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Omaha, NE- The word ‘belief’ can be a strong word to rely on when you’re going through some of the toughest times of your career, especially when you’re questioning the decisions you’ve made. This point was made by Ole Miss first baseman Tim Elko as he sat at the podium, answering questions about just winning a national championship.
It was after a loss to instate rival Mississippi State where Elko made a phone call to his sister, asking her the tough questions on what was currently going on with his ball club. There was a point in the season where the Rebels were 7-14 and clinging to postseason life, but his sister kept hammering home one word: believe.
Now, that’s easier said than done, but for the veteran Elko, it was a word he kept preaching to his teammates during a trying time.
“I remember talking to her, and she just said, you’ve got just to trust God. He didn’t bring you back here for no reason. I remember hanging up the phone, and I was praying out loud, talking to God, and just asking Him, what’s going on here? What did I come back here? This isn’t going how I thought it was going to go.
“I remember just hearing one word that he was telling me in the back of my head, and it was “believe.” That’s all He was telling me, was believe, believe, believe,” Elko pointed out. “I was like, all right. I’m going to believe. I’m going to believe. I’m going to do it.”
It was this type of leadership that Mike Bianco stressed all postseason, knowing he had a group of young men around him that could find their way out of those tough times. Even as they sat in the clubhouse on Memorial Day, waiting to find out if they would be selected to the NCAA Tournament, Bianco knew that his group had worked really hard to put themselves in a position to be even discussed.
“We’ve had great leadership, as I mentioned earlier, and just to watch them do this — I shared with them, and I said it several times now, life is tough, and there’s bad things that happen to everybody. Good people, bad things happen. These guys have worked really hard, and I think they’ve showed a lot of people that you can fall down, you can stumble and you can fail, but that doesn’t mean you’re a failure. If you continue to work hard, you continue to push and you continue to believe, as Tim said, you can accomplish anything.”
But there was also the looming cloud of 22 years as a head coach and Mike Bianco still trying to bring a trophy back to Oxford. These moments weren’t lost on players like Tim Elko, who knew how much his coach had fought for them, even through all the difficult days of not playing up to their expectations. So getting to this point in the postseason wasn’t enough for the leaders, they wanted so badly to win a title for the coaching staff, knowing how hard they’d worked to get here.
“You know, it means the world that we were able to get Coach B a national championship here. The coaches, they teach us so much. They keep us in line. They’re like friends to us, honestly. Obviously they’re our coaches, but they’re the best. They’re the best there is. It’s an absolute joy to play for them.
“It’s a joy just to go to the field every day and practice and be around them,” Elko added. “I couldn’t have asked for a better coach, head coach, hitting coach, pitching coach, all of the coaches. I couldn’t have asked for better ones to play for for five years. It brings joy to my heart to win a national championship for them.”
The topic of Mississippi State was brought up a number of times this season, but to sit here and have two teams from the same state win a National Championship in consecutive years is hard to fathom, especially from the same conference. The last time two different teams from the same state won a championship in consecutive years was in 2002 and 2003, with Texas and Rice.
As Elko pointed out numerous times, this team overcame so many different obstacles at setbacks to get here. After being swept by Tennessee earlier in the season when they were ranked No.1 in the country at the time, people started to question the Rebels. Were they as good as advertised or was this preseason hype? Well, that question was answered emphatically in Omaha. They were good enough to be here, they just added a little extra drama to the story.
But that story will be talked about for years to come according to Elko, who walked off the field tonight carrying a trophy he’d been fighting for over five years to obtain.
“There’s so much to be said about how much we overcame this year, how much we had to fight through, how much we had to pick each other up and never let ourselves get too down. This story of our season is going to be told for years and years and years to come.”
No matter what happens in the future, this squad can say they accomplished something for the first time in program history and they did it with leaders like Tim Elko, who never stopped believing.
“This is the best Ole Miss baseball team in history, and it feels so good, and it’s an honor to be a part of it.”