Are we ready to say that Ole Miss has some sort of positive voodoo when it comes to the SEC Tournament?
Ole Miss has made it to the finals in Hoover the last two times the tournament was held, winning the whole thing in 2018, and they have advanced to the semifinals in 2021 after one of its relievers just out-pitched a top-five draft pick on the other side.
The Rebels, now with 41 wins overall and 21 in SEC play, didn’t hit the cover off the ball on Friday against Jack Leiter and the Dores (a tall task, to say the least), but they did take advantage of some early mistakes from the Vandy ace, grinding out at-bats and raising his pitch count in the early innings.
Ole Miss scored two runs early, one thanks to a walk with the bases loaded, and never trailed in the contest against a team that will be named a national seed early next week. Make no mistake, Vanderbilt is dang good, and Ole Miss went 3-2 against Tim Corbin’s bunch this season counting the win on Friday.
Positive vibes, iyam.
But let’s get back to the game itself, namely Tyler Myers. It’s no secret that the Ole Miss bullpen has had its share of struggles this season (more than its share, many are saying), and Myers hasn’t been immune to that bug at times this year. With Ole Miss facing elimination in Hoover, however, Mike Bianco handed the ball to Myers for him to face one of the best college pitchers in the country and essentially said, “Go get ‘em kid.” And get them, he did.
One run was credited to Myers’ line in the later innings, but Brandon Johnson came in and slammed the door shut on Vanderbilt, sending the Commodores packing to Nashville. Some good revenge for Wednesday’s walk-off loss.
I know what you’re all thinking now: is it possible for Ole Miss to backdoor its way into a national seed? In short, I think, yes. The Rebels have gained three more conference wins this week, including one over Vanderbilt who, as you can guess, is very high in the RPI.
Second question: if the bracket came out tomorrow, would Ole Miss be a national seed? No. I think there’s still work to be done in order to secure that, and you’ve got a tall task to make it happen.
The Rebels will face Arkansas tomorrow afternoon on the SEC Network in the tournament semifinals, and God only knows who Ole Miss will trot out on the hill to start the game. My gut tells me it will be Josh Mallitz or Wes Burton, but who knows?
In conference tournaments, teams that advance this far, especially ones that have to carve their way out of the loser’s bracket, always face this problem, and with Ole Miss, it’s exacerbated because so many arms in the bullpen have been inconsistent at best in 2021. That brings me back to my first point: Tyler Myers outshining Jack Leiter on Friday was a huge deal, one that very few people if any saw coming.
It’s big not only for seeding purposes in the NCAA Tournament, but also shows that perhaps Ole Miss has another arm that it can feel good about come regional play. Myers was never going to lose his spot in the bullpen, but hopefully this will build his confidence heading into June.
The same could be said for all of Ole Miss’ pitching staff, frankly. Derek Diamond, Drew McDaniel, Jack Dougherty, Tyler Myers and Brandon Johnson all have had positive showings this week that should give you a little optimism heading into the big dance. Granted, it could all crash and burn, too. But I’d like to think positively at this time, please.
Regardless of what happens on Saturday, Ole Miss has shown signs of things coming together this week. We knew the offense was good, but if the pitching can get it together and follow, that’d be huge, regardless of whether or not you’re a national seed.
Back to my opening voodoo comment. If Ole Miss can knock off Arkansas tomorrow afternoon, I think you have to start seriously considering them as a top-eight seed. If they win the whole thing, I think they secure one. They may even do that with just a win tomorrow, but we’ll see.
If Ole Miss should defeat Arkansas on Saturday, they’d face the winner of Florida and Tennessee on Sunday for all the marbles. Let’s hope the Rebels have a little Hoover magic left in the tank for this weekend.