HOOVER, Ala. - In a season where several Rebels have been weekend starters at one point or another, Brett Bukvich has become Ole Miss' second starter the past few weeks. He nor his team fared so well his last time out.
Mississippi State beat the Rebels 11-1 in game two of the series last weekend, but that's a distant memory now for the upbeat Bukvich and his teammates. It's all about tonight's game for the 5th-seeded Rebels when they take on 8th-seeded LSU.
Bukvich, who pitched into the fourth inning at Starkville, was charged with four earned runs on seven hits with two walks and four strikeouts. He said he knows how important it is to win tonight's game and get Friday off. It's the shortest route to the championship.
"It's big. It's real big," said the 6-foot-4, 235-pound left-hander from Brandon and Northwest Rankin High.
"I just want to stick with the gameplan, come in and pump the ball in the zone, like Will and Cody did (Wednesday) night."
And what did Bukvich do during Wednesday night's exciting first-game win against Arkansas? Same thing he does every first game of a series.
"I just watch and see what's going on," said Bukvich, knowing he isn't going into the game but is obviously being held out to start the following game. "I'm just in the dugout keeping the chart and trying to stay ready and focused."
Against the Tigers in the series in Oxford, Bukvich started game two, which was actually the second game of a doubleheader on Saturday. As was the case with many weekends this spring, the Friday game was rain delayed until Saturday.
Ole Miss won game one 10-5 and game two 11-3 that day. Bukvich pitched into the eighth in game two, gave up 10 hits but allowed only two earned runs with three strikeouts and a walk.
"I think that was the first of those doubleheaders we pulled off," said Bukvich, mentioning the Rebels had trouble all season with the weather and winning two games in a day.
Bukvich says he's looking forward to following up on the starting performance of teammate Will Kline in last night's 9-4 win over Arkansas.
"Winning the first game is big, and winning game two gives you Friday off," he said. "It gives you a chance to rest, and it gives you a better chance to win the tournament. We'll take it pitch by pitch and inning by inning. If we take care of business, we'll be fine."
Rebel third baseman Chris Coghlan said the team has talked about winning the first two to get the day off. They remember how tough it was last year as UM won Wednesday but lost Thursday and had to play three more games after that to get to Sunday, while champion MSU had to play only four games total in the tourney.
"It's huge to win the first two," Coghlan said. "We know LSU will be ready. I know Bukvich will throw well. Hopefully we will play as well as we did (against Arkansas) and come out with another win."
Ole Miss head coach Mike Bianco wasn't willing to speculate if the win over Arkansas or a potential win over LSU would perhaps lock the Rebels into a hosting situation.
"It's still too early to say," he said. "Certainly winning (last night) was big. That helps the resume'. We've beaten them three of four times this season. I still think it's too early to make those type comments. We may have to play Arkansas again in this tournament. But at this point, obviously everything is big."
And, of course, with a win tonight, Bianco agrees having Friday off allows any team a greater opportunity to win the tournament, although he obviously won't rule out winning the title if the Rebs stumble between now and Sunday.
"You want to stay in the winner's bracket," he said. "Last year we lost on Thursday and had to play on Friday. That's not easy but we know it can be done as well. We have to play well (tonight) and win. But whatever happens, we move on from there."
LSU started Hernando native Clay Dirks against Alabama in the 4-3 Tiger win Wednesday night. Tonight they'll throw another Mississippian, true freshman Louis Coleman of Pillow in Greenwood. The 6-3, 195, RHP has a 5.61 ERA with a 5-5 record in 14 appearances, 12 of them starts. He's logged the second most innings (78.2) on the team behind Dirks.
Coleman was the first-game LSU starter in the Rebels' series sweep of the Tigers in April in Oxford. He lasted five innings, allowing seven earned runs on 11 hits with two strikeouts and two walks.
"LSU is playing much better now than they were when we played them a month or so ago," Bianco said. "Much like our freshman guys, Coleman is one of those guys that's grown up a lot it appears, much like Cody Satterwhite and Lance Lynn and Brett Bukvich. He's a guy that's pitched on the weekends a lot in conference games. He's a guy that's mature now and practically a sophomore. I think he will pitch with composure against us."
That four lower-seeded teams won Wednesday proved a point Bianco says he and others try to make all the time concerning SEC baseball.
"I know a lot of people think it's just coaches talking or whatever, but really it doesn't matter who you're playing. They're all very good and everybody is capable of beating everybody," he said.
"Winning in this tournament is such a big deal," Bianco continued. "This tournament is much tougher than any regional you could ever play in. Most likely all of the teams here will get to a regional bid, and four of them will be No. 1 seeds and four of them will be No. 2 seeds. It's like that every year. Besides the College World Series, it's the toughest college baseball tournament anywhere."
Rebels ready for game two in Hoover
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