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OXFORD, Miss. – As Ole Miss prepares for the final series of the regular season, the Texas A&M Aggies aren’t the only thing on the team’s mind. With the Rebels (31-19, 13-14 SEC) not projected to host a regional in the 2022 NCAA tournament, these upcoming three days in May will mean much more to the Ole Miss seniors.
For Tim Elko, Hayden Leatherwood, Max Cioffi, and Ben Van Cleve, this weekend will mark the final time they play at Swayze Field. And despite Kevin Graham, Brandon Johnson, Justin Bench, Knox Loposer and Garrett Wood having an extra year of eligibility due to the COVID-19 pandemic, this is likely their final act as well.
And for the fans, this is one last chance to see one of the most memorable, entertaining teams Ole Miss has ever fielded take the field in Oxford.
This group of Rebel seniors has made quite a few memories throughout its time in Oxford. Max Cioffi, despite being marred by some injuries over his last two season, talked about his favorite moment as an Ole Miss Rebel.
“My favorite memory as an Ole Miss Rebel is playing in a big league ballpark. It was my first time playing in a big league ballpark and it was our first real game after the COVID shutdown. There was a lot of adrenaline, everyone had been waiting a long time to hit the field because we had such a long time off. It was fun, we played really well and it was special.”
A place unlike any other. ❤️ pic.twitter.com/biR7JXELYJ
— Ole Miss Baseball (@OleMissBSB) May 16, 2022
Ben Van Cleve, affectionately known in Oxford as the “Swayze Silverback,” knew he wanted to be a Rebel from the time he was born.
“My whole entire life I wanted to be a Rebel. My parents came to school here, my older brother came to school here, my grandfather came to school here. It’s been in my blood. The second they offered me, I was coming here.”
— Ole Miss Baseball (@OleMissBSB) May 17, 2022
Amidst all the emotion of senior weekend, the Rebels can’t lose sight of their opponent. Texas A&M (33-16, 17-10 SEC) has risen all the way to No. 6 in the country and is coming off of a home sweep over Mississippi State.
The Ags have won seven of their last eight games and have vaulted into a tie for first in the SEC West with Arkansas. The Aggies’ RPI currently sits at 19 and they are projected as the No. 9 national seed for the NCAA tournament.
Those numbers have tremendous meaning for the Rebels’ NCAA tournament hopes. Ole Miss currently stands at 38 in the RPI and is projected on the outside looking in for the postseason. A series win this weekend and a good run in Hoover could make all the difference for the Rebels.
The SEC baseball tournament begins next week, and Ole Miss locked up its spot last weekend with a sweep over LSU. A series win over the Aggies could improve the Rebels’ seed, which would in turn improve the second round matchup.
Some would argue that Hoover isn’t important, but for this Ole Miss team, and particularly the seniors, it means the world, and not just because it’s more baseball to play.
The winner of the SEC tournament gets an automatic bid into the NCAA tournament. For Ole Miss, a team who still isn’t locked into the postseason, having the chance to play for that automatic bid is a huge opportunity.
The Rebels and Aggies begin their series Thursday with first pitch scheduled for 6:30 p.m. CT on the SEC Network+. The teams are set to play at 7:00 p.m. (CT) Friday and will conclude with game three at 1:30 p.m. (CT) Saturday.
(Feature image credit: Josh McCoy, Ole Miss)
Austin has more than ten years in sports media, including sports talk radio, play-by-play broadcasting and journalism. He has followed Ole Miss athletics for his entire life and has covered the Rebels and the rest of the SEC while working in the Memphis media market. Outside of sports media, Austin is a musician and outdoorsman. Before a serious accident forced him to be medically discharged, he was a multi-media journalist with the Mississippi National Guard.