Houston for the Weekend

Mike Bianco always likes to have a dress rehearsal weekend before Southeastern Conference play begins. This season, that weekend is now as the Rebels play three games at Houston.

"With so many new faces, you can tell, ‘What do I pack? What do I do?' And that's why we do it," Bianco said. "We do it to get through a weekend like this."

But Bianco makes it crystal clear that it by no means diminishes the competition just because it isn't a conference weekend.

"Once you get there, you uni up and you play the games," said Bianco, who in recent years has taken the Rebels on pre-SEC weekends to Minneapolis, Los Angeles, Fort Worth, Mobile, and New Orleans. "To go to the team meetings. To go to the team meals. To kind of understand curfew and all those things, get an itinerary. There are a lot of guys who will do that for the first time this weekend. And that's why we always take one weekend on the road."

This year the opponent is a new-look Houston Cougar team, under first-year head coach Todd Whitting. A former player and assistant coach for the Cougars, Whitting has spent the past seven seasons as an assistant at TCU.

The Cougars enter the weekend with an overall record of 4-0 and are off to the best start for the program since the 1993 season, which also happens to be the last time Ole Miss and Houston played in baseball.

Matt Crouse gets the start again tonight
The Rebels, 5-0 this season, and the Cougars played in back to back seasons in 1992 and again in 1993 with Ole Miss winning both games.

So far this season, the Cougars have swept Texas-Arlington in the first weekend of play and picked up a midweek win over Stephen F. Austin Tuesday night.

Junior catcher John Cannon leads Houston at the plate with a .545 average, while junior infielder Austin Gracey is hitting .529 with two home runs and eight RBI.

The Cougar pitching staff holds a 2.25 ERA as a team and this weekend's announced starters have combined to allow one run in 14.0 innings of work. Opponents are hitting .252 against the Cougars this season and have scored 12 runs through the first four games.

While the Sunday starter hasn't been announced, the Friday starter for Houston is senior right-hander Codey Morehouse. The Saturday starter is junior left-hander Jordan Lewis.

Both Morehouse and Lewis have pitched seven innings each this season. Morehouse has a 1.29 ERA, while Lewis has yet to give up an earned run in 2011.

Whitting said he's been exceptionally pleased with his team so far.

"I couldn't be more proud of our team the way they've played," he said. "Their effort on the field has been unbelievable. And that's what we ask out of our ballclub, to have great attitude and great effort. Through the first 28 innings of the season, I don't know how they could have played any harder than they have to this point."

Ole Miss designated hitter Matt Snyder, who was injured last year in the Rebels' non-conference weekend road trip at Tulane, said he looks forward to facing Houston this time around.

"It's always an important trip for us," said Snyder, who also made the trip to the South Alabama tournament two years ago when he was a freshman. "When we take those road trips, it gets the nerves going for the freshmen and the juco guys, and even some of the guys who have been here. But once we get going and guys figure out it's not too bad and that you've got to get your stuff packed and get on the airplane, it's all pretty cool."

Snyder is the Rebels' leading hitter with a .471 average through five games. Even with last season's mishap in New Orleans where he dislocated his shoulder on a dive to first base, Snyder said these weekends are special.

"It's a good feeling being with the team, getting to their field and being there on Thursday," he said. "You practice there under the lights with no one there. You have your focus up a little more on the road. Houston's a good team. Tulane was a good team last year. We'll make sure we learn from what we do this weekend, have our focus, and hopefully tear the cover off the baseball."

Tonight's game is set for 6:30.

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