Ole Miss Wins West

FAYETTEVILLE -- Playing like a team with plenty on the line Sunday, Ole Miss blasted Arkansas 9-1 in front of 6,783 in Baum Stadium.

The victory wrapped up a three-game sweep and a share of the Southeastern Conference Western Division title for the Rebels, their first since 1982.

"We've been in situations like this in previous years," said Ole Miss coach Mike Bianco, whose team will be seeded fourth in this week's SEC tourney in Hoover, Ala. "But for one reason or another, it hadn't worked out in the final weekend, so I'm very proud of the team because for 23 years, we haven't won anything.

"So this is a big deal."

Despite the loss, Arkansas (37-18, 13-17) still backed into the No. 8 seed in the tournament and will play top-seeded Florida at 5 p.m. Wednesday. That didn't matter to Arkansas coach Dave Van Horn as much as the fact that his Hogs left 32 baserunners stranded during the series, including 11 on Sunday.

"I'm disappointed that we didn't play very well and we didn't drive anybody in," Van Horn said. "I just felt like we as a team, individually, tried to do too much. I mean, we have people all over the bases all three games and we score (five) runs. You can give credit to their pitchers making some pitches, but we did a really bad job of just putting the bat on the ball and getting it done.

"I'm glad we're going to the tournament because we have a chance to redeem ourselves a little bit."

Ole Miss (40-16, 18-12) showed this weekend why most, including Van Horn, picked the Rebels in the preseason to win the division, but had to overcome a 7-8 start through the first half of the SEC season to live up to the expectations.

"It's baseball," Bianco said. "At times, you're not playing well and we had a stretch for about three weeks where we weren't pitching very well and in this league, if you don't pitch well, you're not going to win."

The pitchers were at the top of their games this weekend as Ole Miss used only six pitchers to hold the Hogs to five total runs. Rebels starter Eric Fowler, a junior left-hander, shut out Arkansas for seven innings by scattering six hits to win Sunday.

Their offense was even better, putting up a combined 24 runs on 43 hits in the sweep.

It all adds up to Bianco believing his team may be peaking at the right time.

"We've played defense well all year," Bianco said. "Pitching-wise, we've really kind of hit a third or fourth gear or whatever you want to call it, we've been hot on the mound. Offensively, we've been pretty consistent all year, so it's nice to be able to pitch and get that going."

Rain delayed the inevitable for 96 minutes when play was halted after three innings. Ole Miss already had the outcome in hand heading into the delay after scoring five runs on three homers in the second inning.

Stephen Head began the offensive explosion with a solo homer to center on the first pitch -- a fastball -- of the second inning off Hogs starter Josh Smith. A walk and a single later, Zack Cozart clubbed his first of two homers Sunday with a three-run shot into the Hogs' bullpen in left and the next batter, Barry Gunther, followed with a solo shot to make it 5-0.

"I think this is about as good as we can play," Head said. "The first two games, they got a lot of people on base and we could have done some things a lot better.

"We have some things we need to work on if we really want to make a run in this postseason."

After the delay, Arkansas' Lee Land came on in relief at the start of the fourth and promptly gave up a solo shot to Cozart, the talented freshman's ninth this season, two batters into the inning to make it 6-0.

In the eighth, Ole Miss tacked on three more runs to create the final margin.

Clint Arnold went 5-for-5 and drove in the Razorbacks' only run with a two-out single in the ninth.

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