More than 6,300 fans at Pete Taylor Park watch a game against the Ole Miss Rebels on Wednesday, May 11, 2022 (Photo by Joe Harper/BigGold Photography)

It could have been happenstance, I suppose — purely coincidental. But I think not.

I believe the NCAA Baseball Committee knew exactly what it was doing when arranging the brackets and providing so many spicy back stories to the regionals at Miami and Hattiesburg.

First and most obvious, we have a 2021 Super Regional rematch in the first round at Miami. We’ve got 2-seed Arizona against 3-seed Ole Miss, while Miami plays the Canisius Golden Griffins in the other matchup. The Golden Griffins nickname deserves an explanation, and we’ll get to that.

Rick Cleveland

The Ole Miss-Arizona game brings together the two teams that went three games in Tucson last June. Remember? Ole Miss lost the first game 9-3, won the second game 12-3 and lost the rubber match 16-3. 

What you need to know about that is this: That Arizona team last year was much, much better than this Arizona team. Those Wildcats were a No. 5 national seed that came into the Super Regional with a 44-15 record and having won 11 of its last 13 games. This Arizona team goes to Miami with a  37-23 record and having lost five of its last seven. These Wildcats are beatable.

Those 2021 Wildcats were coached by Jay Johnson, who now coaches at LSU — and we’ll get to that, as well. These Wildcats are coached Chip Hale, a former Arizona baseball standout, also formerly the manager of the Arizona Diamondbacks and most recently the third base coach of the Detroit Tigers. He is a rookie college baseball coach.

Much of the intrigue in the Mississippi corner of the NCAA brackets are all the possibilities we would have in the Super Regional that follows next weekend. Think about it. You could have Arizona matched up against its former coach, now at LSU. You could have Ole Miss facing Southern Miss in a rematch of last year’s thoroughly entertaining Oxford Regional.

Or you could have Ole Miss playing LSU in a matchup of two of the oldest and most fierce SEC rivals. If that happens, the Super Regional would be played at Baton Rouge due to LSU’s higher seeding. As if an LSU-Ole Miss series would need any more intrigue, you would have Mike Bianco coaching not only against his alma mater, but also against his son, Drew Bianco. Many believe Bianco’s job would be on the line as inconceivable as that sounds to fans across the nation.

Of course, Miami could throw a damper on all those possibilities. Miami, 39-18 overall, finished a league-best 20-10 in the ACC. That’s impressive, but the Hurricanes are none too impressive in the what-have-you-done-for-me-lately department. They went two and out in the ACC Tournament and have lost six of their last eight games. Go back another couple of weeks and the Hurricanes have lost 10 of their last 18 games. Compare that to Ole Miss, which for all its shortcomings, has won eight of its last 11 games, including winning three straight against LSU at Baton Rouge. 

That’s why I say Ole Miss, which looks to have gotten the last available at large NCAA berth, could advance from Miami. It would be no great upset — as there were any upsets in baseball.

And should the Rebels advance, they most likely would play either LSU or Southern Miss —and they beat both on the road late in the season.

And what of those Golden Griffins of Canisius, who will make the journey from Buffalo, N.Y.? They are called the Griffins in honor of a ship. The French explorer La Salle claimed the Mississippi River basin for France, and also explored the Great Lakes Region in a ship called Le Griffon. That doesn’t explain why the Golden Griffins have a mascot named Petey. This may be more than you want to know, but Petey is named for St. Peter Canisius, for whom the college is named.

In Hattiesburg, much of the intrigue concerns tickets. LSU fans would probably fill Pete Taylor Park if they could get the tickets. They can’t, unless they are willing to pay black market prices. (Individual general admission tickets were going for $149 and higher on Wednesday morning.) Reserved seat tickets presumably would go for much higher.

Each visiting school gets an allotment of 200 tickets. That’s it. Bottom line: We’re going to find out how loyal Southern Miss fans are, because if the Golden Eagles play LSU, as the seedings suggest that they will, Eagle fans could make a killing by selling their tickets to eager LSU fans who follow their baseball Tigers in hordes.

The Pete Taylor Park attendance record was set in May when 6,300 showed for a mid-week Ole Miss-Southern Miss. Capacity for a regional game could be as much as 1,000 lower because of NCAA parameters. The demand for tickets will far exceed the availability.

“Saddle up, let’s go, (LSU fans) better be on the tickets already,” LSU coach Jay Johnson told reporters shortly after the pairings were announced. “I’m sure they will be hard to come by. We want them in there and want them loud and proud as they always are.” 

Maybe not this time. We will see. Meanwhile, weather could also be a factor. In Coral Gables, Fla., where a tropical storm approaches, the forecast is for 90% chance of rain Friday and 100% on Sunday. Those Golden Griffins may need a ship to get to the game.

The Hattiesburg Regional forecast is for much drier weather — and hot. Saturday and Sunday afternoon temps could reach the mid-90s.


Hattiesburg Regional Schedule

Friday, June 3
Game 1 — No. 1 Southern Miss vs. No. 4 Army West Point , 1 p.m. (ESPN+)
Game 2 — No. 2 LSU vs. No. 3 Kennesaw State, 6 p.m. (ESPN+)

Saturday, June 4
Game 3 — Loser of Game 1 vs. Loser Game 2, 12 p.m. (ESPN+)
Game 4 — Winner of Game 1 vs. Winner Game 2, 6 p.m. (ESPN+)

Sunday, June 5
Game 5 — Winner Game 3 vs. Loser Game 4, 1 p.m. (ESPN+)
Game 6 — Winner Game 4 vs. Winner Game 5, 6 p.m. (ESPN+)

Monday, June 6
Game 7 — If necessary, 3 p.m. (ESPN+)

Coral Gables Regional Schedule

Friday, June 3
Game 1 — No. 1 Miami vs. No. 4 Canisius , 11 a.m. CT (ESPN+)
Game 2 — No. 2 Arizona vs. No. 3 Ole Miss, 6 p.m. (ESPNU)

Saturday, June 4
Game 3 — Loser of Game 1 vs. Loser Game 2, TBD
Game 4 — Winner of Game 1 vs. Winner Game 2, TBD

Sunday, June 5
Game 5 — Winner Game 3 vs. Loser Game 4, TBD
Game 6 — Winner Game 4 vs. Winner Game 5, TBD

Monday, June 6
Game 7 — If necessary, TBD

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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.