Everything still to be decided in SEC race

Ole Miss students are taking final exams this week, but the complete results of the baseball season are much farther down the road than that.

I drag this old quote out a lot, but it's more appropriate at some times than others.

I always thought it was Bertman at LSU who said it, but I've also been told it was Wells at Alabama. Same family tree anyway.

"Life in the SEC – very exciting but very dangerous."

Talking baseball there but throw in whatever sport you want.

The Rebel softball team goes down to Auburn needing a couple of wins and some help to get into the SEC Tournament for the first time ever. They get both – a couple of wins and some help.

As Ole Miss people, we seem to rarely witness that kind of situation work out for us. Maybe it's because it usually doesn't, that we have to fight our own way into something special and then it doesn't often pan out in whatever sport.

I think everybody around the SEC is waiting for Kentucky to blow up in baseball, or at least come down to earth a bit. My guess is when former pupil John Cohen faces former teacher Ron Polk this weekend in Lexington that it will happen and Polk will take a couple. Seems State is playing better and UK is due a downer.

Ole Miss caught the Wildcats still at their best, but the Rebels didn't seem to be at theirs. Timely hitting. Kinda just came down to some of that. UK had it; UM didn't.

After blasting the ball all over and out of the park for several games during an 11-game win streak, I got a sense that the church-league softball type hitting the Rebels were seeing as late as a week ago Saturday in a 21-13 win over Tennessee was calming down. That was in the 5-3 Sunday win over the Vols.

Then came Nicholls State and the Rebels had to rally with some runs late to win that one.

No way was I thinking there'd be a sweep either way in Lexington. I thought the Rebs would take two. I figured it was time for Kentucky to falter. They'd not been there before. Ole Miss had. I also thought the Rebels would average more than two runs per game up there.

Ole Miss is right where it was at this time last year – 13-11 with a series loss this past weekend, a home series and a road series remaining. Last year the Rebels lost two of three at Auburn, then won five of six and got the SEC West title. That was against South Carolina at home and Arkansas on the road, the latter of which was a sweep.

This year it's Arkansas at home and Mississippi State on the road.

I'd hoped all season the Rebels wouldn't have to travel to Starkville with anything on the line other than beating the Bulldogs, that they'd already have clinched an SEC Tournament berth, maybe a West title, even an overall crown, and wrapped up a host spot for a Regional.

I knew better. It never happens that way. Mike Bianco says for all the years he was at LSU that the Tigers always still had something special or important on the line in the last series of the regular season. So why should we ever hope that it would all be decided before those final three games.

I guess it's because we look down and it's State in Starkville and we cringe a bit. The past haunts us some, and just the facts of who and where make it that way as well.

Exam week is never easy for a team, especially after getting swept. There are no midweek games this week; no practice until Wednesday afternoon.

Maybe that will be best for them. Maybe they need some time to get their minds on something else after the sweep.

As Bianco said this morning, if the Rebels win the Arkansas series, it was the best thing. If they lose the Arkansas series, then maybe more practice or a midweek game would have helped.

But they can't play a game during exam week, so the next time they play will be in an important Friday night game against the Razorbacks in Oxford.

Bianco didn't think after the UK series that the Rebels were back to their form against Alabama where they struggled to compete. He felt more like the USC series three weeks ago when they had a shot to win every game but got just one.

Looking back, they'd love to have come back from Lexington with even one. West leader Alabama got swept by Arkansas on the road (it happens even to the best of them). That let the Hogs slip past Ole Miss into second in the West.

With 15 wins for Bama (the Tide this weekend hosts obviously the worst team in the SEC this year, Florida), and 14 wins now for Arkansas, the upcoming weekend in Oxford is huge for this year's SEC West race.

We're talking only West here because Kentucky with 16 wins is in first place in the overall race and has its sights set on that title. Hard to believe with two weekends left that the Wildcats might win an SEC regular season overall title.

That's why I'm guessing they falter against State. Because they're due to stumble, because State appears to be playing better, and things usually even out at some point. Again, just guessing.

However, this is the same Kentucky team that swept South Carolina in Lexington two weeks ago. But those games were different. They were slugfests in that ballpark – 10-9, 15-12, 12-9.

It's the kind of offensive games you might expect in that facility. But the Rebel pitching was up to the task to keep the Wildcats in single digits every game, actually eight runs or less a contest. If only the Rebel offense had been what we'd seen through the LSU and Tennessee weekends.

Maybe that's the one that shows up for the Arkansas and MSU series the next couple of weekends. That needs to be the case.

As Bianco said this morning, nothing's been decided yet. There are still games every team has to win, including Ole Miss, to reach their goals.

It's final exam week for students, but the final grades for this baseball team's season are still in the works and a long way from being posted.

And one thing remains a certainty. Life in the SEC will always be exciting but dangerous.

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