Bragging rights are great to have, but Ole Miss (35-21, 16-14) has different prizes on its mind when the two teams get together at a loosely scheduled 8 p.m. during the first round of the SEC Tournament at Regions Park in Hoover, Ala.
"Playing State (33-18, 15-13) is fun and a game you want to always win, but that isn't all that matters this week," Rebel Justin Cryer said. "We need to make sure a regional is coming to Oxford and also we get a chance to get back and defend our title."
Ole Miss locked up a regional host site last season as the Rebels cruised to the conference championship, and that plan was talked about often on Monday when the team practiced for the final time at Swayze Field before heading east. The 2006 title and 2005 runner-up finish give several Rebels successful experience at the eight-team, two-pool tournament.
"It (the SEC) is the toughest tournament in the country other than Omaha," head coach Mike Bianco said. "We have been good enough and lucky enough to find some success there the last couple years, but it can also be very humbling. You have to play well, or you go home early."
The Rebels face off against the Bulldogs for the fifth time this season and look to accomplish something that they haven't done in 30 years- beat State in the League tournament. Ole Miss is 0-7 since 1977 versus MSU with four of those losses coming in Hoover. The Rebels are making their fifth consecutive appearance at the event with the one title, while State missed the 2004 and 2006 gatherings but swept through the 2005 tournament.
MSU enters the tournament with losses in the last two series of the year and a rash of injuries that will be evaluated right up to game time. Most notable being freshman Brandon Turner, who injured his hamstring during the Sunday game against the Rebels.
"They're very good," State skipper Ron Polk said. "They've got the pitching, closers, athletes. They've got three guys at the top of the line-up that are very good. Overall they're a good ball club. They've had some injuries too, but not as many as we have. It'll be fun to play Ole Miss. They're doing a good job down there. I feel like our kids respond well to each other."
Ole Miss will send Will Kline (5-2, 3.92) to the hill on Wednesday against Bulldog starter Justin Pigott (5-5, 4.69). Kline will be one-day short of usual rest, and Pigott will be two days shy. The Rebel hurler tossed 135 pitches against Arkansas last Thursday and is 1-0 against MSU in his career. He received a no decision during the opening game of this year's series in Oxford. Pigott went deep into State's contest against Alabama last Friday and is 0-1 versus Ole Miss, losing the Saturday game this season 5-1.
Kline has 113 strikeouts on the year, which ranks him fourth all-time for Ole Miss. Teammate Lance Lynn and Mark Holliman's 2005 numbers share the record with 120 punch-outs. Kline isn't concerned about the variable last start of the final game on Wednesday night.
"The late game was definitely good to us last year," Kline joked. "I was unsure of the timing as far as warming up and everything last year, but this time, I have an idea and should be fine. It's just baseball and kind of reminds you of little league where start times were always late."
Ole Miss' opponent on Thursday will be either No. 1 Vanderbilt or No. 8 Tennessee. Facing the Commodores could be a tough assignment but a great treat for the Tournament crowd as a potential Lance Lynn vs. David Price match-up could emerge. The Rebels blew out Vandy in the championship game last season.
The Rebels are 4-6 combined against the other teams in their side of the bracket and 6-3 against the other half which features Arkansas, Alabama, South Carolina and Florida.
Wednesday's game versus MSU will be televised by Comcast Sports and heard on the Ole Miss Radio Network. XM Radio will also provide broadcasts of every tournament game.