The 2016 season for Ole Miss baseball, in many ways, mirrors the run Mike Bianco’s program made to Omaha in 2014.
Forty total wins, with 18 coming in Southeastern Conference play, seems like a lock for a high seed come conference tournament time. However, for the 2016 Ole Miss baseball team, a No. 7 seed in the SEC tournament will have to do.
The Rebels wrapped up their regular season campaign with a win on the road against Texas A&M, just another conference foe gracing the top half of the national polls. The 40 wins tied a school record, and has the Rebels firmly in the top 10 of most collegiate polls.
But, as usual, many look at “what could have been” for this team. Ole Miss started the year on a tear through non-conference play, posting a 17-1 record with a series win against Louisville and a dominant three win performance at the Chanticleer Classic against Ball State, Coastal Carolina and Cincinnati.
Entering conference play, Ole Miss took care of business against Tennessee, winning two and taking the series. However, the Rebels hit the proverbial SEC speed bump where they dropped two of three against South Carolina and rival Mississippi State.
A sweep of Arkansas the next weekend appeared to show the Rebels back in form, but a surprising series loss to Alabama the next weekend had many scratching their heads. The roller coaster ride for the Rebels is eerily similar to the 2013-14 campaign in which Ole Miss made it to the College World Series. But ultimately, the 2016 season has proven much more of a challenge.
Head coach Mike Bianco has had to find some consistency on the mound. With Brady Bramlett locked in as a Friday night starter, Bianco benefited from the 7-3 record the redshirt junior was able to compile. But when it came to Saturday and Sunday, the gears had to be turning. A mix of pitchers shared weekend starting duties, and to be able to come out like the Rebels did was nothing short of impressive.
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Looking back on the College World Series season, Bianco was able to lean heavily on Chris Ellis and Christian Trent, two of the best pitchers to come through the program recently. With all the mixing and matching he has been forced to do this season on the mound, Bianco deserves a pat on the back.
At the plate, two players had a coming out party in Henri Lartigue and J.B. Woodman. Lartigue led the Rebels with a .348 average and was third on the team with 64 hits. Last season Lartigue hit just .225, which shows just how much of a turnaround and benefit he has been for Ole Miss.
Woodman brought the big stick for the Rebels this season hitting .319 with 66 total hits. He also led the team with 13 home runs and 49 runs batted in. Statistically, the Woodman and Colby Bortles combination brings back memories of the Sikes Orvis and Will Allen duo, who combined for 21 home runs and more than 100 runs batted in in the Rebels’ run to Omaha in 2014.
In the 2016 regular season, Woodman and Bortles combined for 20 home runs and 90 RBI, making some Ole Miss faithful believe that Omaha could be on the horizon. Ultimately, with the SEC being what it was this year, having somewhere around seven or so teams ranked in the top 25 consistently, the regular season for Ole Miss was a success. Now, a good showing in the conference tournament will for sure secure theRebels as a regional host, and maybe with a little luck, push them into national seed contention.