“Momentum is the next day’s starting pitcher.”
- Earl Weaver
My alma mater, the University of Mississippi, beat Oklahoma in two consecutive games to win the College World Series for men’s baseball. Hotty Toddy!
They are national champions, but how did a team that had a losing record in conference play win it all?
The sports writers said that Ole Miss would have to win a few games in the Southeastern Conference (SEC) baseball tournament to enter into the regional tournaments the next weekend. Ole Miss lost their first game, against the College World Series runner-up from the previous year, Vanderbilt. But the sports writers did not know that other teams also had unfortunate ends to their regular season and conference tournaments. Ole Miss, according to the experts got the last chance final selection to a regional. They went to Coral Gables, Florida and won three straight games. Miami, the host of that regional, was ranked fourth in the country.
Ole Miss then went to the super regionals, and they faced another ranked team, Southern Mississippi. They were in their home state, but on enemy ground. They won two straight games.
They beat Auburn in their first game at the College World Series and then Arkansas, both SEC opponents. With the tournament being a double elimination tournament, Arkansas then beat Auburn to face Ole Miss again. Arkansas won, but then, with each having one loss, they played the next day and Ole Miss won their half of the bracket.
The slates were wiped clean and Ole Miss faced Oklahoma that had not lost so far in Omaha, Nebraska, the home of the College World Series. But then, Ole Miss won two straight to become national champions.
Were they the best team? Many would argue against that. The usual comeback in these upset, Cinderella situations is that they were the best team that day.
Earl Weaver’s quote is probably the key factor. Earl Weaver was a major league baseball manager who won MLB’s version of the World Series as a manager. He ought to know. Ole Miss lost their first game in the conference tournament. They were rested, especially their pitching staff, while the other SEC teams played each other (three winning the right to go to Omaha, with exhausted pitchers). These same sports writers that talked of Ole Miss being a fluke in getting to Omaha were now praising them for being the hot team. In other words, riding the wave of momentum, but momentum was only as good as the next day’s pitcher. The Ole Miss pitchers had not played a game for a while, and they were fresh. Then in one weekend, they only pitched three straight games and won them all. Why? They were well rested. Then only two games the following weekend. Of the eight super regionals, only three teams were undefeated that second weekend, the others playing three games. Again, better rest.
Then, they win their first games in Omaha by wide margins, resting their relief pitchers. It was almost as if they let Arkansas win the next game to set up their well-rested pitchers for the final push. I think they tried to win, but they saved those well-rested pitchers.
Ole Miss, in my opinion, and that being the opinion of someone who graduated from the university, was the best rested pitching staff at Omaha and things fell into place. The best team on paper often does not win the game.
I will make no comment about the fans. They are loyal fans, and they need no encouragement in celebrating. Having graduated nearly fifty years ago, I finally can taste victory, even being in a championship game.
And thinking of how they got their victory – timely hitting, great fielding, and rested pitchers – I am going to bed early tonight (okay, last night when I wrote this). When this is posted, I will be in a surgeon’s office. Maybe another reason for their victory, no unforeseen last-minute injuries, but mine is an old unknown injury that has one hand not doing what it is supposed to do.
Momentum is the next day’s well-rested starting pitcher.