The River is Wide

The first question came to lighten the mood a bit, but maybe at the unbeknownst expense of others miles away.

"Will you be able to cross the river?" was the question to Mike Bianco on Tuesday. As the Mississippi rises, the Ole Miss Rebel baseball team crosses it today to play Arkansas State in Jonesboro.

Not long after the interview session started, the public address system at Oxford-University Stadium began to bellow some noise that soon was concluded to be a TV or radio station – reporting on the Mississippi River's rising numbers and potential crests and their predicted times.

Weird indeed.

The P.A. system had been triggered, we found out, by something going on somewhere else on campus. After a few minutes, the system shut down and it was back to interviewing.

"Where were we?" everyone thought and asked. Where are we might be a better question for this Ole Miss baseball team.

Alex Yarbrough
Bruce Newman
There's work to be done and a lot of it the next three weeks if this team is to make any kind of run. Kind of a long way to go, short time to get there situation.

The Rebels are in the Southeastern Conference Tournament at this juncture, but just barely. Their road to remain in the eight-team field is difficult. Defending national champion South Carolina is up this weekend in Oxford. Then Mississippi State comes to Oxford for three games. MSU has already won a game against Ole Miss this season.

Then the final weekend, which could be as important as any series for the program in a while, is at Arkansas. Two years ago on the final weekend of the season in Fayetteville, Ole Miss swept the Razorbacks to claim the SEC overall title, a share with LSU to be completely accurate. But a championship as recognized by the league, nonetheless.

That seems like at least two years ago as the Rebels have struggled since then. The 2009 season ended with one of those "almosts" as Ole Miss hosted Virginia in a Super Regional, won game one and lost the next two.

When similar seasons ended in 2005 and again in 2006, the Rebels bounced back. It's been a tougher road since the Cavaliers advanced to Omaha and Ole Miss packed its bags for the summer again.

The Rebels find themselves in an unusual position. Sure, they always have to win games in May to reach their goals. All teams always do.

In 2002, the only time a Bianco-coached team has not made postseason play in his 11 years here, the team still won 37 games overall and 14 in SEC play. That team lost its last six conference games and still had a shot to make the SEC Tournament on the season's final day but couldn't get a victory.

Who knows how this season will play out? That goes for all the SEC teams, especially in the West. The SEC East is about set as far as the haves and have nots. South Carolina, Collegiate Baseball's No. 1 ranked team at 35-8 overall and with a game vs. Wofford tonight, is 17-4 in SEC games. So are Vanderbilt and Florida.

Georgia is 13-8 and just about already in the Hoover field. Tennessee at 5-16 and Kentucky at 4-17 are going to be out at the end of the regular season.

Jake Morgan
Bruce Newman
The SEC West? Now that's a different situation. The current leaders are Alabama and Arkansas and both are 10-11. That's right. With three weekends remaining, the pacesetters in the West have a losing record.

Auburn and Ole Miss, at 9-12, are next, and the Tigers hold the tiebreaker over the Rebels after winning two of three games two weekends ago. So does Alabama, which took two of three from Ole Miss the opening weekend of SEC play.

Mississippi State at 8-13 is hot on the heels of those four. LSU, which swept Kentucky last weekend, is 7-14 and appears to be waking up.

While not as important as a weekend game, Ole Miss (24-20) needs to gain some confidence with a victory tonight against ASU. The Rebels say they still believe in themselves and feel they haven't played their best baseball yet.

"Our confidence is fine right now," said Alex Yarbrough, a sophomore who has become a veteran of the program. "It took a little bit of a hit over the weekend. We've got to come back strong this week."

That begins tonight in Jonesboro against a Red Wolves team that has struggled itself and is 22-24 overall. But ASU is on a four-game win streak with a three-game sweep over Middle Tennessee last weekend and a win against Florida Atlantic the game before that.

Ole Miss won the first game in the season series the first week of the season by a 4-3 score on a Matt Snyder two-out RBI single in the bottom of the ninth inning.

The Rebels could use another win like that one, or a win in any way, shape or form they can get heading into the series with the Gamecocks this weekend.

"We have to concentrate on the fact that there's no way to go but up from here," Yarbrough said. "It's a big game that we need to use to get our mojo back and go in and do our best against South Carolina."

Diamond Notes:

* Ole Miss has two rainouts so far this season. One will be made up for sure, provided it doesn't rain on May 17. That's the night the Rebels welcome Southeast Missouri State to Oxford for a game that wasn't originally scheduled.

* Jake Morgan said he felt fine after pitching to four Gator batters over two innings Sunday.

"It went well. I felt really well," Morgan said. "I threw strikes and was mixing it up pretty good. I threw all three pitches and all three I felt I controlled. I was a little sore (afterward) but about like I expected. Throwing in a game is different than throwing in the bullpen. So it was about what I expected."

Bianco said it was good to get Morgan back out there after not having him in a game since the first Sunday of SEC play against Alabama.

"He's not 100 percent but he also showed why he's so good and so valuable," Bianco said. "He hasn't pitched (in a game) in weeks, and I think he threw 11 strikes and two balls. He made it look easy out there. He came in and ran through four hitters pretty quickly. He'll be able to pitch again this weekend."

* On the mound tonight will be LHP Matt Tracy (3-3, 4.43 ERA) for Ole Miss and LHP Andres Caceres (0-0, 5.87) for the Red Wolves.

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