The Ole Miss baseball team reacts Monday to news of a surprise bid in the NCAA Baseball Tournament. (Credit: Ole Miss Baseball Twitter)

The NCAA Baseball Tournament regional brackets were announced just an hour ago and already I’ve been asked about a dozen times: What’s your reaction?

Answer: Surprised.

Not shocked, mind you, just surprised and pleasantly so.

Surprised that Southern Miss was in at a No. 11 seed, even after losing twice at home to Texas-Antonio (UTSA), which wasn’t selected, in the Conference USA Tournament.

Rick Cleveland

Surprised that Ole Miss was selected, particularly after all the unexpected happenings in conference tournaments this past weekend.

What seems clear is that NCAA Baseball Committee, of which Mississippi State athletic director John Cohen is a member, put lots more value on a team’s achievements over the course of a 55-game regular season than what happened in the various conference tournaments.

That was mentioned to Southern Miss coach Scott Berry during a press conference following the selection show. “I agree, I totally agree,” Berry said. “And, to me, that’s the way it should be.”

Berry went on. “In our case, the committee recognized our achievements over the long haul. We won the regular season championship by three games in a very good conference. We finished 43 and 17. We were 23 and 7 in the league. That’s a heckuva achievement right there. To me, what you do over the course of an entire season is much more important than what you do in a double elimination tournament.”

I would agree.

Southern Miss will open the Hattiesburg Regional against Army on Friday afternoon at 2 p.m. LSU, the 2-seed, will play Kennesaw State at 7 p.m. in the other half of the four-team, double elimination bracket. This marks the third time in history the Golden Eagles have hosted a regional.

Berry was asked about Ole Miss receiving a bid — the Rebels are a 3-seed at Miami and will play Arizona on Friday night — while UTSA and Old Dominion both did not.

Berry said he felt for both UTSA and Old Dominion, but added, “I think it’s great for Ole Miss. I love Coach (Mike) Bianco, who a great coach and a classy person, and couldn’t be happier for him or his team.”

Some random thoughts on the NCAA Tournament:

  • I’ve never been one to take one team against the field, and I am not sure I would this time. But if there was ever a time to do it, this is it. Tennessee, SEC regular season and tournament champ, is by far the class of the field, quite possibly the best college team these eyes have ever seen.
  • Army? The Black Knights won their fourth straight Patriot League championship this season. Army comes in at No. 154 in RPI and was 0-6 against Top 50 competition this season. The Knights hit .301 as a team and love to run. They stole 101 of 120 bases this season. Their pitching ace, the guy Southern Miss likely will face, is Connelly Early, a left-hander with a 7-3 record a 3.39 earned run average. He is seemingly a good matchup against the Eagles’  heavy left-handed hitting lineup.
  • Arizona? For Ole Miss, the Wildcats will be a rematch of last season’s Super Regional matchup at Tucson, which Arizona won two games to one. The 2022 Wildcats finished 37-23, 16-14 in the Pac-12. Top-seeded and host Miami finished 39-18 with a No. 15 RPI.
  • Is Ole Miss capable of winning the Miami Regional? Yes. No doubt. If the Rebels pitch it well and hit as they are capable, they could win.
  • And that could potentially set up an Ole Miss-Southern Miss Super Regional showdown. Asked about that possibility, Berry laughed, “Hold on now, we’ve both got a whole lot of work to do before we talk about that,” he said.
  • Kennesaw State, which will play LSU Friday night in the Hattiesburg Regional, is led by former Mississippi State Bulldog Josh Hatcher, who hit .386 with 13 home runs and 55 runs batted in for the American Sun Conference champions.

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Rick Cleveland, a native of Hattiesburg and resident of Jackson, has been Mississippi Today’s sports columnist since 2016. A graduate of the University of Southern Mississippi with a bachelor’s in journalism, Rick has worked for the Monroe (La.) News Star World, Jackson Daily News and Clarion Ledger. He was sports editor of Hattiesburg American, executive director of the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame. His work as a syndicated columnist and celebrated sports writer has appeared in numerous magazines, periodicals and newspapers.
Rick has been recognized 13 times as Mississippi Sports Writer of the Year, and is recipient of multiple awards and honors for his reporting and writing.