Rebels, Tigers looking to move up

Ole Miss, which had lost 5 of its last 6 games, gained some needed confidence and got some valuable arms live experience with a victory in Hammond Wednesday night. Now 50 miles west, it's Ole Miss-LSU once again.

BATON ROUGE, La. - There was a thread on the message board earlier today about Stephen Head saying there was no sense of urgency when the Rebels were down 6-3 at Southeastern Louisiana Wednesday night before coming back to win 10-8. The clarification by some was that Stephen really meant no sense of panic.

Either way, the dissecting of that statement or that situation is this. Over 56 games, you can't panic. Yes there are times when players have to become more urgent, but many more times they have to keep things balanced and in check.

Down 6-3 to the Lions midway through, I wondered myself if the offense would come alive. Obviously I knew the potential was there because we've all seen it. Clearly the team had confidence that it would. Back to back "3" spots in the sixth and seventh proved it.

Wednesday night's win was good for a lot of reasons - a "W" first and foremost, getting a few players into the games that don't get a whole lot of playing time, and seeing more pitchers and letting them have some game experience.

Obviously some of the concern lately has been who will step up more on the mound. Brooks Villar, Stoney Stone, and Michael Wakefield, all three of those guys got some valuable live action Wednesday. Will Kline struggled in a brief appearance.

But there was no better sight than seeing the final out recorded as Brian Pettway had shut down the Lions. Pettway readily admits his struggles lately. That he didn't allow SELA anything will help his confidence and the Rebels as well.

I'm looking forward to Eric Fowler pitching Sunday. He's earned a spot in the rotation. He's a veteran who has a lot of SEC innings under his belt.

But before that, it's time for Mark Holliman to be his best yet to give the Rebels a solid chance Friday night. And it will be interesting to see if Matt Maloney can go longer than he has all year on Saturday.

Ole Miss, now 23-10 overall and 6-6 in SEC play, spent Thursday working out and lifting, as is their usual schedule on this day of the week. At 5:30 p.m. the two teams - yes both the Rebels and the Tigers - went to the Governor's Mansion for dinner. You'll remember that Charlie Babineaux's aunt, Kathleen Babineaux Blanco, is the current leader of the bayou state. After that, the Rebels practiced at Alex Box Stadium at 8 p.m.

I think the general feeling of Ole Miss fans is that the Rebels are heading into a hostile hole at Alex Box Stadium just across the street from Tiger Stadium and down by Ole Man River. I was here in 2001 for Mike Bianco's first trip back to coach at his alma mater. It was Skip Bertman's last go-'round as the Tiger mentor.

We lost big on Friday night, then we blew them out on Saturday. On Sunday the Tigers won a close one to take the series. It was loud. It was nerve-wracking. It was indeed hostile.

If you haven't been to baseball at LSU but you've been to football, baseball's a microcosm of football. The main grandstand is all under one roof. It can get as loud as Tiger Stadium, only with 8,000 instead of 98,000. It's actually spring football gameday Saturday here, so there will be a lot of LSU fans everywhere. That being the case, I'm sure many of you are quite happy you aren't here.

But this year Tiger fans haven't been quite as loud or as pleased, with their team now at 24-11 overall and 5-7 in SEC play. It's been five years since they won the national championship after a run of five titles in 10 seasons from 1991-2000. What they did in that stretch was amazing.

It's more difficult to do now, since every SEC team is trying to compete in baseball and be at the top of the league - Ole Miss included.

Ray "Smoke" Laval, who once interviewed for the Ole Miss job when Pat Harrison was hired, has done a solid job at LSU, now in his fourth season. But at LSU the standard set by Bertman was not only Omaha but also national championships. They're waiting for Smoke to produce one.

Sometimes it seems the Rebels, including just about all of us, wonder if we really do belong. It's kind of an every year thing. The talent is here, so much of it has to be mental. And you need some luck along the way.

I think LSU folks, while they like Mike, would tell you we don't belong and that even with losing three straight SEC series leading up to this weekend, they still think they should win this one.

LSU is honoring its 1975 Tiger baseball team before the Saturday contest. Believe it or not, that squad 30 years ago was the first LSU baseball team to ever go to an NCAA Regional.

Ole Miss, on the other hand, had been to Omaha four times at that point. Since then, however, it's been mostly LSU that's been in the baseball spotlight.

In 2000, Ole Miss plucked one from the modern Tiger tradition of success to lead the Rebel baseball program. Mike Bianco now goes back to Alex Box Stadium for the third time as the Ole Miss head coach. Nobody wants this series more than he does.

Except maybe Rebel fans who have longed to get back to those Omaha days, back in the era when it wasn't LSU going to the College World Series. It was Ole Miss.

Of course the Rebel players want it too. They get another chance to prove they do indeed belong this weekend. As usual, it won't be easy. As always, every game will be a battle.

And the bottom line? No matter what, there's half a conference season left to play, and both teams will have a fighting chance to make something happen the rest of the way.

Urgency? Yes. Panic? No.

Stephen Head and all his teammates will tell you that.

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By the way, thanks to DansbyRebel and McCombRebel and others for the kind words on the message board. It was nice to meet all of you and your families and friends.

Truly one thing I love most about covering sports at Ole Miss is the fact that we get to meet so many great Rebels along the way. At smaller attended sports, like baseball on the road, it's maybe even more fun to me, because we're right there with you and can meet you one on one.

It was good that we played in Hammond so that many of you within a couple hours' drive could catch an Ole Miss event in your area. I know that had to be special for you. Heard most of you say it.

I say we come back to Hammond again and play some baseball. Nice park, good baseball area, unhostile environment (unlike, oh, say Hattiesburg or Baton Rouge), and a good chance to win a game. Sounds like an almost unbeatable combo to me.

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