (tied with Stanford and Oregon State) among Power 5 teams
  • 18-12 conference record, SEC West Champions, No. 2 seed in Hoover
  • No. 9 RPI
  • Series wins over Georgia (No. 3 RPI), Arkansas (No. 4 RPI), Auburn (No. 12 RPI), and Texas A&M (No. 20 RPI)
  • 28-4 home record, undefeated in home series
  • 12-5 vs. Top 25
  • 13-9 on the road
  • 10-3 record in weekend series, 7-3 in the SEC
  • 24-2 non-conference (school record), 13-1 in the midweek
  • No. 26 strength of schedule
  • 24-13 record against groups 1 and 2 in the RPI

Most projections by the “experts” have the Rebels in the national seed conversation, anywhere from the No. 5 overall seed to the No. 7 overall seed. And after securing a division title in the country’s toughest league, the resume is only stronger. You have to think the committee will take notice that not only did you win half of the SEC, you won 42 games overall, won double-digit weekend series, and 18 conference games.

Sure, there were a few games left out there (Tennessee, Vanderbilt, Alabama, Long Beach) but the fact remains, Mike Bianco’s club navigated their schedule with relative ease in the non-conference and won 18 games in conference play. And of the other three teams who did that, you defeated two of them.

The Dude abides.

Cole Zabowski had himself quite the time in Tuscaloosa over the weekend. He was 5-for-12 on the weekend with seven runs batted in and two dingers. And for an offense that is truly just “next man up”, his recent surge is something that only makes the middle of Mike Clement’s offense even more dangerous. On Saturday, he led the Rebs at the dish with a 4-for-5 afternoon with SIX RBI’s, a double, and a big-time dinger early in the game to lift the good guys to a lead they never relinquished.

The relentless group at the plate might have struggles here and there (Ryan Olenek dropped below .400 with a hitless weekend) but it’s guys like Z-Bo who pick up the slack when others might have some tough luck (Grae Kessinger had four lineouts on Saturday). That’s what makes this team so dangerous offensively. It’s not just the top four guys you have to worry about. Hell, the seven and eight hitters swing it at a combined .327 clip with 16 home runs and 70 runs batted in.

There is no easy out from one to nine and Zabowski is beginning to heat up. Y’all have been warned.

Tank continues to grow stronger.

Thomas Dillard, much like his fellow sophomores, had a tough freshman season in Oxford. But, heading into the conference tournament next weekend, he is one of the most-feared hitters in the SEC. Ole Miss’ cleanup hitter is hitting at a .312 clip, leads the team in home runs (12) and RBI’s (52), is tied for the team lead in slugging (.578) and runs scored (42), and is still fielding at a perfect 1.000 clip.

His growth at the plate has been quite the renaissance to watch unfold. Last season, Dillard was extremely aggressive, maybe too much at times, and got himself in some bad counts and was chasing a lot of bad pitches. This season, he is patient, picks his spots for ticker tape taters, and is driving the ball gap-to-gap.

At times, when he is down in the count, he will shorten up and battle until he gets a pitch he can handle. That’s truly a testament to his growth and Clement’s coaching and has certainly been a catalyst for his breakout sophomore season.

Karate Kid is having fun being so damn good.

It’s pretty insane that a guy who wasn’t even on the roster a year ago is now leading the Rebels’ in earned run average and saves. He is tied for 3rd in the league in saves (10), 4th in games finished (17), and 7th in games in relief. Bianco and pitching coach Carl Lafferty have leaned on the Jackson, Miss. native for most of conference play, usually asking him for six-out saves in back-to-back-to-back weekends. And it’s been business as usual.

Caracci has gassed folks up all spring, striking out 61(!) in 40.1 innings pitched and holding hitters to a .238 average. His fastball is beginning to show a little late life and still touches 96 mph on a normal day. And sometimes it can get to 99.

With the loss of Dallas Woolfolk, Parker’s emergence and presence in the Gas Tank is more important than ever. The starting pitching has certainly improved a little bit over the past few weekends, but if you want to go deep into the postseason in college baseball, you need shutdown arms in the late innings making memories.

And Parker Caracci has certainly done that all season. So one might think it’ll be business as usual again when the time comes.

No. 2 overall seed Ole Miss will play the winner of No. 7 Auburn and No. 10 Kentucky some time around noon on Wednesday in Hoover and will look to pad their national seed resume with another win or two. The good news, the resume can’t get any worse playing against either No. 12 RPI Auburn or No. 25 RPI Kentucky.

Even better news, if you run the table and get to the weekend, you won’t see the No. 1 overall seed Florida Gators until championship Sunday.

See y’all at The Met.