For some individuals, change happens for the worst. For others, change is the best thing that ever happens.
In the 16 years I’ve been a sports writer, I have seen that change has not only been welcomed by the Ole Miss Rebels baseball team, it’s been accepted with open arms and a loving heart.
Let’s take a trip down memory lane. On March 6, 1999, the Ole Miss Rebels, a long time member of the Southeastern Conference, played a road game against a Division II opponent. The Division II opponent came in the form of the Delta State University Statesmen and that road game was right here at Ferriss Field.
On paper and in theory, one would think this game would be a nice warm-up win for the Rebels and a good chance for the Statesmen to get some good experience against a bigger school that would help them prepare for their conference schedule.
The headline of the story, written by then Bolivar Commercial sports editor David Johnson, indicated an easy win all right.
The headline read very plainly: DSU whips Ole Miss, 13-4.
What’s even more amazing is the game wasn’t even as close as the score would indicate. The Statesmen led 8-0 after three innings and 13-0 going into the top of the ninth inning. The best the Rebels could do was score four runs in the ninth to at least say they didn’t get beat by 10 to a Division II school. That loss made the Rebels 6-8 at that point in the season. Ole Miss did improve and finish slightly over .500 at 34-28 with a 17-13 record in the SEC. The season the Rebels had in 1999 was better than some of the seasons they had previously and their performance in the conference put them over .500 in the SEC for just the second time in 13 years. Their 17 SEC wins set a then school-record for most conference wins. The performance was good enough to put Ole Miss in the regional under a newly formed 64-team format.
The following year, the Rebels slipped a little as they went 30-25 and posted a losing record of 12-17 in the SEC with no postseason. From 1987-2000, Ole Miss finished with a losing record in the conference on 12 occasions and ended a season more than six games over .500 overall a mere three times.
When the 2000 season came to a close, Ole Miss understood a change needed to be made. On June 7, 2000, the Rebels made that change as they hired Mike Bianco to become their head baseball coach. Bianco developed a great reputation as a head coach at McNeese State by leading the team to three consecutive winning seasons with a trip to a NCAA Regional in 2000. Ole Miss wanted Bianco to continue his winning ways for its baseball team. In 2001, Bianco made an impact from the start as he led the Rebels to a 39-23-1 record with a 17-13 record to finish tied for second in the SEC Western Division. Ole Miss ended up advancing to a NCAA regional.
For the next 12 seasons, the Rebels continued to break school records and remain in the playoff hunt. From 2002-13, Ole Miss won 18 or more SEC games in a season three times with the team finishing 20-10 in the conference in 2009 with the 20 wins being the current school record. The Rebels reached the 40-win plateau four times with the team posting three straight 40-win seasons from 2005-07.
The winning under Bianco had the team in hot pursuit of their first trip to the College World Series since 1972. The Rebels advanced to the super regional in 2005, 06, 07 and 09, but came up a short each time.
When the Rebels saw their season come to an end in the region tournament last year, people were disappointed. Every now and then on Facebook, I would see a response by an angry fan or two that would think a new direction for the baseball program would be in the team’s best interest.
Looking at Ole Miss this year, I say Bianco being the skipper of the Rebels is the best thing that could’ve happened for the program.
Through this postseason run in 2014, Ole Miss has showed a lot of fight and determination. Ole Miss’ pitching only gave up five runs total in its three wins at the Oxford Regional as the Rebels defeated Jacksonville State 12-2 and Washington twice (2-1 and 3-2 in 10 innings).
The Rebels took their momentum into the Super Regional at Lafayette, La. against the University of Louisiana-Lafayette Ragin' Cajuns. After losing the first game 9-5, Ole Miss thundered back by winning game two 5-2.
With the series tied 1-1, Ole Miss needed just one more win to earn a berth to the World Series. Four times before in super region action, the Rebels were always knocking at the door but never could get in. Monday night, the Rebels busted through that door and earned that long overdue World Series berth by defeating ULL 10-4 in the third and decisive game of the series. Bianco and his staff finally got the Rebels over the hump.
With the Rebels sitting comfortably at 46-19 overall, there is still one more goal that needs to be reached — a national championship. I can see the Rebels reaching that goal as long as Bianco is the skipper, and they have a great shot to do it this year. When Ole Miss takes on Virginia in the first round of the CWS in Omaho, Neb. on Sunday at 8 p.m. EST, the Rebels begin that final quest for the ultimate prize.
Even though I’ve never been a Ole Miss fan, I wish the Rebels the best of luck. I never thought I would say this but here it goes — HOTTY TODDY!!!!!!
P.S. — You can see the before and during Bianco file below.
Andy Collier is the sports editor at the Bolivar Commercial. He can be reached at (662)-843-4241 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Ole Miss from 1987-2000
Year Overall SEC
1987: 25-25-1 11-16 (8th)
1988: 24-29 6-21 (10th)
1989: 34-21-1 9-15-1 (8th)
1990: 23-29 10-16 (8th)
1991: 31-24 9-15 (8th)
SEC Western Division
1992: 29-26 9-14 (5th)
1993: 31-25 8-19 (6th)
1994: 30-26 12-14 (5th)
1995: 40-22 14-12 (4th)
1996: 24-30 7-23 (6th)
1997: 22-31 6-24 (6th)
1998: 30-23 13-15 (6th)
1999: 34-28 17-13 (5th)
2000: 30-25 12-17 (5th)
Overall 407-364-2 SEC: 143-234-1
Two regionals (1995, 99)
Ole Miss from 2001-present
Year Overall SEC
2001: 39-23-1 17-13 (T-2nd)
2002: 37-19 14-16 (6th)
2003: 35-27 17-13 (4th)
2004: 39-21 18-12 (T-2nd)
2005: 48-20 18-12 (T-1st)
2006: 44-22 17-13 (3rd)
2007: 40-25 16-14 (3rd)
2008: 39-26 15-15 (3rd)
2009: 44-20 20-10 (T-1st)
2010: 39-24 16-14 (6th)
2011: 30-25 13-17 (T-5th)
2012: 37-26 14-16 (4th)
2013: 38-24 15-15 (4th)
2014: 46-19 19-11 (1st)
Overall: 555-321-1 SEC: 229-191
12 NCAA Regionals (2001, 03, 04, 05, 06, 07, 08, 09, 10, 12, 13, 14)
5 NCAA Super Regionals (2005, 06, 07, 09, 14)
1 NCAA World Series (2014)