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Christian Trent walked alone toward the outfield bullpen on the third base side of the UL-L baseball field in Lafayette, La., last June. Dressed in warmup shirt and uniform pants. Headphones on. Glove in hand. Alone with his thoughts.

It was nearly three hours before a baseball game was scheduled to be played there later that night. The stadium was empty except for security and operations people. The field void of anyone, except some players who were out early stretching, jogging, tossing a baseball.

This was no ordinary day. The weight of Ole Miss baseball history rested, not entirely but significantly, on his young shoulders.

It wasn’t Trent’s fault Ole Miss hadn’t been to the College World Series in 42 years. It wouldn’t be his fault if the Rebels didn’t make it for another 42.

But on this particular Sunday night, the second game of the Lafayette Super Regional, after having lost the previous night, Ole Miss again stared elimination in the face.

And Christian Trent stared right back.

Omaha was the destination. Ole Miss had been there before. Four times, actually, and was the Southeastern Conference leader in trips to the CWS by a long shot the last time they’d gone. On the Rebels’ fourth trip in 1972, no other SEC team had ever been more than once.

None of that mattered on this night, where the home team was ranked No. 1 in the country by many and its red-clad fans already sensing a trip the following week themselves.

After a Saturday night loss to Louisiana-Lafayette, it appeared heartache might continue for Rebel Nation and its program. But the Rebels and their starting pitcher had other plans.

Trent had not lost a start all season. He had been nothing short of spectacular in leading the Rebels on the day after ace Chris Ellis pitched.

He would need to be again if the Rebels were to live to play another day. There would have to be a game three for Ole Miss to get to Omaha. First, they had to win game two.

Christian Trent pitched seven superb innings. Aaron Greenwood actually got the win in relief.

The Rebels moved on to play, and win, a Monday night game for the right to head to Omaha. And Christian Trent secured his place in Ole Miss baseball lore.

Now comes another season and Trent is ready to lead. Most likely he will get the ball on Feb. 13 when William and Mary is the opponent in Oxford to start the season. That appears to be the plan heading into the preseason practices next week, after a fall where he was once again almost unhittable.

“I felt good all fall,” he said. “I felt like everything was working. It was just kind of the same. It was like we picked up right where we left off.”

That’s good news for an Ole Miss team that will depend heavily on Trent.

“The only difference this fall were the new faces,” he said. “And you know what to expect the second time around, what the coaches expect, how we’re supposed to throw, preparation and stuff. I thought I had a good fall last year, too.”

Trent said he’s worked on his fitness.

“I thought it would make things easier on myself if I got in better shape,” he said. “I’m down maybe eight or so pounds, so not a lot. It’s easier in the offseason because we do a lot more conditioning, a lot more training. Once the season starts, you’re on a starting pitcher’s rotation. Two light workouts, a little bit of running here and there. So it’s more of a focus in the offseason, getting in physical shape and getting your arm ready.

“You’re working to build your body up to get broken down. You’re trying to make it as strong as possible (in the fall and offseason). Because once the season happens, you’ve got no time to do so. There may be arm problems that come up, and your body may wear down. You try to keep a schedule and try to continue to be 100 percent.”

Late in the season last spring, some things did come up. Trent was able to finish the season strong, actually. But he didn’t pitch at all in the SEC Tournament as the Rebels prepared for NCAA postseason play that was to come.

He was ready, however, the next week when the Oxford Regional came along.

Trent said he doesn’t sense any kind of pressure for the team to repeat its Omaha trip. Certainly that is a goal, but he believes the Rebels will again be a highly competitive team that can compete with anyone.

“I wouldn’t say there is pressure,” he said. “I know what we have. There are some new players trying to adjust to a D-I program. That was what the fall was for, to let them understand that better and get to know the guys already here.

“There is always pressure at Ole Miss, because they expect a lot out of you. But there’s no more added pressure this year. I think we have the talent to do what we did last year.”

Trent awaits preseason practice next week believing he is the first-game starter for this year’s team. It’s not something he dwells on, but he feels that’s where things stand now.

“In my exit meeting heading into Christmas break, Coach (Mike Bianco) said we expect you on Friday nights, if the season were starting tomorrow. So I’m not going to say it’s a guaranteed thing. But it seems that’s what they expect from me.”

It’s where Trent wants to be, of course.

“It’s you against their best,” he said. “You want to get your team out to the first win of the series, which is the biggest game, that first one.”

Trent said he likes the Rebel pitching staff, both the older guys and the new ones.

“We have a lot of guys who I think will fit into it nicely. Sean Johnson has been really good. He fits the role of a weekend guy. I think he can step in. He’s like Chris Ellis. Similar frame. Same fastball. Same stuff.

“We’ve got some good new guys, and there are some holes to fill with some guys gone from last year. We have guys who can throw strikes and are consistent that you can see, just from how they pitched in the fall, that they have the potential to go out there and show that they can compete at this level and be very successful.”

Trent said he has worked on a few things since last season, tweaked a few things but basically is going with what got him to this point.

“I’ve tried to work on my slider a little bit more,” he said. “More consistency with it. I always have my fast ball. That’s never a concern. It felt like every game last year it was either one or the other. I’d have fastball and slider, and the changeup would not be good. Or it would be fastball and changeup, and the slider would be off. So there were some games where I would be working with pretty much two pitches. I can be more effective with all three.”

Trent was drafted last June in the 29th round by the Los Angeles Dodgers. But he chose to come back to college.

“It was one of those things that I’m not in a rush to leave school. I’ve got this year and next year to pitch (in college),” he said. “So I just didn’t sweat it. The draft is hard time for juniors who know that if they don’t get that option this year, that next year it could be a hard road and no money or whatever.”

Of course Trent is a fourth-year junior this year. So his leverage is still strong for another draft.

“This isn’t a bad thing, staying here,” he said of returning and not heading to the pros already. “I’ve never been one to overthink or stress about things.”

Which makes him the perfect candidate to be an ace of a staff, or at least, like last season, one of the key starters on a successful team.

“Yeah, I get the nerves going when it’s the first inning or the first couple of pitches. Yeah, I’m nervous,” Trent said. “But there’s no reason to be too high on a win or be too low if you pitch bad. It’s a game and you have to go into it with a mental aspect that you can handle stuff.

“You’ve got to perform at that level, and you’ve got to perform high enough to be successful. Not everything is always going to go well. You just put those moments behind you and move on.”

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