A State friend of mine asked me a decade or more ago that if Ole Miss was trying to win in baseball, where would they fit? Who would they displace? His State bunch was rolling year after year. LSU was dominant. Alabama and Auburn had solid programs. Arkansas was competitive.
Where would the Rebels fit? Who would they move out so they could move in?
Not necessarily anybody. Yes State is down from what it was in the 80s and 90s, but not by all that much really. If you watched those games this weekend, you'd see that. A war from first pitch Thursday to last out Saturday.
What has happened in the SEC is several-fold. Programs like Ole Miss and South Carolina, which back then bordered on winning, hired new coaches in Mike Bianco and Ray Tanner and put more emphasis on the sport administratively. Programs like Vanderbilt and Kentucky followed their lead with the hiring of Tim Corbin and John Cohen respectively.
Arkansas replaced longtime coach Norm DeBryn with his former assistant and Nebraska's head coach at the time Dave Van Horn. Jim Wells has had a strong program at Bama since 1995 with a couple of CWS appearances.
Georgia, the national champ in 1990, fell on some rough times and called on Ron Polk to help out. In his second of two years there, he got them to Omaha. They've remained competitive with Dave Perno.
Florida was national runnerup last season under Pat McMahon. This year was a surprisingly bad one for the Gators. It will be interesting to see how they do next season. AD Jeremy Foley doesn't allow for mediocrity for long before he considers a change.
Bottom line. About 10 years ago other SEC schools looked around at what MSU and LSU and a couple of others were beginning to do in baseball and decided to join the fun. Baseball is serious business all across the board in the SEC now. Don't believe it, just take a look at the SEC tourney field.
Florida and Tennessee, both in the CWS last season, along with State and Auburn (both in the CWS in the late 1990s), aren't attending the eight-team bash. Ole Miss, Kentucky, and Vanderbilt, just a decade ago thought by many to be maybe the bottom three teams in the league based on their lack of postseason productivity, are in Hoover.
Since the SEC went to the current tourney format in 1996, Ole Miss has been there in 1999, 2001, 2003, 2004, 2005, and 2006. MSU has missed out two of the last three seasons.
So to answer the question of my State friend on where Ole Miss might fit? It's a year to year thing now and you have to recruit well, play hard, and get some breaks, or you'll be left out. It's a monster league in all sports, and baseball is no exception.
MSU, LSU, Auburn, Florida, Tennessee and some of the other teams that found the going easier in years past aren't finding it that way anymore. Even Alabama failed to make the SEC tourney just a couple of years ago.
Things are tough all over and it's good to know the Rebels are in the mix year in and year out. State wasn't going down this weekend without a fight. We saw that until it was all over with Alex Presley's catch in deep center of a long fly ball.
It calls for a toughness that Bianco and staff have brought to the entire program, along with the kids they have brought in. That was one tough performance the Rebels finished with Saturday. A lesser bunch might have folded in that difficult environment as things began to slip.
Every school in the league now knows how tough it is and what it takes to win and to get to postseason. It's a fine line and a fight to the finish.
And now the Rebels play on.
Cody Satterwhite stood on the mound to finish off the Bulldogs Saturday. I wrote Thursday that the Rebels would get State's best shot this weekend but that the Rebels would give ‘em their best right back. It turned out that way.
Ole Miss led 5-1 and then got State's best shot into extra innings Thursday before Satterwhite, the true freshman from Hillcrest, got the win, his 10th of the season. Friday the Bulldogs said basically ‘We ain't done yet' and rolled. The Rebels got their best shot indeed that night.
Saturday with the series on the line, Ole Miss got out to the quick 4-0 start, giving it right back to the Bulldogs from Friday night's setback. Up 13-5, they got State's best again as the Bulldogs scored six runs to make it a nail-biter.
But Satterwhite came through again and got the save for the Rebels and for another fellow true freshman pitcher Lance Lynn.
Satterwhite was eager to talk about the rivalry and Ole Miss' recent dominance Thursday night even without being asked. He did the same thing Saturday after Ole Miss had posted its 10th win in the last 13 meetings with the Bulldogs.
It's the same type mentality Stephen Head brought to the program, that he understood the rivalry and what it means and how he wanted to be a part of the winning, dominant program in the state.
Listen to Cody. Almost sounds like Stephen.
"It's big. It gives us momentum going into the (SEC) Tournament. It's big to get two out of three here. It's a huge statement for me, because I grew up with this rivalry. It's big to me and to the whole team to be able to say we're No. 1 in the state."
To be out there on the Dudy Noble Field mound like his former Hillcrest teammate was two years ago was very pleasing to Cody.
"I want to be in that situation," he said after Ole Miss completed its third straight SEC series win over MSU. "That's where I want to be, right out there with things riding on your shoulders and you having to get people out. My team is confident in me and I'm confident in them. It's a team effort as we go out there and get it done."
Sounds just like Head, huh. As pitching coach Kyle Bunn said Thursday night, Satterwhite isn't a true freshman anymore. The young Rebel and his teammates have grown up.
The SEC: one tough league; Satterwhite speaks
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