In a short commentary written a few days ago as the SEC Tournament loomed, we said if the Rebel baseball team would head to Hoover, AL, with the same type of focus they played with in last Sunday's trouncing of Mississippi State in Starkville, they had a real good chance to contend for the tourney title.
Well, two sterling efforts into the annual event, the fifth-seeded Rebels are where you want to be -in the winner's bracket - and have not only been focused, they have been dominant, overwhelming and the class of the tournament. (Vandy, also in the winner's bracket, has been real good too, but not quite as much as the Rebs.)
I can add nothing new to Spirit Editor Jeff Roberson's reports - he is Mr. Detail when it comes to his beloved baseball Rebs, but I can give you some of my observations from the first two days.
First and foremost is the focus factor. The Rebs have been extremely tuned in - on the mound, in the field, at the plate. The way they worked Arkansas ace Nick Schmidt - the SEC Pitcher of the Year - on Wednesday was a thing of beauty. The Rebs frustrated Schmidt by being both patient in their approach at the plate, but aggressive when he pitched in the strike zone.
Make no mistake about it - Schmidt is an outstanding college pitcher, as good as we have seen this year, but the Rebel batsmen owned him on Wednesday due to a "smarter" mentality than when they faced him a couple of weeks back in Oxford. They made a statement early with some aggressive at bats that put the Rebs on the board with two runs in the top of the first and continued to attack the whole game. You could see the frustration on Schmidt's face by the end of the third or fourth inning and you knew, with his pitch count skyrocketing, it was just a matter of time before he would be chased from the game.
Meanwhile, Will Kline and Cody Satterwhite combined for an excellent mound outing. Kline, who has evolved into the Rebs' ace in recent weeks, kept the Hogs off-balance with his 83 miles per hour slider and moving his fastball - well into the 90s in velocity - in and out. Satterwhite came in and just overpowered the Hogs in the final innings. The top four in Arkansas's lineup is as good as it gets. Kline and Satterwhite kept them in check for most of the night and never let them string anything together for a big inning, which is their trademark.
At the same time, the Rebs defense - very good all year long - continued to click. I don't want to single anyone out on a defensive club as solid as the Rebs, but I will take this opportunity to say - in my humble opinion - sophomore SS Zack Cozart is the best fielder I have ever seen in a Rebel uniform. Brother, if you hit it to him, you are O-U-T. And he makes it look easy. It's almost like he's toying with baserunners - with the throw beating the runner by a half step nearly every time. Uncanny.
While the exhibition versus the Hogs was pretty special - an impressive showing in all three phases of baseball, you didn't really know what to expect last night when the Rebs and LSU took the field. Ole Miss proved they were better than the Tigers earlier in the season with a three-game sweep of them in an Oxford series, but baseball teams hit peaks and valleys in the course of a year and LSU was coming off a stunning win over tournament number one seed and "home team" Alabama on Wednesday.
No problem. An early offensive onslaught gave Brett Bukvich a big cushion and the big left hander cruised to a 12-1 complete-game win that was called after 6 1/2 innings due to the tournament's 10-run rule. It was as dominant a performance, again from all angles, as these eyes have witnessed of a "good" club by an Ole Miss team.
Bukvich had the LSU batters eating out of his hand - for the most part, the Rebel hitters were shelling the LSU hurlers and the defense was as steady as a surgeon's hands. If this had been football, the score would have been in the range of 49-7 with everyone going to sleep at halftime.
Today the Rebs are off. Resting and recharging and resting some more. Tomorrow they play the winner of the Alabama-LSU game being played today. If they win that contest, they cruise into the championship game Sunday afternoon.
There's no way to predict the outcome, but if the Rebels continue to play like they did the first two days in Hoover, I almost feel sorry for the competition. Strike that. I don't feel the least bit sorry for anyone left in the event.
Anyway, the first two games have established a few things any right thinking person can agree with.
One, the Rebels are "for real." They have had some ups and downs this year while they were maturing and gaining valuable experience, but it looks as if they have put everything together for an exciting stretch run.
Two, fourth seed Arkansas making a two-and-out exit from the tournament, it is inconceivable to me that we won't get a regional bid in Oxford. Ole Miss has beaten the Hogs three out of four outings this year and the Razorbacks are a good club. I'm not saying the Hogs don't deservea regional, but if they get one there is no way to deny Ole Miss' bid. No way, not from any sane thinking human.
Three, the Rebs may be in the catbird's seat in this tourney for one reason - more fresh arms left than anyone else. Vandy has two really strong pitchers, but they are used up. The Rebs still have Lance Lynn, Garrett White and Craig Rodriguez left who haven't thrown a pitch in Hoover yet and Satterwhite can go some more and Kline may be able to go some Sunday. That's no even mentioning Stoney Stone and Tommy Baumgardner, if needed. I like our chances.
Four, RF Mark Wright has been in a terrible hitting slump. He started off the tournament 0-4, but on his fifth at-bat, he crushed a two-run single into left. Yesterday, Wright, who has been moved all the way down to eighth in the batting order, continued pounding the ball with three hits and five RBIs. One shot he mashed was a line drive that hit the base of the centerfield wall at the 405' mark. It never got higher than the scoreboard - mashed. If Mark can get hot right now, I don't know who could stop the Rebel offense. If you have a guy who can carry a team by himself hitting in the eight hole, you know you are dangerous.
Anything can happen in baseball, but right now the team to beat is the Rebels.
Has a nice ring to it, huh?
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