Baumgardner, Rebels ready for Colonels

Ole Miss hopes to extend its 10-game win streak Tuesday night when Nicholls State drives up from the bayous of south Louisiana for a game.

Maybe it's the 10-game overall win streak, and seven straight victories in the SEC. Maybe it's the warm spring May 1 day.

Maybe it's because they're back in the race and know they can reach the goals they set for themselves before the season.

Whatever the reason, baseball practice Monday at Ole Miss had a serious tone to it I hadn't seen often this year.

Not that they aren't serious about practice most of the time, maybe even all the time. They are. But as good as things have been lately and as positive and confident as the Rebels are right now, they still want more. That much is obvious.

I take it as a good sign. There are three weekends remaining in conference play. If the Rebels keep winning and Alabama stumbles, there's an SEC West title to be won.

Throw other overall leaders like Kentucky and South Carolina into the mix with Alabama, and the Rebels could win the whole league.

But they've gotta keep on winning. That's the only thing they can take care of. With the rest they'll need some help.

Kentucky is up this weekend in Lexington, but that's not the next important step. Nicholls State on Tuesday at 6:30 p.m. in Oxford is. The Rebels need to beat the Colonels for all the right reasons.

Much like Louisiana-Monroe last week, Nicholls State limps into Oxford with a poor record. The Colonels are 12-34. But from what I saw today, the Rebels are doing anything but taking them lightly.

It was a very business-like approach from the head coach on down. They know NSU will be here to knock off a ranked SEC team, which at this point would make their season. For Ole Miss it is all about winning another big game.

"These are all very important games," Ole Miss head coach Mike Bianco said, whose team is now 30-15 in the season. "Friday night games may be more important than Tuesday night games. But if Tuesday night games weren't important, then we wouldn't play them. They are important because it is a chance to get another win. It's a chance to improve your RPI, not as much maybe as a conference game. But RPI isn't the only criteria for selection into the NCAA Tournament or Regional sites or National Seeds. At the end of the year, some teams that don't make it to one of those levels will look back and see where they could have won another non-conference game or two that might have made the difference."

Ole Miss has only one other non-conference game remaining, a Tuesday, May 16 game in Oxford against Memphis. The Rebels currently are 17-7 in non-league games.

"In years' past we've had some very good non-conference records," Bianco said. "This year we didn't do as well in those games in February and March. We should have won some others. But now we have another chance Tuesday night, and all we can do is go out and try to win it."

Tommy Baumgardner (3-4 record, 5.40 ERA, 12 appearances, seven starts) will take the mound for Ole Miss again this midweek. That's the original Friday night starter for the Rebels from back in February and early March.

Baumgardner is still a very important part of the pitching staff, just as he has been for the past two seasons. And as a mature senior, the left-hander says his role is to help this team win games – period.

"Obviously I had to adjust some," he said of moving from the more visible Friday role to midweek starter. "But I'm pitching, getting my innings, and making the most of it. I've just gotta go out and keep doing well and hopefully help us get a big win Tuesday."

Baumgardner found out last year that a pitcher's role often increases in the month of May, especially when tournament play arrives.

"Anytime you go out there to start, you want to do well and it's a big deal," he said. "So whatever the situation, you want to do well. For me it's Tuesday night and whenever else they call on me."

Bianco agrees that having a pitcher like Baumgardner understand and accept his role as well as having him relieve or even start midweek games is so important.

"To have a guy with that kind of experience and to be able to run him out there on Tuesday night is a good feeling," Bianco said. "Tommy's handled it all very well. For a senior to be a Friday night starter and then move to reliever or Tuesday night starter, he's accepted his role. That's what you have to have for a team to be successful, for players to find roles and accept roles, and Tommy's done that. That's been very important for us."

Like his teammates, Baumgardner says it's all about the team and whatever it takes to get to where they want to be in June – Omaha.

"What is it now, a 10-game win streak? It doesn't get much better than that," the Floridian said.

Except maybe making it 11 with a win over NSU on Tuesday night in Oxford as Baumgardner leads the way.

"I just want to go out and get the job done," Baumgardner said, "and keep our winning streak going. That's it."

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