Rebs workout to get ready for Saturday

The Ole Miss Rebel baseball team had Friday off, but the Rebels got in some work on a hot and humid late May afternoon under sunny skies at Samford University just south of downtown Birmingham, Ala. They'll play the winner of tonight's LSU-Alabama game Saturday at 1:30 p.m.

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. - Brett Bukvich may have been the most relaxed man at practice today as the Ole Miss Rebels took a day off from playing games in the Southeastern Conference Tournament in Hoover and replaced it with a light workout.

Bukvich, the complete game winner Thursday night in the Rebels' 12-1 thrashing of LSU, got off the bus, hung around the Samford Bulldog field for a few minutes, then took off on a solo run through the scenic campus on a hillside just south of downtown.

Headphones on and in a world to himself, Bukvich's weekend of pitching is likely over if the Rebels can take care of business in their next game at 1:30 p.m. Saturday against the winner of tonight's Alabama-LSU contest.

The life of a pitcher. So unique in so many ways. Guys like Chris Coghlan or Alex Presley, Zack Cozart or Justin Henry may be in on every inning of play in any given game. A guy like Buk might see the field once a week. That's usually a good sign for the team if that happens.

While Bukvich was able to do his own thing and hopefully wait on another assignment on the mound until next weekend in an NCAA Regional, Lance Lynn, on the other hand, met with our questions as soon as he stepped off the bus.

"How ya feel, Lance?" almost collectively asked six or seven of us who cover the Rebels regularly of the 6-foot-5, 270-pound true freshman right-hander.

"Feel great," said the fairly low-key Lynn, who almost a year ago was deciding whether to accept a sixth-round offer from the Seattle Mariners or attend college. Instead of heading to the pros late last summer, he drove down from his Indiana home to head to class at Ole Miss.

And to head to games like the one he and his teammates face tomorrow in this tournament.

Lynn was an 18-year-old high school senior this time last year making life decisions most of us might dream about but never have to worry about. He was a true freshman in February at the start of this baseball season. For guys like Lynn and Cody Satterwhite and others who contribute as much as they have in their first years, there should be a classification between freshman and sophomore.

Lynn may still be a freshman, but he no longer looks, walks, talks, acts, or pitches like one.

"It's been a big learning experience this year," said Lynn, with a 4.78 ERA and a 5-3 record in 15 appearances with 12 starts. "I've had my ups and downs. But going into the tournament, I feel fully capable of my abilities on the mound, and Coach has confidence in me. He knows I'm going to go out there and get the job done."

See. The tourney is two games old for Ole Miss, and Lynn is talking about "going into the tournament." There's that "life of a pitcher" deal again. His team is 2-0, but Lynn is all about Saturday.

"I'm just getting mentally focused for tomorrow," said Lynn, named a high school All-American by Louisville Slugger and EA, as well as being named Gatorade Player of the Year in Indiana. "I think it's good that we came out here to stay in a baseball frame of mind instead of just sitting around all day."

So there has to be some anxiety, some nervousness, right Lance? Your team is one win away from the SEC title game.

"I don't really think about it like that," he said. "I just go out there and pitch. I just think of it as just another game. Hopefully this isn't the biggest game I pitch in this year. If we keep on winning, it will get even bigger than this."

Now that's the approach you gotta love to hear. Big game tomorrow, but not as big as one he might pitch in later this season.

It's all in his makeup and his character. It's who he is and his demeanor out there. Like Mike Bianco said of Lynn's performance at MSU last weekend (a 13-11 UM win), he worked out of some situations early again and again. All of a sudden you look out there and it's the fifth inning and the Rebels were up eight runs and Lynn's still pitching.

"Like a lot of guys on this team, he competed well early but has improved and is getting rewarded statistically," Bianco said. "There just aren't many times he's gone out there and gotten beaten up. He's one of those warrior-type guys. Sometimes it's not pretty. But the bottom line is that he's getting to the fifth, sixth, seventh inning, only giving up a few runs, and that means you're in the game."

"I'm just a battler on the mound," Lynn said. "The fast ball is my bread and butter. I just go after every hitter. It's what I do. I just want to challenge hitters and see what they have."

Obviously as the 2006 season has moved on, we've all seen what Lynn has and why he was drafted highly out of high school a year ago.

"I'm a lot more confident now than I was early in the season," Lynn said. "I'm more used to the college atmosphere now and I don't feel like an immature freshman on the mound anymore. I feel like I've come a long way for sure."

His teammates agree and they have full confidence in him as one of the pitching leaders.

"Lance is very good right now, but he's going to be a stud for this program," Coghlan said. "We all know that. He knows that. He has a lot of confidence. He's a hard thrower. He's been filling it up. He gets a lot of Ks. He knows we have a pretty good defense behind him, and he allows us to work and help him out."

"He's definitely grown up a lot this year," said Mark Wright. "Everybody knew he was going to be something here. He's been a stud for us all year. He'll be a No. 1 (pitcher) here eventually. He's learned how to pitch in this league. He doesn't just have to overpower guys here like he did in high school. He just has to pitch and let guys hit the ball in play and let our defense do the work for him. He's a confident pitcher for us."

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Coghlan says this season has been a fun year for him.

"For me personally this is the funnest year I've ever had," said the third-year junior. "Last year was a consistent year for me and for the team. Things were pretty good all season and we really didn't have a downfall. This year started off so bad for me and for the team. It's just been so much fun for me to be able to be a part of a team that has stepped up and has improved and that's filled with young guys who have stepped up and played as they should. To be able to contribute to that this year has just been huge."

Coghlan attributes much of the team's growth and improvement this season to Bianco.

"That's why I really respect him and why he's such a great coach," Coghlan said. "He never said it was a rebuilding year, and he never makes excuses like we're young or we're struggling because of this or that. We got some bad breaks early. We didn't believe in each other enough early and didn't have the confidence we needed. We've always had the skills, and now we've gained the confidence as the season has rolled along."

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Wright says while it's hard not to look ahead to Sunday and the possibilities, the Rebels know they have work to do on Saturday.

"We're just focused on tomorrow," he said. "We want to win that one and then we'll worry about the championship game. We don't want to fall into the loser's bracket and have to play two games tomorrow. It will be big to win the game tomorrow and move on."

The Rebels saw first-hand in 2005 that a driver's seat team can fall on Saturday. Last year the Rebels eliminated Florida by beating the Gators twice on Saturday to advance to the Sunday finale.

"Last year we learned a lot about this tournament," said Wright, the fourth-year junior rightfielder. "We know it's best to go 2-0 and you don't want to get beat the first game on Saturday. That gives the other team momentum for the second game."

Just like the Rebels had when they beat Florida 14-1 in game one on Saturday last season behind a 10-run-ruled complete game performance from pitcher Anthony Cupps, followed by a 4-2 win with Tommy Baumgardner and Stoney Stone combining on the mound.

"We know what can happen if we don't win the first game tomorrow," said Coghlan, another voice of experience. "We know exactly what can happen. Look what we did to Florida last year."

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