Needed Lift

The Ole Miss baseball team, this Ole Miss baseball program, needed a lift. Two wins over Collegiate Baseball's No. 1 team, South Carolina, certainly accomplished that.

Whether temporarily or for the stretch run, we'll have to wait and see. But until Thursday night, it's a move upward of major proportions.

A subscriber posted on the Spirit website, Ole Miss beat Georgia two of three games two years ago in Oxford when the Bulldogs came in ranked No. 1 in the country. But then, the poster said, most expected the Rebels to claim a series like that at home.

That 2009 Ole Miss team would go on to end its season with a three-game set at Arkansas. The Rebels swept the Hogs, won the Southeastern Conference title and wound up hosting a Regional and Super Regional. That was just two years ago.

In a lot of ways, this weekend had that type feel to it, after Friday night, that is. There were lots of keys the past two days.

One of the most important and one of the most obvious was getting ahead. Being the frontrunner. Taking command early.

Ole Miss led 4-0 before Carolina got on the board Saturday in a 10-2 Rebel victory. On Sunday, the Rebels were up 3-0 early and won 7-6.

South Carolina never led Saturday but did take a 5-3 lead Sunday. My feeling is Saturday's domination helped the team's psyche' Sunday, even when they trailed. They were confident they could come back after winning by eight runs in game two.

Matt Snyder's two-run homer in the bottom of the fifth Sunday didn't give the Rebels the lead. But it did tie the game 5-5. And it was the moment the Rebels seemed to sense they could take the series.

Will Allen
Bruce Newman
Mike Bianco talks often about his team needing to play better. His team played better the last two days than it has all season. You don't push South Carolina, the defending national champs, around on Saturday if you are not at your best. You don't answer every punch the Gamecocks threw on Sunday unless you know you can stand toe to toe with them.

Getting an early lead, and renewed confidence. Two keys.


Let's jump to the end and talk Jake Morgan. If you weren't there to see the last two and a third innings of the finale, you missed out. Jake said he wasn't hurting much, more of a tightness, when he threw. Bianco said Jake was still hurting some. He also said Jake wasn't about to miss out on helping his team win this important game and series.

We've sat through some four-error games for the Rebels this season. This weekend? They only had one. Total. That's a winning defensive weekend. South Carolina had four in three games.

The freshmen stepped up. Preston Overbey didn't have much in the way of numbers. But he played a solid left field when he was out there. And his fly ball to center field that scored Matt Tracy from third to win it Sunday was a pretty big moment, huh.

Austin Anderson started at third base all three games and looked pretty smooth all weekend. He had four hits the last two games, and his rundown and tag of Brady Thomas for the second out in the seventh Sunday, right before Morgan entered the game, was a critical moment.

Will Allen was 2-for-4 Saturday and started at first base all three games.

Junior Zach Kirksey in left gave up his body at least twice this weekend, crashing into the wall once on Saturday, hanging on to the ball, and once on Sunday, not able to hang on but making a great effort.

That was the type focus and intensity of the whole team, especially the last two days.

Tanner Mathis, a team leader and just a sophomore, was effective as usual in the leadoff role. Matt Tracy went 4-for-9 the past two games. Miles Hamblin was 4-for-6 with a home run the past two games.

David Goforth
Bruce Newman
Bianco said USC Coach Ray Tanner mentioned the strides Alex Yarbrough had made in this his second season in college. Six hits including a home run were his weekend highlights.

Pitching? Winning pitching all weekend, with the possible exception of Matt Crouse, who allowed five runs Friday night. Gamecock batters got nine hits on the Rebel first-game starter in six innings.

The trio of David Goforth, Brett Huber, and Mike Mayers combined to shut down the Gamecock offense Saturday. Goforth got the win with a two-run, five-hit performance through six innings. Huber the next two frames and Mayers the final inning allowed no hits or damage.

On Sunday Austin Wright appeared to be cruising as the Rebels got him three runs through three innings. But a leadoff double in the fifth with Ole Miss up 3-2 ended his day. Bobby Wahl then came in and went 2.2 innings, allowing two earned runs on four hits but kept the Rebels in it.

That's when Morgan was called upon, a little earlier than expected. He had only pitched 1.1 innings against Florida last weekend, and that was the first time he had been on the mound in a game since the opening weekend of SEC play.

The party was over for the Gamecocks, and the series belonged to the Rebels.

And remember, this series was played without Rebel fifth-year veteran Matt Smith available, out with a repaired third metacarpal on his glove hand.

Where do they go from here? Ole Miss is knotted in seventh place in the SEC overall with Mississippi State and Auburn, each at 11-13. The Tigers hold the tiebreaker against Ole Miss, having won two of three games on the plains. Alabama and Arkansas are 12-12.

With six games left, all five have a shot at the SEC West title and one of the accompanying top two seed berths in the SEC Tournament.

The Mississippi State series is always big for a number of reasons. The list is lengthy again this time around, but none moreso than making a run at getting to Hoover and trying to claim a Western Division crown.

Thursday night on ESPNU should be quite an instate showdown in Oxford.

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