About 12 years and a week ago I pulled into an enormous parking lot in Hoover, Alabama as an attendant on a Segway ushered me over to a slew of cars in an otherwise totally empty sea of asphalt (or cement… I don’t really remember). I got out of my car and found the ticket counter, and my journey began. I was about to watch Ole Miss march to a SEC championship, and yet I remember not expecting much at all.
I saw Chris Coghlan, Zack Cozart, C.J. Ketchum, Alex Presley, Justin Henry, and crew go 4-0 in Hoover, win the now-defunct marble pyramid trophy, and propel Ole Miss to another clean sweep in their own regional. Yet, the super regional against Miami, on the other hand, spelled doom for the Rebels as they took the first game but lost games two and three.
No one was surprised. A Mike Bianco coached team had once again managed to miss Omaha despite very promising qualities. Let’s not forget—that team hit .309 and featured Will Kline, Lance Lynn, Brett Bukvich, and Craig Rodriguez on the mound. Still, Ole Miss fans were just waiting to be let down like always. Inevitably, fans knew the run was destined to end before any trips out west.
This 2018 team feels different. Everyone wants to praise the offense, and sure… it’s prolific. The Rebels have hit 76 home runs (something no other Ole Miss team has even approached in the dead bat era) and every piece of the lineup is a threat at the plate—even the ONE player who isn’t hitting over .300 (get it together, Jacob Adams). The arms don’t get enough credit though.
This Ole Miss team has a 3.71 ERA, compared to that mighty 2006 team’s 4.7. That’s because it’s not just about starting pitchers, even though Ryan Rolison (3.79 ERA), Brady Feigl (3.83), and James McArthur (4.10) are collectively much better than Kline (3.71), Bukvich (4.50), Lynn (4.96), and Rodriguez (5.53). The biggest difference is actually at the closer spot, where Garrett White sported a 3.39 ERA to Parker Caracci’s 1.85. There were even bigger differences as you went down the line, as the 2006 staff featured four players who threw 36 or more innings with ERAs over 5. This 2018 staff doesn’t have a single player meeting that criteria. It’s just more consistent.
An intriguing coincidence, the 2006 season began with a matchup against the St. Louis Billikens just like this postseason does. The Rebels won that game 9-1 and followed it up with an 11-2 victory the next day. We can only hope to see a similar outcome Friday.
A few years ago, I was critical of Bianco. “Where’s the next Zack Cozart? Where’s Chris Coghlan,” I asked. It’s time to stop comparing this team to past greats. They’re not the 2006 team; they’re better.