Rebs pleased with weekend against Purdue

Ole Miss, now 9-3 on the season, hosts USM in Oxford at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday.

Mike Bianco said he believes Purdue might come back to Oxford for a three-game baseball series in the future. But late Sunday wasn't a good time to ask the Boilermaker head coach if that might be the case.

Purdue, now 1-5 on the young season, was simply overmatched by 16th-ranked Ole Miss, at 9-3 now, in all three games played this weekend, and the home team won by scores of 14-3, 20-7, and 13-6.

Sunday was actually Purdue's most competitive day as the starting pitcher held the Rebels at bay until the fifth when Ole Miss pulled even after the Boilers had built a 3-0 lead through four and a half.

Fifth-year senior RHP Mitch Pruemer, said to be Purdue's Friday starter, did a good job early, but the Rebel bats finally woke up late. The floodgates basically opened as they had done the previous two days. An 8-run seventh inning, highlighted with a grand slam by freshman Zack Cozart, put Ole Miss up 13-4 and the sweep was all but done.

The SEC-Big Ten matchup was a good one for Ole Miss for a lot of reasons. Name recognition for fans was a positive. The fact that the Rebels were the heavy favorites in each game was also good. It meant that besides having a good chance at three wins, a lot of players would see action and gain some valuable experience.

Bianco said scheduling is a year to year thing, but he likes these type series for several reasons. He also believes as the season goes on that the Boilermakers will be a better baseball team.

"They were only able to get out on a baseball field the day they opened their season (at Florida Atlantic on Feb. 25)," Bianco said. "Actually if you look at the way they played defensively and the fact that they scored 16 runs in three days, that says a lot about how good they can become as the season moves ahead."

Bianco confirmed that the Rebels have signed a two-year deal with UCLA. The Rebels will go to Los Angeles next year for a three-game series, and the following season the Bruins will come to Oxford.

Bianco says that scheduling past next season may have to be re-evaluated, because he feels it is a 50-50 chance the NCAA will legislate that the college baseball season can't start until March 1. The Rebels-Bruins series in Oxford may have a date change, if that indeed happens, to a bit later in the season of 2007.

Sunbelt region teams are superior in baseball to northern teams. History tells us that. But having a Big Ten school here every so often is a good thing. In addition to Purdue, Ole Miss has also hosted Iowa, Minnesota, Northwestern, and Illinois of the Big Ten in baseball over the past 20 years. Traditional baseball power UCLA of the Pac-10 will obviously be a bigger challenge when the Bruins appear on the Rebel schedule next season.

The Rebels' starting pitchers were impressive this weekend as all three – Mark Holliman, Stephen Head, and Anthony Cupps – got the wins.

But the Rebel bats were the big noise of the weekend and had the crowd buzzing all three games with 49 hits. There were memorable hits but none as much as the two-run home run by Stephen Head on Saturday that ended up in the tennis courts on the fly way past right field, and also Cozart's Sunday grandslam.

Brian Pettway had seven hits on the weekend and continues to be one of the Rebels' hottest bats in the early-going. His average is currently .415, second on the team to Mark Wright's .419. Chris Coghlan is the only other Rebel hitting over .400, currently at .404.

Stephen Head's 5-for-12 weekend got his average to .300. There are seven Rebels batting .300 or better heading into Tuesday night's game with USM in Oxford.

Bianco and staff are still looking for a few more good arms to step in and help out. Getting more effective bullpen help is a top priority.

"Some of the guys haven't been able to fill up the zone like you would want them to or hit spots like you'd really want them to," he said. "And it's not really the amount of walks. It's falling behind and making it easier on the hitters. We have to make some better pitches out of the bullpen.

"Now that isn't always the case. Some of the guys have done great. Maloney, Pettway, Kline, Baumgardner. Those guys seem to get better every time out. But we are looking for a couple more to step up, especially when we get leads like we did this weekend. That's an area we'd like to be a little cleaner in."

Some comments from Rebel players after the weekend sweep of Purdue:

Zack Cozart, fourth on the team in hitting with a .389 batting average, on his grand slam - "I was just trying to get a good pitch to hit. It was a 1-2 fastball, and I have been up to bat a lot with two outs. Sometimes I haven't gotten a hit with two outs. Two-out hits are back-breakers for the other team. I'm not a big power guy like Head. I was just trying to get a base hit."

Stephen Head on the Rebel hitting - "Tremendous weekend by our hitters. We were really focused in. We definitely feel good about that. Everyday was the same. A few hitters got things going for us, and then it kinda steamrolled. Hitting's contagious. We've been on such a high at the plate."

Head on what the Rebels take from the weekend - "We won three and that's important, but I think we learned some focus. We were focused the first two days, and it was easy to not be so focused today. We started slow but credit their pitcher today. He was hitting his spots, and he's their best guy. But once we got it going, we were fine. There will be games we don't get as many hits. We all know that. But we got the hits and the wins this weekend. That's the mentality we have now. It will definitely get tougher as the SEC weekends start in two weeks. We want to build on this against Southern (Mississippi), who is definitely a good team. We want to see this continue."

Anthony Cupps on his Sunday start (6.1 innings, 9 hits, 4 runs, 3 earned runs, 0 walks, 3 strikeouts, 4.19 ERA) – "I had to battle today. My arm didn't feel like it had as much life as usual. They hit a lot of curve balls, and I left a lot of those pitches up. It was just one of those days you know you aren't at your best, and you just have to reach down and grab a little more. There was no doubt in my mind that we'd hit the ball (the Rebs didn't get a hit Sunday until the fifth inning; from then on they got 15 of them). I know we are going to score runs. I knew it was just a matter of time."

Ole Miss and USM meet in Oxford at 6:30 Tuesday night. The game was scheduled for Jackson, but continuing work at Smith-Wills Stadium in the capital city moved this week's game to Oxford.

Junior LHP Matt Maloney (0.56 ERA, 2-0 record, 5 appearances), who relieved Cupps for two-thirds of an inning Sunday facing only two batters and getting two quick outs, will start against the Golden Eagles.

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