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Quick SEC Tournament Exit Leaves Ole Miss Playing Waiting Game

HOOVER, Ala. – Mississippi and Vanderbilt had to wait all day Tuesday to get their SEC Tournament game underway at Hoover Metropolitan Stadium. Rain in the area delayed the whole schedule and the game, originally scheduled for 4:30 p.m. CT, didn’t start until 10 p.m.

Now, after a tough, 3-1 loss to the Commodores, the Rebels will spend the rest of this week waiting to find out their NCAA Tournament fate. Vanderbilt will advance to face Tennessee on Wednesday (weather permitting).

Ole Miss (32-22, 14-16) came into the SEC Tournament projected to be in the NCAA Tournament, but their resume left them relatively close to the bubble. The Rebels were hoping to shore up their resume with at least a win against the Commodores and possibly an extended stay in Hoover, but they were unable to get their bats going Tuesday. As a result, they have to wait five days to learn their NCAA Tournament fate on Selection Monday.

The Rebels said their plan to get through the next week is to stay together as a team. Coach Mike Bianco said it won’t be easy, as they track games around the country and look at the latest Field of 64 projections, but he trusts they will be able to handle the waiting.

“What are you going to do, take their iPhone away?” he said. “It’s the world that you live in, you can’t hide from it.

“Just handle it maturely and understand we had some control of it tonight, now we don’t have any control of it.”

The Rebels’ resume is set. Their RPI stands at 39, their strength of schedule 16. They went 8-10 against top-25 RPI teams and are 13-10 away from Swayze Field. All of that suggests they would make the NCAA Tournament. But they are 14-17 in SEC games (the NCAA counts conference tournament games, but not non-conference games between conference opponents, so Ole Miss doesn’t get credit for its midweek win against Mississippi State, but Tuesday’s loss to Vanderbilt does count) and that mark leaves them somewhat vulnerable if the bubble tightens this week due to conference tournament upsets or if other bubble teams get hot. Alabama and Clemson, in particular, could complicate things for Ole Miss if they add wins this week.

This isn’t the spot Ole Miss ever expected or planned to be in. The Rebels came into the season with plenty of fanfare and started the season 16-4, rising to No. 1 in the Top 25. But they were swept by Tennessee in late March, starting a slide that, until they got hot in May, had them looking like they might not even be a bubble team.

But the Rebels won eight of their last 10 games of the regular season, completely changing their outlook. They finished ninth in the SEC standings, setting up Tuesday’s showdown with Vanderbilt. Freshman lefthander Carter Holton outpitched righthander Dylan DeLucia and the Commodores took advantage of a few more opportunities to edge out the Rebels.

Holton threw six scoreless innings, striking out six and scattering three hits and two walks. The Rebels scratched out a run against Nelson Berkwich, but righthander Christian Little struck out four batters in two scoreless innings to close out the victory and earn his third save.

In the end, Ole Miss, which averages 7.5 runs per game, wasn’t able to make enough happen at the plate.

“It was a hell of a baseball game,” Bianco said. “Really well played, really well pitched. They just did a little more than we did. It seemed like every time they opened the door, they were able to make something happen.”

The Rebels would have liked to have kept playing in Hoover for plenty of reasons, not the least of which that a win Tuesday would have made them feel more secure in their postseason future. But – assuming they make regionals – there are positives to having the next few days off. The Rebels can rest up, get healthy and make sure their pitching staff is lined up the way they want it to be for the NCAA Tournament.

They also on Tuesday got more motivation for the rest of the season.

“We got the feeling of ‘it stinks to lose,’” Bianco said. “The next time you’re playing, and you lose like this, your season might be over. You get the feel of that pressure.”

Ole Miss will be feeling that pressure for the rest of the week. Now, the Rebels must hope they get to turn it into productive energy in the NCAA Tournament.

Tracy Smith (Andrew Woolley Four Seam Images)

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