A Lot On The Line

There's been some talk about this baseball team carrying the banner for Ole Miss sports in trying to beat Mississippi State this season. A last, great hope for the Rebels, so to speak.

There's a lot on the line when Ole Miss and Mississippi State play baseball three games starting tonight. The teams are tied at 11-13 in Southeastern Conference play. That puts them tied for seventh place overall along with Auburn. The top eight teams make it to the SEC Tournament.

But there is the underlying current that Ole Miss has failed to beat MSU in several sports this school year, including the most visible ones. Football lost. Men's basketball and women's basketball lost twice each. Baseball lost in Pearl in the non-conference Governor's Cup. Even men's tennis, which hadn't lost to State since 1999 and had won 26 matches in a row against the Bulldogs, lost this season.

Will there be added pressure for the Rebel baseball team to salvage some noteworthy wins for the school? Should that even be a part of the equation the next three nights?

Mississippi State has reminded those paying attention of their successes this school year. Fans of both schools know how things have unfolded.

Ole Miss sophomore Tanner Mathis said the team has been reminded of the fact that not only are the games important for standings and postseason, they're also important for the fans.

"There was something in the locker room about how elusive it's been to beat Mississippi State in most sports this year," said the Rebels' starting center fielder. "It is true. This is one of the last ones fans get to hang their hats at the end of the day."

The Rebel baseball program has dominated MSU over the past seven years, taking the regular season series six times. On two occasions the Rebels have swept State – 2005 and 2010.

Ole Miss, 27-21, is coming off taking two of three games from No. 1 ranked South Carolina last weekend, claiming the back two games of the series. The Rebels are 37th in the current NCAA RPI. MSU, which swept Tennessee last weekend, is 26th.

Mathis said he and his teammates are feeling better about things since Sunday.

"Coming off big wins against Carolina, we have all the confidence in the world," he said. "There's nothing now we haven't seen all year. South Carolina had all the weirdest arm angles (among its pitchers). I think we have all the confidence in the world to come out here and play the next three games like we did the last two games."

Matt Crouse
Bruce Newman
One key to the weekend will be the Rebels' first game starter, Matt Crouse. SEC play hasn't been kind lately to him. The junior left-hander is 6-4 on the season. He was 6-0 after a Friday night win at Tennessee on March 25. His last four decisions have been setbacks.

"I've not been as successful as I'd like to be," said Crouse, with his 13th start tonight and an ERA of 3.72 through a team-leading 77.1 innings of work. "I got off to a hot start early in the year but recently haven't been able to make pitches with two strikes or two outs and really put them away. I've struggled with that a little bit, but I'm ready to go (tonight)."

Even though the competition has improved as the season has moved on, and there is always the wear and tear of a season, Crouse shouldered the blame himself.

"I think it's more me than anything else," he said. "Just not executing pitches really when I needed to. I think it was a little better last weekend (in a 6-1 loss to South Carolina). I got in a little trouble in the sixth, but other than that it wasn't too bad."

Crouse said it's more his approach than anything physical.

"It isn't really anything I've been doing different, just kind of leaving some pitches over the plate where I shouldn't have been giving them anything to hit," he said. "I think it's been more mental than anything."

A quick glance at State

Riding a season-best, six-game win streak, the Bulldogs head to Oxford 30-18 overall to go along with their 11-13 league. Ole Miss and MSU, along with Auburn, are just one game behind SEC West leaders Alabama and Arkansas, both 12-12.

Sophomore left-hander Luis Pollorena (6-3, 2.61 ERA), after earning his staff-leading sixth win of the campaign during a career-first start last Friday at Tennessee, will open on the mound tonight for Mississippi State.

Junior LHP Nick Routt (1-2, 3.66) will start for MSU on Friday night, while sophomore RHP Chris Stratton (5-5, 4.84) will take the mound Saturday night.

Senior third baseman Jarrod Parks has been a catalyst for the Bulldogs' surge in the stretch run. The Madison product leads the SEC with a .418 batting average, a .550 on-base percentage, and a 21-game hitting streak.

As a team MSU is hitting .290 this season.

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