Henry makes long-awaited trip to Omaha

Published 10:00 am Thursday, June 12, 2014

As soon as the ball settled into first baseman Sikes Orvis’ mitt for the out that sent Ole Miss to the College World Series Monday night, Jordan Henry had a few pieces of business to take care of.

First was to share a moment with longtime head coach Mike Bianco. As a player, the Vicksburg native had been a part of two of Bianco’s four teams that lost in the super regional round.

Now in his first year as a student assistant coach, Henry was part of the team that finally pushed the Rebels over the hump and on to Omaha.

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“The first guy I could think of to go hug was him. If anybody deserves it, it was him,” Henry said. “I know it was really special for him.”

Jordan Henry

Jordan Henry

The next item on the celebratory checklist was to run onto the field and join the dogpile.

It wasn’t Henry’s first, but he wasn’t about to miss what was certain to be the best so far.

“They did it at regionals and me and (assistant coach Stephen) Head ran out there and got on top because we were smart. You don’t want to be on the bottom,” Henry said with a laugh. “It was fun.”

The days since the super regional victory over Louisiana-Lafayette have been a whirlwind for Henry and the Rebels.

They returned to a heroes’ welcome in Oxford, with fans lining the roads to greet the team. Text messages and phone calls from former teammates and old friends pushed cellphones to their limit.

Henry said part of the joy of winning Monday came from erasing Ole Miss’ past failures in the NCAA Tournament, and taking some of the weight of history off the program.

“A lot of guys I played with were down there, and a lot of them plan on making the trip to Omaha. Everyone’s been calling and texting,” Henry said. “It means a lot to come back and get over that hump. It took a lot off the shoulders of a lot people.”

One of them was Henry himself.

A former Vicksburg High star, Henry was the 2007 Southeastern Conference Freshman of the Year for the Rebels, when he hit .376 and scored 60 runs. He earned All-SEC honors again in 2009, hitting .343 with 70 runs scored and 38 stolen bases.

Both times, Ole Miss advanced to a super regional before losing. First, it was in two games to Arizona State. Then, in 2009, it dropped the last two games of the best-of-three series to Virginia after winning Game 1. Those postseason disappointments followed two other super regional losses, to Texas in 2005 and Miami in 2006.

Henry was drafted by the Cleveland Indians in the seventh round of the 2009 Major League Baseball draft and left school a year early to turn pro. He got as far as Double-A before injuries ended his career in 2013.

He returned to Ole Miss last fall as a student assistant coach, and a few months later was in the dugout for the biggest moment in the program’s history — a moment that had eluded he and his teammates years earlier.

“It’s awesome to be a part of this,” Henry said, adding with a laugh. “It’s nice that everyone is talking about getting so close, and here’s something different for a change. This 2014 team will be remembered for a long time.”

Next up on Henry’s checklist was a return to reality. Not long after returning to Oxford, the team had to go about the business of planning, practicing and packing for the trip to Omaha.

The Rebels will arrive today. On Friday afternoon they’ll have an open practice at TD Ameritrade Park, followed by an autograph session on the stadium concourse.

Their first game won’t be until Sunday night at 7 against No. 3 national seed Virginia.

That delay will give Henry and the rest of the Rebels plenty of time to soak in the atmosphere and appreciation of what’s likely to be a partisan crowd. Ole Miss has already sold out of its limited allotment of tickets for each game.

“I think it’s going to be exciting, being able to experience it all, from the flight up there to the ballpark,” Henry said. “I’ve heard from players I played with how great it is. I also heard it’s a lot of people that are planning to go. We’ll have a lot of fans there.”

That link with the fans, Henry added, has made this season even more special. Nearly 10,000 fans packed Swayze Field in Oxford for each of the team’s games in the regional round.

Louisiana-Lafayette’s M.L. “Tigue” Moore Field holds less than half that number, but was also packed to the gills. Ole Miss fans, though outnumbered, again sold out their allotment of tickets.

In Omaha, Henry expects more raucous crowds dressed primarily in red and blue.

“We look at ourselves as an Ole Miss family. One of the reasons for our success is our fanbase,” he said. “This team is playing for each other, but they’re also playing for the entire Ole Miss community.”

About Ernest Bowker

Ernest Bowker is The Vicksburg Post's sports editor. He has been a member of The Vicksburg Post's sports staff since 1998, making him one of the longest-tenured reporters in the paper's 140-year history. The New Jersey native is a graduate of LSU. In his career, he has won more than 50 awards from the Mississippi Press Association and Associated Press for his coverage of local sports in Vicksburg.

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