Rebels Plan To Crash Party

FAYETTEVILLE -- Ole Miss won't be clowning around during Arkansas' party this weekend.

Sure, there will be some 8,000-plus packed in Baum Stadium for the three-game series, which begins at 7:05 p.m. today. Some will show up for tonight's postgame fireworks as part of alumni weekend or the Tom Pagnozzi bobbleheads (first 1,000 through gate Saturday), but most will be there to support crowd favorites such as Scott Hode and Clay Goodwin, a pair of seniors possibly taking their final swings in Baum Stadium.

The Razorbacks are playing for a berth in next week's Southeastern Conference Tournament in Hoover, Ala. They're currently in sixth overall and could move up to the No. 5 seed with a sweep (fourth if Alabama is swept at Auburn).

To ensure a spot, the Hogs (37-15 overall, 13-14 in SEC play) must win at least two games this weekend and hope either Auburn (12-15) or Mississippi State (12-14), which hosts LSU, don't sweep their series. They also could sneak in the back door with one win if Auburn and Mississippi State lose their series.

A strong showing also would improve positioning for an NCAA Regional, which Arkansas likely locked up with series wins against Alabama and Florida the past two weeks. Being in the top 25 in three of four national polls and a high RPI could even mean hosting an NCAA Regional if the Razorbacks can pull off a sweep.

When there's lots on the line, it often brings out even bigger crowds than expected, which always adds to the festive atmosphere in Baum Stadium.

But the Rebels (37-16, 15-12) believe they have even more on the line than Arkansas and plan to do everything possible to crash the party.

"We feel there's a lot to play for," said Ole Miss coach Mike Bianco. "For one, we're not mathematically in (the SEC) tournament yet and two, there is a chance we can win a title since we're only two games back of first in the overall standings and only one game back of first in the west.

"So we can do some things we haven't done here in a while with a good weekend."

Recent history indicates this series will be a close one. A year ago, Arkansas' Clint Brannon hooked up in a pitcher's duel against Ole Miss' Mark Holliman that the Rebels won 1-0 in the opener. The next two games were split, with Ole Miss losing 3-1 on Saturday against Hogs starter Charley Boyce before taking the series with a 5-3 Sunday win.

"That was a bad weekend, kind of our one bad skid last season," said Boyce, who could be used in relief tonight or start one of the final two games. "They were very close and we had some things not go our way, so we feel like we have something to take back from them."

Things like either Ole Miss home run that Arkansas outfielders pushed over the wall, including one by left fielder Jake Dugger (he'll start in right tonight) or the high popup that was ruled a homer after the ball cleared the fence near the foul pole for the only run in the Rebels' Friday win.

"Every game last year was really close, grudge matches," Dugger said. "And they probably will be again which could be a good thing because we're usually pretty good in grudge matches."

Holliman (5-3, 4.50), a junior right-hander who struck out 13 in a 5-4 loss against South Carolina, will start tonight against Arkansas freshman left-hander Nick Schmidt (7-1, 2.60).

"He just nailed us last year," said Arkansas coach Dave Van Horn. "He's a potential first-round draft pick this year, he's got great stuff. A good curveball, changeup and fastball and he can compete, so he's what you want out of a Friday night guy."

When its defense, offense and pitching is firing on all cylinders, Ole Miss can beat any team in the league as the Rebels have shown in the ability to avoid being swept. They're won more games (7) in their last 10 than any team in the SEC and can lock up hosting a second straight regional with a fast finish.

"We're playing pretty good right now," Bianco said. "Offensively, we've put up some pretty good numbers, especially power numbers and we've got great defense and pitching-wise, we're starting to come into our own."

Ole Miss is led by two of the most versatile players in the nation in pitchers/sluggers Stephen Head and Brian Pettway. The juniors are among the league leaders in several offensive categories with Pettway (.415 batting average, 17 HRs, 57 RBIs) and Head (.308, 15, 58) leading a lineup which has six players hitting better than .300.

Head is a dangerous left-handed pitcher (7-2, 2.89 ERA and four saves in 65 1/3 innings) while Pettway has made 12 relief appearances, striking out 13 in 13 1/3 innings. Rebs reliever Matt Maloney (6-2, 2.61) also has four saves and has struck out 85 in 79 1/3 innings.

In addition, Ole Miss tops the league with a .975 fielding percentage led by rangy freshman shortstop Zack Cozart.

"Top to bottom, they've got a great team," Van Horn said. "Professionally, there's a lot of interest in this club. A lot of scouts are following them around and a lot of kids that are going to be high picks (in next month's Major League Baseball Amateur Draft). They're probably top to bottom the best lineup in the league.

"We've just got to go try to win some games."

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