Could this be the year?

So maybe we really should just stick a baseball – or perhaps a baseball diamond – up in that top lefthand corner of Mississippi’s red, white and blue state flag and just be done with it.

That way, we would celebrate remarkable success instead of a war fought and lost more than a century and a half ago.

This was proposed somewhat in jest three months ago when the college baseball season began with such promise. Hundreds of games – and so many thrills and victories later – it really might be something to consider. Our roads and bridges might be in desperate shape. We still rank at – or near – the bottom in education. We have too many hungry people.

But, hey, our boys can play ball.

Let’s review:

• Mississippi State, one of the nation’s top teams all season long, swept through its own regional this past weekend, out-scoring three opponents by a combined 23-10. The Bulldogs, 49-10, would appear to have what it takes to become the first Magnolia State team to win a national championship. They can pitch it, hit it, and field it. Amazingly, this will be four straight Super Regionals under four different head coaches. Think about it. These guys are good, really good.

• Ole Miss has reminded us that in baseball it’s all about getting hot at the right time. The Rebels, inconsistent this season, are boiling hot when it counts most. After playing their way into the SEC Tournament championship game at Birmingham, the Rebels won three straight games in their own regional by a ridiculous count of 41 to 7. Three years ago, Ole Miss signed what was hailed as the nation’s No. 1 recruiting class. Those guys are draft-eligible juniors now. It really is now or never for them. Their road to Omaha must now go through Fayetteville, Ark. That’s an imposing task, to be sure, but let us not forget the Rebels won two of three there in late March. Do that in early June and the next stop is Omaha.

• Southern Miss got hot at the right time, too, playing its way into the NCAA Tournament by winning four straight games and the Conference USA Tournament championship. They played well in the Baton Rouge Regional, as well, knocking off high-powered Arizona State twice before ultimately coming up short against host LSU Sunday night. Before we close the book on this 40-21 Golden Eagle team, we should note Scott Berry’s sustained success in Hattiesburg.

Berry’s teams have now won 40 or more games four straight seasons, winning league championships in three of the four and advancing to regionals all four seasons. In 10 seasons as Southern Miss coach since taking over for Corky Palmer, Berry has led his teams to 383 victories.

All that winning at all three Mississippi schools has produced special baseball atmospheres at all three places. Ole Miss and State fans will forever debate the merits of Oxford-University Stadium vs. Dudy Noble Field. What can’t be argued is that both places – and Pete Taylor Park in Hattiesburg for that matter – have become truly special venues for college baseball.

Both State and Ole Miss drew nearly 30,000 fans, respectively, for their three regional games. Southern Miss took a huge following to Baton Rouge. No telling how many State will pack into the “New Dude” for its Super Regional this weekend.

By the time you read this, 16 teams will remain in the NCAA Tournament. Two are from Mississippi. Either is capable of winning it all. When you get this far, you have proved that much.

Indeed, one day, a Mississippi college baseball team will win it all at Omaha. Could this be the year?

Email syndicated columnist Rick Cleveland at rcleveland@mississippitoday.org.

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