Championship Monday

LAFAYETTE, La. – Most say the Rebels have been in this situation before, but that's not completely true.

Sure, Ole Miss has played in four previous Super Regionals, and everybody knows the outcome. Not the point.

Two things are different. "This" team has never even been in one.

And "this" team has never lost one.

You have. Ole Miss has.

This team has not. That's just point one.

What else?

Ole Miss has never been 1-1 on the road in a Super Regional. At home? Yes. Three times.

The only other road Super Regional was at Arizona State, and the Sun Devils won in two games.

One loss. One win. On the road. That's where things stand now.

Where's the pressure?

Sure, Ole Miss has some. But without a doubt, the pressure, the tightness that even Ole Miss Coach Mike Bianco said his team felt Saturday night, it just wasn't there Sunday night.

The Rebels will definitely feel some Monday night, too. They're human.

But the most pressure? It's gotta be on Louisiana-Lafayette. You know they have to be feeling it.

If the Rebels have been a resilient team, and they have been, so have the Ragin' Cajuns. They've lost nine games. But they've never lost two in a row.

"We lost the first game of the season and then won 14 in a row," said veteran ULL Coach Tony Robichaux.

They have been a winning and resilient team, bouncing back from every loss. But they haven't been in this situation before.

Last season a successful Ragin' Cajun team finished its season losing to LSU in a Regional in Baton Rouge. Pressure? Sure, because ULL wants to beat LSU every time they play.

But Monday night here is for a trip to Omaha. That's pressure.

Louisiana-Lafayette, now 58-9 this season, last went to the College World Series in 2000. It's doubtful Robichaux has had a better team since then than this year's.

Bianco said he felt like his team was tight Saturday night, for whatever reason. That's not his team. He knows that.

On Sunday night, they were much more themselves, and he mentioned he had seen that throughout the day. It showed in the 5-2 win to stretch this thing out to Monday.

"You do kind of watch for that," Bianco said of how his team would react to Saturday's 9-5 loss. "Today we seemed a little more like ourselves, a little more relaxed. Hopefully we'll be like that tomorrow."

What about the pitching staff for Monday?

"I would think we'd have everybody," Bianco said mainly of his bullpen. "This is the game that gets you to Omaha. I think everybody would want the ball. I would think probably everybody could go, including (Aaron) Greenwood. Not sure about (Jeremy) Massie. But Massie is usually able to bounce back. Certainly you look at (Scott) Weathersby and (Josh) Laxer, and (Wyatt) Short will be able to return. And the other guys who haven't pitched yet – Preston Tarkington, Matt Denny, Evan Anderson. So I would think for a game three we're about as fresh as we can be."

On the postgame press conference stage Sunday night were Bianco, and players Preston Overbey, Colby Bortles, and Christian Trent.

Trent, so dependable all season. Bortles, coming on strong the last month and with what appears to be a huge future in this program.

And Overbey.

"He's played great, hasn't he?" Bianco answered from a question about Overbey, knowing he has. "Just so proud of him. Big hit earlier in the game. Then the big home run."

He was credited with an error in the game. Bianco said the coaches made that happen, unfortunately.

"We moved him right before that toward the four hole and made the play a lot harder for him. Or the ball probably would have gone right to him."

Bianco said Overbey is a big reason for the team's recent success.

"Down the stretch, he's really played terrific."

Sam Smith starts Monday night. Consider him a local product. Barbe High School. Lake Charles, La.

Smith has given the Rebels a chance to win every Sunday this season. Make that the past two seasons.

Sam Smith, like every one of his teammates, will give it everything he has for the cause.

"Sam's been so consistent," Bianco said. "He's a guy that usually gets us to the middle to late innings. He usually keeps the game intact. He pitched in the championship game of the Regional last weekend. We didn't give him a lot of run support or defensively. So he gets a no-decision. But he was terrific for us. He's the guy that's pitched the most on the weekends out of all the three starters in his career."

Overbey, matter of factly and always a quote of few words, said the Rebels are where they want to be and intent on getting it done.

"That's what we came here to do," Overbey said. "Win two games and move on. I think it's fair to say we're confident, and we'll be ready to play."

"This has been a terrific group all year long," Bianco said of his 45-19 Rebels. "They're excited about the opportunity. To play a very good team at their park in front of a great crowd, we're looking forward to coming out tomorrow and playing real hard.

"We said six weeks ago we were in a position to control our own destiny. That still goes for tomorrow. We just have to play well. This is a mature team and a team that I think is certainly ready to handle that."


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