djr-2019-06-03-sport-celebration-twp2 (copy)

Cooper Johnson is one of four Rebels from the Class of 2017 selected in the first six rounds of the 2019 MLB Draft.

OXFORD

Matt Mossberg, a former Ole Miss player and assistant coach, told me in 2017, “These guys will win.”

It’s the main job of Mossberg now, as he works in development, to build relationships and separate people from their money.

So he quickly covered all bases.

“I don’t know that they’ll win now, but they’re going to win.”

They were freshmen then, but they comprised the highest-rated college baseball signing class in the country according to two major media outlets, D1Baseball.com and Baseball America.

Less than a year removed from high school graduation they didn’t really win, not enough to approach the expectations that they or others had for them.

In 2017 Ole Miss finished seven games over .500 but had a losing record in SEC play. The Rebels capped their season with a one-and-out appearance in the SEC Tournament. No magical Hoover run that year.

Mossberg’s initial caution was justified. The following season, so was his faith.

The Rebels, with multiple 2017 class members in key roles, won the SEC West, won the SEC Tournament and earned a No. 4 national seed.

The winning continued into the first two games of the Oxford Regional where it abruptly ended, and the Class of ‘17 ached at opportunity lost.

The postseason run they were supposed to deliver fell far short. The accolades and dominance of the regular season and Hoover did little to stop the pain. The finish is what fans remember. It’s what players remember, too.

Now its the final hurrah for the Class of ‘17 because Major League Baseball’s structure of replenishing its ranks robs college teams of their best players as juniors. Four members of that class – Grae Kessinger, Will Ethridge, Thomas Dillard and Cooper Johnson – were drafted in the first six rounds this week.

A painful sign of the mass departure actually occurred a year ago when ace pitcher Ryan Rolison, because of where on the calendar his birthday fell, was draft-eligible as a sophomore and was taken in the first round.

Had that worked out differently, this Ole Miss team would have been much deeper on the mound and less likely to face some of the non-conference and late-season struggles that it had.

It’s those struggles, though, that make this postseason run even more meaningful as the Class of ‘17 is in its first super regional with eyes on two more wins and Omaha.

Getting to the College World Series will require beating a dangerous opponent on the road, but the Rebels take with them to the Fayetteville Super regional the confidence from having already won twice against Arkansas in the rowdy Ozark hills. Heck, the Rebels have won three out of five against the Razorbacks as the teams split two games in Hoover.

The CWS berth will be decided by what happens ahead not what happened behind.

The Rebels (40-25) head to the super regional after outscoring the Oxford Regional field 41-7.

Ahead is the last chance for the Class of 2017 to meet the expectations of itself and others.

“I think we all believe that we should be here, that we deserve to be here,” Kessinger said. “We’ve always known this was where we were going to be. Now we’re here and playing good baseball.”

parrish.alford@journalinc.com Twitter: @parrishalford

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