Coaches often create a theme for their teams, a motivational message if you will.
At times a year ago, the Ole Miss baseball team struggled late in games to hold on to leads and to win close games. Because of that issue last year, Mike Bianco focused on a message of toughness with his team leading up the 2014 campaign. He brought in a new strength coach to help with physical toughness and honed a motivational message that focused on mental toughness. I sometimes think the sports psychology angle of college athletics is overplayed, but the theme for Bianco seems to be working early in 2014.
Last week, Ole Miss went 5-0 and climbed into the Top 20 of 3 of the 4 major baseball polls. The Rebels had an adventurous week, though, having to score in the 9th inning or later in four straight games to pick up wins. Somewhere in the not-too-distant-past, these type wins were coined “walk off” wins…a walk off home run, a walk off wild pitch, a walk off double, etc. The simple definition is: winning a game in your last at bat if you’re the home team; the game ends in dramatic fashion with you walking off the field as a winner.
Ole Miss used 2 runs in the bottom of the ninth on Tuesday to beat Louisiana Monroe 5-4 and got a run in the 9th on Wednesday to wi 4-3 over ULM. On Friday night, the Rebels needed 13 innings to get a win over Central Florida, and Tupelo native John Gatlin delivered an RBI single. On Saturday, Ole Miss again went to extra innings, and the most dramatic victory in the string of four straight walk offs came in the bottom of the 10th with Will Allen at the plate.
I have been a part of a lot of exciting wins for Ole Miss through the years, but to the best of my memory, this is the first time I was doing play by play for a game winner. Fun times.
With just 12 games in the books, Ole Miss has a long way to go in 2014. But the 11-1 start has already provided some memorable moments for a team and a head coach that is trying to get back to the level it established as a standard in the mid to late to 2000s. Maybe the “toughness” theme is exactly the right message for this year’s Ole Miss Baseball team, but only time will tell.