REBELBAIT!

Head coach Mike Bianco couldn't have planned for a better Saturday if he'd tried. The former LSU player and coach watched his Ole Miss Rebels outscore, outpitch, outhit, and outdefend the No. 18 LSU Tigers en route to a doubleheader sweep, boosting the Rebels to a winning SEC record for the first time this season at 9-8.

For a little less than a week, Bianco has been stressing how important this year's version of the Ole Miss-LSU baseball rivalry was for his team. The Rebels, who stood at 7-8 entering the weekend, were only a game ahead of Auburn and LSU at the bottom of the SEC West and only a game back of second-place Arkansas. To make things even more interesting, Ole Miss had been playing much better of late and needed to take advantage of a ten-game homestand after starting the SEC season 1-5.

Mission accomplished.

After taking the first game of Saturday's doubleheader 10-5, the Rebels played even better in Game Two, claiming the weekend series with an 11-3 win against a picturesque, fading Mississippi sun enjoyed by a two-game crowd of nearly 10,000.

"We've played like this for several games," said Bianco. "Take nothing away from South Carolina, but we could have won two or three up there. This is how well we've played the last two or three weekends."

"We're certainly confident," added preseason All-America candidate Mark Wright, who went 3 for 4 on the afternoon with two RBI and one run scored. "It's easy to come out ready for the first game of a doubleheader, but it's a little harder to do that in the second game. That's why we haven't played well in doubleheaders this year, so we wanted to come out and put some runs up on the scoreboard for Bukvich, who has pitched well for us all year. We wanted to make it easier on him, and we did."

The story – for both games – was a two-fold tale. First, LSU's pitching staff simply couldn't stop the Rebels' offensive onslaught. Ole Miss pounded out 17 hits in Saturday's matinee and finished with a cool 31 hits on the day. Second, the Rebel pitching staff, led by outstanding performances from starters Craig Rodriguez and Brett Bukvich, kept getting the big outs when they needed to. Those two factors helped Ole Miss claim two crucial conference victories by a combined score of 21-8.

The Rebels got off to a quick start in Game Two of Saturday's doubleheader by scoring four runs in the bottom of the first. Three straight singles to start the game by Justin Henry, C.J. Ketchum, and Chris Coghlan gave Ole Miss a 1-0 lead, and Alex Presley's two-RBI double in the left-center field gap put Ole Miss up 3-0. Mark Wright capped off the inning with a single to score Presley to make it 4-0.

That's all Bukvich would need, as he cruised into the eighth before giving way to reliever Stoney Stone. The Brandon, Miss. native's line was solid, reading ten hits and one walk with two runs – both earned – in seven innings of work with three strikeouts.

"I felt great today. It's easy when your offense puts up a four-spot early," said Bukvich. "I just pounded the zone with all three of my pitches, and then I let one of the top defenses in the nation take over."

The Rebel offense, meanwhile, didn't let up, adding three runs in the third, three runs in the sixth, and one run in the seventh. In the third, Cozart singled with one out, and Presley drove him home with a triple to right field to give Ole Miss a 5-0 lead. Mark Wright's single got Presley home, and Logan Power's sacrifice fly put Ole Miss up 7-0.

Tiger rightfielder Quinn Stewart did his best to rally LSU in the top of the sixth inning, crushing a Bukvich pitch over the left-center field wall with nobody on and two outs to put LSU on the scoreboard 7-1.

The Rebels answered with three runs in the bottom half of the sixth and another in the bottom of the seventh to take an 11-1 lead.

LSU loaded the bases in the top of the eighth inning with no outs, but the Tigers managed only one run as Stone coaxed two hitters into infield popups and struck out leftfielder Bruce Sprowl to end the scoring threat.

LSU scored another run in the ninth after Michael Hollander led off with a double, but Stone retired the next three Tiger batters in order to finish off LSU 11-3.

With the win, Ole Miss improves to 25-15 (9-8), making it the first time all season the Rebels are either ten games over the .500 mark or have a winning record in the SEC.

The Rebels had a field day at the plate against a host of LSU pitchers, recording at least one hit in every frame. Former LSU ace Clay Dirks started the day, but didn't make it through the third inning before giving way to relievers Michael Bonura and Chris Cahill. Six Rebels had multi-hit games, led by Wright and Presley with three hits apiece. Presley had an especially big day at the plate, driving in four runs and scoring thrice in five official at bats.

The Rebels will go for the ever-elusive sweep against LSU tomorrow afternoon at 1:30 p.m. CST in the series finale.

"Tomorrow is an important day for us," said Presley. "It's not time to celebrate yet. If you want to win the SEC championship, you have to be ready to play everyday."

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