Commentary

The LSU Tigers are not having the kind of baseball season they are accustomed to, but they were still ranked 18th in the country prior to their journey to Oxford. They won't be ranked for long after getting dominated and swept by Coach Mike Bianco's surging Rebs over the weekend.

Yes, there were some gaffs - an uncharacteristic fielding error or two and a couple of baserunning mistakes - along the way.

But these eyes have never seen, or enjoyed more, the kind of whipping the surging Ole Miss Rebel baseball squad put on the proud, 18th-ranked LSU Tigers over the weekend.

No, it wasn't perfect, but it was definitive and darn near flawless.

In a long, grueling sports season, you look for defining moments. You look for the time in a season when you feel your team has it all figured out. You look for that momentum builder and turning point.

For this Rebel team, now 26-15 overall and 10-8 in the SEC, that "moment" transpired a few weeks ago when they swept Georgia in Athens, but they put an exclamation point on it in Oxford Saturday and Sunday when they roughed up and swept LSU 10-5, 11-3 and 11-8 in a three-game, pivotal stand.

The doubleheader Saturday (Friday's game was rained out) was not as close, as one-sided as they are, as the scores indicate. The Rebels had total control of both contests from the jump.

Craig Rodriguez and Will Kline kept the Tiger hitters in check in the opener while RF Mark Wright and 3B Chris Coghlan led an offensive attack that was relentless and timely.

Brett Bukvich and Stoney Stone contained the LSU offense in the second game while the Rebel batters pounded out 17 hits. Six Rebels, 2B Justin Henry, 1B C.J. Ketchum, SS Zack Cozart, CF Alex Presley, Wright and DH Jon-Jon Hancock all contributed multiple safeties.

Sunday's game was not as easy, as the Rebs built an early 6-2 lead, squandered it with a couple of mental errors and had to come from behind with a four-run eighth inning sparked by a leadoff homer by C Justin Brashear. Starter Lance Lynn and reliver Garrett White struggled some in the game, but frosh Cody Satterwhite shut the door on LSU with two scoreless innings to preserve the victory and the sweep.

Make no mistake, Saturday's twin-killing was a needed springboard to accomplishing what they want to this year, but the Rebels had virtually every bounce go their way. It was yesterday's game that showed something special is brewing.

As is often the case in a three-game SEC set, LSU was determined not to get swept by the Rebels for the first time since 1982. Even though they fell behind early, they got a couple of key breaks and bounces and capitalized to gain a late 8-6 advantage.

I've seen it a zillion times before in this quirky game called baseball. Teams who have already won the series fall behind on Sunday and mentally "give in," satisfied to have two victories in their pockets.

But the Rebs didn't do that. Bouyed by a growing confidence and having won eight of their last 11 conference contests, the Rebs came roaring back to make it nine out of 12 with one of their most important comebacks of recent years.

When a team does that, it has definitely reached a turning point and has definitely come of age.

Jeff Roberson is our baseball guy. He understands baseball far more than I do, but I've got some thoughts on the way this team has evolved into a contender.

To me, it all starts on the mound. Coach Mike Bianco said repeatedly and prophetically at the start of the season that it would take "a while" to get his pitching rotation worked out and to get valuable innings for his essentially new staff. He knew there were going to be ups and downs and everything in between.

But he also knew that once he got all the kinks worked out and some of his young guns gained some experience, the talent was there to win.

Tip of the hat to Rodriquez, who has become a reliable Friday starter; Bukvich, ditto on Saturday; Lynn, pretty steady throughout the year; Cody Satterwhite, for apparently putting some shaky starts early in the conference schedule behind him; Kline, who since shutting out Mississippi State in the Mayor's Trophy game has gained a high level of confidence; and the whole staff for "growing up" quickly.

While the pitching has improved and settled in by leaps and bounds in the last four-to-six weeks, the bats have also gotten hotter as the temperature has climbed this spring.

After bombing Georgia's pitching staff a while back, the Reb batters had a little lull until Sunday of the South Carolina series in Columbia two weekends ago.

That timely explosion continued versus the Tigers. Ole Miss jumped on LSU pitching for 45 hits. No, that's not a misprint. That's 45, as in averaging 15 a game.

32 runs? Against LSU in one weekend? Amazing. Forget the Tigers "ain't what they used to be." They are still a formidable baseball team and have recruited with the top teams in the nation year-in and year-out. They were still - questionably, I know - ranked coming into the weekend.

Yet they were totally overwhelmed under the Rebel weekend assault. Up and down the Rebel lineup, players were getting key hits and having multiple hit games.

And the Rebs were not alone in their triumph. They recognized, and said several times, the atmosphere at O-U Stadium over the weekend was a built-in motivator and stimulant for them. Nearly 16,000 Rebs attended the series and were rewarded for their support and high energy level.

Certainly the Rebs did not want to start the SEC campaign 1-5, but having done that, they are right where they need to be with four conference series left. 10-8 with a bullet.

But there are some strong teams awaiting them as they head into the stretch run. UT, coming to Oxford this weekend, is always a worthy foe. Then the Rebs travel to Kentucky, who just swept powerhouse South Carolina and is currently leading the SEC East. The Bat Cats, it appears, are real. Then Arkansas, currently tied with the Rebs in the SEC West standings, visits Oxford. And then the regular season is capped by the Rebs invading Dudy Noble Stadium in Starkville.

There's not a "gimme" in the group. Everyone knows that.

But if the Rebels play like they did against LSU and continue to gain confidence, this team could be a juggernaut by the time all the dust settles on the regular season.

Hang on, folks, now the ride gets real interesting. The Rebels have the opportunity we were hoping for when the season began.

It doesn't get much more fun than this.

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