Rebs-Dogs go at it again

There's a tunnel at Dudy Noble Field in Starkville all but hidden from public view. It's between the concession stand and the grandstand ramp on the first base side.

There are steps down into the tunnel, and if you follow the hallway which turns left, then right, then all of a sudden you find yourself in the visiting team's dugout.

There's usually security there, so if you have a pass, they normally let you stay. The times I've been down there have been late in games anyway, so the guard knows we're there to interview at the conclusion.

Last year near the end of game three of the UM-MSU series, I went down that familiar tunnel and ran into true freshman right-hander Lance Lynn. The Indiana native, experiencing his first Ole Miss-State series, had started the game but was out by then. Fellow freshman Cody Satterwhite was trying his best to finish things up.

Lance was pacing. I joined him.

The Rebels had led big earlier on this Saturday afternoon, but State had come back. The teams had split games one and two – UM winning Thursday night; MSU Friday night – so this one was for supremacy, at least for that particular weekend.

Ole Miss led 13-5 at stretch time. I remember thinking the Rebels had better score all they could because State wouldn't quit. I was right.

MSU scored six runs the final three innings off Garrett White and Satterwhite. It had us all pacing, including the Rebel starter who got the win when Satterwhite finally, mercifully got ‘em out for the save.

There was a runner on second and there were two outs in the bottom of the ninth when Bulldog DH Mitch Moreland strode to the plate, representing the tying run for State. It was a hold-your-breath 3-2 pitch that Moreland sent to deep center. Alex Presley caught it, squeezed it, and ended it.

The pacing was over. The Rebels had won.

Ole Miss, with its 13-11 win that day, headed to Hoover, Ala., to claim the title of SEC Tournament's best one week and one day later.

It could very well be that same type weekend now as the Bulldogs trek to Oxford for baseball. Both these teams in 2007 are worthy of their national rankings. Both have played well this season. Both feel they will win this series.

State has, at least from the standpoint of where it was picked in the preseason, been a surprise team. Ole Miss, picked to finish among the SEC's top teams, is right there and fighting.

Hard as they try, the coaches can't convince fans and observers that this is just another SEC weekend. It's not. Never has been. Never will be.

But we've all learned that winning the series doesn't necessarily mean that team is on its way to bigger and better things. Nor does losing it mean just the opposite. But that is actually how it often turns out.

It did last year. It looks like it might again this year.

If State wins two, counting a win at Pearl, that will be a 3-1 record against the Rebels. Depending on the outcome of the next three weekends and the SEC Tournament, that would be big for the Bulldogs.

If Ole Miss wins the series by taking two, then the Rebels will have evened things up for the season. And like State and all of the league's teams, the next three weekends will be mega-important.

And of course there is always the possibility of a sweep by one or the other. The Rebels swept State two years ago here.

Ole Miss has won the last three series against MSU dating back to 2004 in Starkville. But that really doesn't matter in the window of opportunity the three days offer here this weekend.

The crowds will be massive. Even if Double Decker Festival wasn't this weekend, we might still see record attendance at the ballpark for a UM-MSU series.

Throw in that thousands will be here for three days of Oxford and Ole Miss fun, and you'd better get to Swayze early if you're going.

Ron Polk has built his legacy for decades at State. Mike Bianco started building his at Ole Miss this century. Fans on both sides will be attending, or watching on TV, listening by radio or the internet or satellite radio, or calling from their afternoons of golfing, shopping, or gardening to someone they know at the stadium or somebody who they hope knows the score.

That's because in this state, college baseball is a very big deal. It may just be more important here than anywhere else. I like that possibility.

Oxford-University Stadium/Swayze Field will have a Super Regional feel to it for three days as the arch rivals meet face to face, nose to nose, bringing to the ballpark all the passion and effort and energy they can muster.

And there will likely be a lot of pacing. This important and historic college baseball series will do that to you, whether you've been around it for years or you're brand new to it.

Just ask Lance Lynn.

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