Rebels all set to take on Hogs

The Ole Miss Rebels are back in familiar territory, making their fifth appearance in the past six seasons at the SEC Tournament. Last season they went 4-2 and were a win short of bringing home the hardware. Defending champion Mississippi State did not qualify for the eight-team field this time around.

HOOVER, Ala. - Ole Miss practiced from 3:50 to 4:50 p.m. Tuesday at Metropolitan Stadium, 10 miles south of downtown Birmingham, under a blazing late-May Alabama sun. But it wasn't as hot as it was earlier in the afternoon, even though the temperature hovered around 90 degrees during the Rebels' session.

Will Kline, Wednesday night's starting pitcher for the 17th-ranked Rebels, said he and his teammates hope to play their first two games at night, but it isn't because of the sun or the heat.

"Most of us are from the South, so we're used to this kind of weather this time of year," said Kline, who will start against Arkansas in game four of the 2006 Southeastern Conference Tournament's first day on Wednesday. "It won't really matter. We're accustomed to playing in the heat. We played the night games early last year here, and when the sun goes down it will cool off a bit."

Like last year, when Ole Miss beat Alabama on night one but lost to Florida on night two, the Rebels hope for the same start times but this time for a day off on Friday. The teams that go 2-0 the first two days don't play again until Saturday.

Kline and Chris Coghlan agree it doesn't matter to them what times the games start. They're used to staying up late.

"These eight o'clock games usually start around 10, I reckon. Hey, we're college students," Kline said, smiling. "We don't go to bed until after 10 o'clock anyway."

Coghlan says bring on the late games.

"That's the way tournaments are," he said. "You have a schedule but the only one that starts on time is usually the first one. You never know which ones will go extra innings, and usually all the games are close. So if we start at 9 (p.m.), that's fine with us. We did this last year. I think everybody in college stays up late. I don't know when I've been to sleep before 10."

Kline said that for him, being the starter in the Rebels' first game in this tournament is a pleasant change from what he was going through just a couple of months ago.

"Absolutely not," when asked if he could have envisioned this back then.

"Two months ago I was just hoping to throw some more innings, to be honest with you. It's an honor to be considered one of the better pitchers on the staff and to get the opportunity to start the first game in Hoover."

The season he thought might never happen continues Wednesday night on the SEC's biggest stage.

"As a kid you dream about stuff like this," Kline said. "Tomorrow night, I'll get to live it."


Coghlan said it's good to be back in Hoover.

"I've been here three times," said the junior who started as a true freshman. "I've been fortunate to play on some great teams who came over here. This park's bigger than most of the ones we play in. Everybody knows that. It's the same as it's been since the first time I was here. It plays real fast. There are a lot of extra base hits if you can get in the gaps. So there are probably more triples than normal. Some would call it a pitcher's park. I don't know if that's an advantage for any team. We're just looking forward to playing Arkansas Wednesday night."


Sophomore Zack Cozart was named first-team All-SEC for his outstanding play this season. He is very pleased with the award.

"It's an honor always to get recognized by the coaches on how you play on the field," said Cozart, one of two shortstops named to the first team along with Thomas Berkery of Mississippi State. "I just try to go out there every day and try to get better and keep working. It's a great honor and I'm proud."

Cozart said he felt he might not make first team since the senior Berkery was having a super season. But the coaches picked them both.

"Berkery's a great player," Cozart said. "We saw that this past weekend. I'm surprised they had two shortstops, and it's a great honor to be up there with him."

Coghlan, a junior third baseman, was named to the second team, while pitcher Cody Satterwhite was named to the All-Freshman Team.


Cozart says he and his teammates are ready for another chance at the SEC Pitcher of the Year.

"We're ready to go," Cozart said. "We're ready to face Nick Schmidt. We know what he throws. He's a great pitcher, the SEC Pitcher of the Year. We know he's going to come after us with a 90 to 93 (mph) fastball, and he's got some good offspeed pitches. We're got to come out ready to hit and ready to play."

Coghlan agrees facing Schmidt is a challenge for hitters.

"It's good that we faced him two weeks ago," Coghlan said. "We know what he's got and what he threw us last time. We went over some stuff on the bus coming over here today, some statistics and what he threw to each batter."

Cozart said Arkansas believes in LHP Schmidt. But the Rebels believe in Kline, too.

"To me Will's like a right-handed Schmidt," Cozart said. "He's pretty dominant with a great changeup. We're definitely confident with him on the mound.

"It's hard to get the ball out of here," Cozart continued. "We've got to hit a lot of line drives and ground balls and score some runs. I can definitely see it being a pitchers' dual."


Cozart says another run in the tournament is the goal of the team, only this time winning it all.

"Last year was fun," he said, "beating Florida twice on Saturday and facing the arch-rival in the championship game. So we know what it's like and we want to show the freshmen on this team how we play here and how much fun the tournament is and how great the atmosphere is. So we're looking forward to getting out there and making another run at it."

Coghlan seconds that motion.

"Even though we're a young team, we've got a lot of people back from last year's team," he said. "A lot of us have been through this before. We remember what losing one of your first two games means. It means having to play every single day, and we had to play as many games as possible in order to get to the championship game. We learned a lot last year.

"One day at a time," Coghlan emphasized, "but we do want Friday off this year."


Ole Miss head coach Mike Bianco, leading the Rebels to their fifth SEC Tournament appearance in his six seasons in Oxford, said Tuesday's session was positive.

"It's good to be on the field and take ground balls and work out," he said. "It gets the players out on the field and let's the outfielders and the hitters realize how big the park is and get a feel for it. The field's in great shape. The playing surface is always really good. The players who haven't been here, once they hit a few balls, realize just how big this park is."

Bianco says facing Schmidt will be a challenge. But everybody who has been keeping up knows that.

"He's pitched well lately but he's pitched well all year," Bianco said. "He's just good. He's the conference pitcher of the year for a reason. There aren't a lot of SEC starters who have an ERA under 3.00. He has nine wins. And he's left-handed.

"We've got to be very opportunistic. If we get a chance to score, we have to do it. If they make an error or walk a guy, then we have to score. And then we have to play well defensively. Will's got to pitch well and keep it a low-scoring game. You always think that the early games are low-scoring ones, and with the conference pitcher of the year on the mound against you, then you have to combat that by shutting them down and not letting them score many runs."

Bianco says he believes Kline will do what he's done lately for the Rebels.

"We expect to get what we've been getting," he said. "He's been our best guy for a month and a half. He pitched terrific last Thursday in Starkville. He's done that most of the year, out of the bullpen or as a starter. He's got a lot of confidence in himself and our team's got a lot of confidence in him.

"Our guys think when he pitches that we're going to win. That's the kind of guy you want to run out there on the first day, the guy that will give you a winning performance."

OM Spirit Top Stories