Reflecting on Ole Miss’s 2020 Baseball Season That Was Upended By COVID-19
By Steve Stricker | Guest Columnist
Missing “normalcy,” i.e., life before March 18 and masks, I reflected on Ole Miss Baseball – 2019 and amazing not to be busted 2020 season….
June 26, 2019, Vanderbilt Baseball Commodores (59-12) coached by Tim Corbin (my second favorite SEC team as son Stephen is a Vandy grad) became College World Series Champions at TD Ameritrade Park, Omaha, Nebraska for the second time in school history after losing game 1 to Michigan 7-4, winning game two 4-1, and taking it all in game 3, 8-2! Vandy’s last CWS win in 2014 was also under Coach Corbin and Ole Miss was there with our legendary coach, my hero, Mike Bianco.
Number 80, 19-year old Vanderbilt “freshman” Kumar Rocker had 19 strikeouts, walking only two, while tossing the 8th no-hitter in NCAA tournament history in Game 3 of their super regional to beat Duke 3-0, was 2-0 at Omaha striking out 11 in Game 2, and was voted the 2019 CWS Most Outstanding Player.
That 2019 Vanderbilt team might be the best ever as Vandy was the SEC regular season champs, SEC Tournament champs, College World Series champs, and their 59 wins was the most ever recorded in an SEC Baseball season – Well Done “Vandy Boys!”
While Vanderbilt was “Anchoring Down,” our Ole Miss Baseball Rebels had a swell 41-27 2019 season with Coach Bianco – the third winningest coach in SEC history with over 740 wins and earning a post season bid for the 17th time in his 19 seasons in Oxford. Ole Miss Hosted the Oxford Regional for the ninth time at Swayze, won it, but lost the super regional at (oink) Arkansas 2-1.
For seniors, each game was potentially their last opportunity to play baseball with college teammates; there were tears for losers and tears for winners – but in the end, only one team could win it all – and like life, that 2019 “normal” season flashed by in a blink.
Speaking of eye blink, I attended the 1989 game at Oxford’s Swayze Field where LSU’s big Ben McDonald pitched and was caught by, Mike Bianco – who began his 20th year as our Ole Miss Head Baseball Coach this year. Coach B’s wonderful wife and dear friend, Camie, told me after Mass one day that she too was at that game – swell!
Overall, that 2019 post season for me was one of admiration for the athletic skill, resiliency, and humor of these amazing young college baseball athletes, legendary coaches and legacy players like our Grae Kessinger and Coach B’s sons Drew (LSU) and Ben (Louisville).
TV sports analysts and announcers such as our Ole Miss David Dellucci and LSU’s Ben McDonald who’s insight as both college and professional baseball players, and especially their good-natured bantering, helped to make these games so enjoyable.
Loyal fans were awesome – except Arkansas (oink) and that bloody hell major annoying Vanderbilt “Whistler” Preacher Franklin, who in my opinion needs to be banned from baseball! Just sayin’….
Ole Miss kicked off the 2020 season with an outstanding young team against #1 Louisville in Oxford on Valentine’s Day. We lost that first game 2-7 (Ben Bianco hit a homerun for Louisville – way to go Ben) but that loss awakened a sleeping giant and Ole Miss went on an unprecedented tsunami winning their next 16 games (16-1) including the next two from Louisville, before the season was canceled prior to SEC play with LSU on March 13 scheduled in Oxford with Coach B’s son and LSU legacy, Drew (who hit a homerun against us in Baton Rouge last year – way to go Drew), due to COVID-19.
However, the sports world took notice, and our Coach Mike Bianco was voted by Collegiate Baseball to be the first Ole Miss, National Baseball Coach of the Year! Well deserved Coach B, so proud of you – See you at Mass!
Be safe y’all – MASK UP!
Steve Stricker is an Oxford resident and received his Ph.D. in Counseling from Ole Miss. He can be reached at email@example.com.