Significant Sundays

Last week as things led up to the Mississippi State series and Ole Miss had won six games in a row, I had 2004 flashbacks.

Follow SpiritJeff on Twitter

I tried to dispel them because every year is different. But I thought about it a couple of times.

That was the first year Ole Miss hosted a NCAA Regional. But that's not even what I was thinking about. We're only halfway through the Southeastern Conference season of 2014.

This is about what it took to get to this point this season, to have a chance for a strong finish the second half of the season, and to continue an upward trend in the program since the last time Ole Miss was this good – 2009.

The Rebels are hanging around. That RPI remains way on up there, as high as 3 recently and somewhere around 6 currently. Keep it in the top 8 and who knows?

But LSU is coming to town, and the Tigers are one of those teams that can win it all – the SEC and the NCAA. So that Thursday night through Saturday afternoon series will be a headliner.

Back to 2004. The Rebels had split the first two games at State, winning Friday night and losing Saturday afternoon. I did what I did this weekend; I drove down and back for all three games.

I was more confident in 2004 the Rebels were going to win the Sunday game as I headed south. Sam Smith is highly capable and has shown that.

But after Friday's 6-1 win, Saturday's 6-5 loss in ten innings was devastating, a kick in the face, as Mike Bianco called it. I just wasn't sure how this team would respond. Or for that matter how MSU would respond.

The final score Sunday: Ole Miss 12, State 2, and it wasn't even that close.

Stephen Head was going to pitch back in '04 on that Sunday. He was starting. I thought Ole Miss would for sure win.

The Rebels had won 7-1 on Friday night and along the way Head had blasted a ball out of the park and into some distant Oktibbeha County pasture. I'm not sure they ever found that ball.

On Saturday, the Bulldogs got measure of Ole Miss by a 7-5 count. Then came Sunday.

The Rebels did win 4-2. And Head was magnificent.

Stephen Head
File Photo

It was only the second baseball series win for Ole Miss in Starkville since 1982. Only the 1996 team had won a series in that span of time.

Since 2004, the Rebels have won five of six series against State at Dudy Noble Field. That's quite an accomplishment for any program, and certainly one that is involved in as heated a rivalry as UM-MSU.

That they were able to accomplish it this weekend without one of their mainstay relievers, Aaron Greenwood, was even more noteworthy.

So now a surging Rebel team heads home for a few days off between games – no midweek games – and hosts another rival, LSU, for three important games.

Some keys: Get Greenwood back as soon as possible. Continue to be as aggressive and as productive offensively as they have been recently. Hope that the three weekend starters – Chris Ellis, Christian Trent, and Sam Smith – keep doing what they're doing, and that's give the Rebels a chance to win every time out.

Defensively, the Rebels haven't always been clean but some improvements are showing up. Most of the time – Saturday at State not withstanding – the defense hasn't been a problem as far as winning or losing a game.

Relief pitching has been solid, but not closing a couple of games out has been costly in league play.

Stephen Head was in the first base coaching box this weekend. My guess is he thought back to that Sunday 10 years ago which meant so much to the program. And to how the remainder of the season unfolded as the Rebels hosted for the first time and fans began to find out even more how much fun college baseball could be.

That's why a whole lot of people are making plans as we speak to be here this Thursday night and for the two games after that when LSU rolls in.

The race is indeed on.

OM Spirit Top Stories