Rebels ready for weekend series

Ole Miss and Mississippi State play three games in Oxford this weekend. The Rebels won the series in Starkville last year 2 games to 1. MSU has won the past two series in Oxford, with the last Rebel series win at Swayze Field coming in 1999, which was also 2 games to 1.

Cooper Osteen has never played Mississippi State in Oxford. The Rebel senior shortstop has played them in Jackson twice and in Starkville three times. But this weekend will be a first.

Osteen is from Ft. Pierce, Fla., not necessarily a hotbed for the Ole Miss-Mississippi State rivalry. Still the Rebels' lead-off batter knows what this series means.

Only a few players for Ole Miss baseball in years have experienced as much success against the Bulldogs as Coop has. He's 4-1 against State in two seasons so far.

"I understand the rivalry and how heated it is," said Osteen, who played at Indian River Community College in Florida, the alma mater of UM Coach Mike Bianco and also where current Rebel reliever Tommy Baumgardner pitched. "But the best thing for us is that we're going into the series with confidence and playing some good baseball. It will be a battle, but we're looking forward to the series."

Osteen says the Rebels know April is turning into May this weekend, and that it's time to make a move.

"There's that sense that it's time to get on a roll and string some wins out," he said. "All our goals are still intact right now. We just have to keep playing well and winning."

Osteen had struggled at the plate in some games recently and was actually 0-for-9 with one walk in the Rebels' two wins against Georgia last Friday and Saturday. But he's been on a roll himself the past few games, going 5-for-8 in the Rebels' last three contests and reaching first three more times on walks.

"I worked on some things with my swing after that horrific game I had on Saturday (when he was 0-for-6)," said Coop. "I had a pretty good game on Sunday (against Georgia, although the Rebels lost 6-3). I hit a couple of balls good and felt like I got going better. I need to get on base for these guys.

"It feels good right now for the team and for me individually," Osteen added. "It seems like we are playing now like we need to be playing."

The Rebels are 29-13 overall and 9-9 in the SEC. That feeling heading into the weekend seems to be team-wide.

"Mississippi State. Arch rival," said junior outfielder/closer Brian Pettway, a kid who for years has known a lot about all things Rebels and Bulldogs, being from Vicksburg and Warren Central High School. "It's going to be very exciting. We feel better about things after winning five of our last six games. Hopefully we can keep that going and make that turn and keep rolling."

MSU enters the weekend having won five of its last seven games. The Bulldogs (28-12 and 9-8) split a pair of midweek home games against instate non-conference rival Southern Mississippi at Dudy Noble Field.

Bulldog senior righthander Alan Johnson (2-4, 3.71 ERA) is due to open on the hill for the Bulldogs in game one, while the Rebels will counter with junior lefty Mark Holliman (4-1, 4.66 ERA).

Other weekend matchups are scheduled to be senior RHP Todd Doolittle (4-4, 4.40 ERA) for the Bulldogs in game two, while junior LHP Matt Maloney (4-1, 2.11 ERA) will go for Ole Miss.

Game three pitchers are scheduled to be sophomore RHP Jon Crosby (5-1, 2.70 ERA) for State and junior LHP Eric Fowler (2-2, 3.83 ERA) for the Rebs.

Mississippi State has won eight of the last 10 series against the Rebels overall and four of the last five played in Oxford.

Ole Miss won two of three games at Mississippi State last season. The last Ole Miss win in this series in Oxford was in 1999 when the Rebs won two of three games.

"We have only 14 regular season games left overall and only 12 SEC games left, so this is the time that you have to begin your sprint to the finish line," Bianco said. "This is the time of year you have to put it together. I like the way we've played lately. I like how things have gone for us lately for the most part. Hopefully those things will continue and we'll continue to play good baseball."


Ole Miss softball keeps its push going this weekend for a first appearance in the eight-team SEC Tournament to be played in Gainesville, Fla., May 12-15.

The Rebels, 27-25 overall and 7-17 in SEC play and currently in 9th place, host 11th-ranked Tennessee this weekend in Oxford. Gametimes are 3 p.m. and 5 p.m. Saturday and 1 p.m. Sunday.

The Rebels stayed alive for one of the eight tourney spots with a series-clinching 4-0 win over Mississippi State Tuesday in Madison. The two rival ballclubs had split games earlier with the Rebels winning in Starkville and the Bulldogs claiming victory in Oxford.

"It's certainly down to one game at a time for us," said UM softball coach Candi Letts. "Tennessee is a very good team. But we have quite a bit of confidence now and feel we are playing well. If we take care of our business, then we can reach some of our goals, including having the first winning season in the program's history and making the SEC Tournament for the first time."

The Rebel softballers won't have to wait long after the Tennessee series to play again. They travel Monday to Fayetteville for a three-game series with Arkansas. The Rebels and Hogs will play two games Tuesday and one game Wednesday.

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