OXFORD, Miss. (AP) — Mississippi's Mike Bianco spent his college playing days and early coaching career at LSU, a place where going to the College World Series seems like a birthright.
Getting the Rebels to Omaha, Nebraska, has been considerably more difficult.
But Ole Miss is finally part of college baseball's postseason showcase, preparing for its first CWS appearance since 1972 after beating host Louisiana-Lafayette on Monday in a super regional.
The 47-year-old Bianco has transformed the Rebels from a Southeastern Conference afterthought to a powerhouse during 14 seasons in Oxford, but super regional heartbreak — including losses in 2005, '06, 07 and '09 — had become a part of the program's tough-luck lore.
That's all changed now. Ole Miss (46-19) will face Virginia (49-14) Sunday in the CWS opening round.
"We've accomplished everything we've set our sights on," Ole Miss sophomore pitcher Christian Trent said. "Obviously, next is the national championship."
The breakthrough has come during an unlikely season. The Rebels weren't highly-regarded in preseason polls, with the SEC's coaches picking them to finish near the bottom of the Western Division.
But a lineup full of veterans — including catcher Will Allen, outfielder Auston Bousfield and third baseman Austin Anderson — has matured into one of the best in the nation.
The Rebels are hitting .303 as a team with seven regulars above .290. Junior Sikes Orvis has hit 14 homers, giving them some punch in the middle of the order.
The older players have mixed well with a good group of freshmen, including Colby Bortles, Errol Robinson and J.B. Woodman. Bortles is the younger brother of Jacksonville Jaguars' rookie quarterback Blake Bortles.