Mississippi Burning … For Baseball: Ole Miss Vs. Southern Miss Super Regional Tickets Hotter Than Biloxi Beaches

Do not call Mississippi a football state this weekend.

The hottest ticket in Mississippi sports history – all sports that is – is for this weekend’s first-ever NCAA Super Regional between two Mississippi schools at Southern Mississippi’s Pete Taylor Park in Hattiesburg, Mississippi.

It’s No. 1 seed Southern Mississippi (47-17) versus No. 3 seed Ole Miss (35-22) in the best-of-three Super Regional at 4 p.m. eastern time Saturday on ESPNU and at 4 p.m. Sunday on ESPNU or ESPN2. A third game – if necessary – will be Monday at a time to be announced.

Yes, baseball is bigger than football in these parts at the moment, and maybe for more than that.

So says an expert – Hattiesburg native and sports columnist legend Rick Cleveland, a 13-time Mississippi Sports Writer of the Year who wrote at the Jackson Clarion-Ledger from 1979-2012 and now writes for Mississippi Today. Cleveland is best known for writing about Ole Miss and Mississippi State football, and has covered some of those programs’ biggest games.

A rare Ole Miss trip to Southern Mississippi for football and a 28-0 win was a difficult ticket in Hattiesburg on Sept. 25, 1976. So was No. 3 LSU (9-1, 5-1 SEC) at No. 15 Ole Miss (9-1, 6-0 SEC) with Eli Manning on Nov. 22, 2003, for the SEC West title. And there was No. 1 Alabama at No. 19 Ole Miss on Sept. 17, 2016, after two straight Ole Miss wins over the Tide along with several Mississippi State-Ole Miss games and Mississippi State-Alabama games.

But for his money, nothing has been as big as far as ticket demand for Southern Miss and Ole Miss. The winner goes to Omaha, Nebraska, next week for the College World Series, which Mississippi State won last year for the state’s first national championship in baseball.

“As far as the size of the venue involved, it’s the hottest sports ticket ever in Mississippi,” Cleveland said. “They could sell probably 20,000 tickets for this game.”

But Pete Taylor Park seats just over 6,000, so Cleveland’s point is ticket demand versus supply. Ole Miss and Mississippi State obviously drew many thousands more for football games against one another as well as Alabama and LSU, but likely the demand for tickets did not exceed the supply by as many as for this game.

Southern Mississippi announced a sell-out on Friday morning. Tickets priced at $60 were going for $1,800 on the StubHub ticket service.

“We are not able to sell tickets to some people who have been very supportive of our baseball program,” USM athletic director Jeremy McClain said.

USM gave Ole Miss its NCAA-mandated minimum of 600 tickets with 250 of those going to players, coaches and their families. Ole Miss received 3,500 Super Regional ticket requests this week, said athletic director Keith Carter. Only 350 were available.

Ole Miss Coach Mike Bianco: From Very Hot Seat To Omaha With 2 More Wins

“A few people have asked me for tickets,” Ole Miss coach Mike Bianco said. “Most people respect it and realize I can’t be a ticket broker. Most of our fans can figure out a way to get their way into the ballpark. I’m sure a lot of LSU fans figured out how to get in there last week.”

Pete Taylor Park was about 60-65 percent USM fans for three games against LSU in the NCAA Regional in Hattiesburg last week. LSU’s 7-6 win in 10 innings over USM on Saturday drew 5,211. All five of USM’s games drew more than 5,000 with the largest Regional crowd showing at the Golden Eagles’ 8-7 win over LSU on Monday for the title at 5,256. USM has never drawn as many fans for baseball over four straight days.

Chants of “U … S … M” would drown out chants of “L … S … U,” and vice versa in that trio of games.

“We got along fine with the LSU fans all weekend,” said one USM fan. “It’s not going to be as friendly this weekend when Ole Miss comes in.”

Ole Miss and Southern Mississippi set the Pete Taylor Park attendance record with 6,346 on May 11 as the Rebels won 4-1.

“And that was on a Wednesday night,” Bianco said. “Not a Friday or Saturday night. They’ve got a great fan base. We also have the in-state rival thing going, right? The expectation is it’s going to be real loud and sold out for all three games.”

“Mississippi really is a baseball state,” Cleveland said.

Mississippi State was the first baseball dynasty in the Southeastern Conference under coach Ron Polk, who directed the Bulldogs from 1976-97 and again from 2002-08, winning SEC championships in 1979, ’85, ’87 and ”89 and reaching Omaha in 1979, ’81, ’85, ’90, ’97 and 2007.

Ole Miss is in its second straight Super Regional and eighth since 2005. It beat Southern Mississippi, 12-9, at home in front of 10,293 at Swayze Field in Oxford in the NCAA Regional title game last year after USM beat Ole Miss, 10-7, the day before in front of 10,628. The Rebels are trying for their second trip to Omaha since 2014.

“There’s no other state that loves baseball more than the state of Mississippi,” said USM coach Scott Berry, who was an assistant at USM when the Eagles reached Omaha for the first and only time in 2009 out of a Super Regional at Florida. “It’s not even close. This state is passionate about baseball.”

No matter who wins, a Mississippi school will be in Omaha.

“It’s cool that it’s going to be in Mississippi,” said Ole Miss senior slugger Tim Elko. “Because we’re going to have a good crowd out there – a good Ole Miss fan base showing. It’ll be a really cool series.”

Written by Glenn Guilbeau

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