Dealing With Distractions

Arkansas (32-17, 14-12) hosts Ole Miss (37-15, 17-10) in a key three-game series for both teams beginning Thursday night at 6:35 p.m. at Baum Stadium.

Mike Bianco wouldn't let his players take the criticism.

Ole Miss' baseball coach said Thursday that he let his Rebels' focus stray last weekend. He allowed them to worry about more than just winning a baseball game. And after watching them tighten up during losses last weekend to their hated rival, Mississippi State, Bianco acted early Sunday morning with a stern talk.

The Rebels responded with an 8-1 victory, but Bianco said he'd ensure his message would resonate with them before playing tonight's series-opener at Arkansas.

"I kind of blame myself for last weekend," Bianco said. "We took the focus off, ‘One pitch at a time.' We'd been excellent at that this year, just playing the game pitch-by-pitch, inning-by-inning. But we got away from that a little bit last weekend.

"We had our rival at home and we put more pressure on ourselves."

Bianco vowed Ole Miss wouldn't make the same mistake twice. Arkansas coach Dave Van Horn, whose team snapped a five-game losing streak with Tuesday's 3-2 win against Oral Roberts, also insisted his team could deal with distractions.

For now, that's all talk.

Starting tonight in Baum Stadium, the Razorbacks and Rebels will see if they can truly ignore the big-picture ramifications of this weekend's series and concentrate on merely winning.

Both teams are fighting to host a NCAA Regional. And Ole Miss still has a shot at claiming the overall Southeastern Conference title, as well as the SEC Western Division crown. Van Horn has continued to do his part by simply avoiding the subject with his players.

"Really, that's probably between the fans and the media and maybe me," Van Horn said. "We tell the players not to worry about it, to just try and get better and go from there. We try to keep that stuff away from the team.

"Right now, all we want is to play well against Ole Miss."

Van Horn said solely focusing on the Rebels became far easier because of Arkansas' come-from-behind victory Tuesday night. Scott Lyons smacked a game-winning, two-out, three-run double in the ninth to thwart ORU's upset bid.

Without that crucial hit, the type that had escaped Arkansas in recent weeks, the Hogs avoided another possible distraction, Van Horn said.

"It was big for the morale of the team," Van Horn said. "Losing those close games at Alabama, losing a lot of nail-biters in the league, losing the dogfight games with LSU, it's been tough. For us to get that big hit and win that game, it takes the pressure off.

"Instead of everyone thinking, ‘Hey, we need to get a win,' now it's just, ‘Let's get after Ole Miss.'"

Lyons, a senior shortstop, spoke after Tuesday's victory like a veteran who realized the magnitude of playing for the moment, and the moment alone. He may as well have given Bianco's speech to the Rebels on Sunday.

"Every series in the SEC is huge, and this one is even bigger," Lyons said. "Ole Miss is playing well right now, so we've got to match them. We'll learn a lot about our team this weekend."


No. 9 Ole Miss at Arkansas

WHEN: 6:35 p.m., today; 6:35 p.m., Friday; 2:05 p.m., Saturday.

WHERE: Baum Stadium, Fayetteville.

ON THE AIR: KFAY-AM 1030; KURM-AM 790, FM-100.3; KHGG-AM 1580, FM-103.1; KXIO-FM 106.9.

RECORDS: Ole Miss Rebels, 37-15, 17-10 Southeastern Conference; Arkansas Razorbacks, 32-17, 14-12.

SERIES: Arkansas leads 33-24.

LAST MEETING: Arkansas won the series 2-1 on April 25-26, 2008, in Oxford, Miss., losing the opener 12-4 before sweeping a doubleheader 13-11 and 12-4.

PROBABLE STARTERS: Ole Miss, Drew Pomeranz (5-3, 3.58 ERA), Brett Bukvich (8-2, 4.31) and Phillip Irwin (6-3, 3.76); Arkansas, Dallas Keuchel (7-2, 3.99), Brett Eibner (4-4, 4.25) and Justin Wells (2-0, 3.43).

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