First of Four

The Southeastern Conference baseball season has often been referred to as the 30-game war. If that's the case, the 31st most important game for Ole Miss and Mississippi State is tonight's matchup in Pearl.

Ole Miss is 23-14 overall and Mississippi State is 22-14.

"They've played a lot of close games, and some of the games they've lost in the league have been close," Rebel head coach Mike Bianco said. "They're having a good year down there, and every time we play them, either in conference or non-conference, it's always a great game. Very emotional. Great for both clubs to go down there and play in front of a lot of fans."

"All the midweeks are big, and this takes on a different flavor because of the MSU-Ole Miss rivalry," said Bulldog head coach John Cohen. "They had a great weekend against a Kentucky team that is struggling. I think they are feeling like they are on a roll now. In the middle of the week it's different because you have to take care of the pitching situation. We'll throw a bunch of guys."

Bianco teams have dominated MSU the past seven years with a 20-9 record
Bruce Newman
So we'll see how the coaches handle the pitchers. Bianco didn't hesitate on his starter for tonight's game, mentioning it as soon as the Rebels' sweep of Kentucky was complete on Sunday. It's his usual midweek starter, senior left-hander Matt Tracy (3-2, 4.46 ERA).

Cohen was more hesitant to name a starter. It appears he will send right-handed sophomore Kendall Graveman (3-0, 3.45) to the mound for the start.

The old Mayor's Trophy game played at Smith-Wills Stadium starting in 1980 moved to sparkling, new Trustmark Park in Pearl when the Atlanta Braves moved their AA affiliate from Greenville, S.C. to suburban Jackson. Since it was outside the city limits of Jackson, the name of the game was changed to the Governor's Cup.

Ole Miss has become dominant in games against Mississippi State in baseball. In the last five Mayor's Trophy games in Jackson, Ole Miss won them all and won seven of the last eight played at Smith-Wills. The Rebels have won the Governor's Cup the last two seasons.

In the SEC series between the two schools last year, Ole Miss swept MSU in Starkville. That was the sixth time in the last seven years for Ole Miss to claim the SEC series against its arch-rival.

Tonight begins another season of games between the two. Ole Miss hosts the regular season matchup in Oxford May 12-14. That's a part of the Thursday night SEC package of TV games set up by ESPN. The Rebels have a Thursday through Saturday series this weekend at Auburn because of that as well.

Having a game two nights from now could affect things from a pitching standpoint for Ole Miss. MSU hosts South Carolina this week, but that is a traditional Friday through Sunday series.

Jake Morgan will throw again Wednesday
Bruce Newman
Ole Miss is tied for first place in the SEC West at 8-7 with Alabama and Arkansas. Mississippi State is 6-9 and in fifth place, a game back of 7-8 Auburn. LSU is 4-11.

In the overall SEC picture, the Rebels are tied for fifth, with Alabama and Arkansas, behind South Carolina (12-3), Florida (11-4), Vanderbilt (11-4), and Georgia (9-6).

Rebel Notes:

* The Rebels will bus back to Oxford tonight, go to class Wednesday morning, travel to Auburn Wednesday afternoon, and practice at Plainsmen Park Wednesday night.

* Ole Miss closer Jake Morgan, out of action for a month and shut down totally for the last two weeks, will throw some on Wednesday to see how it goes.

"That's just to play catch, so let's not get ahead of ourselves," Bianco said. "He hasn't pitched in a while. Wednesday will be just a throw; that's not even a pitch. I'm not sure he's going to be available at Auburn. The good news is we're going to try to do something this week."

* Bianco hopes the sweep of the Wildcats was the lift his team needed to move into the second half of the SEC season. But he said that would be better judged later on.

"That's one of the things I think you ask down the line. Was the sweep the reason you had success or not?" Bianco said. "Obviously it's good to win. I do like the way we're competing."

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