Cozart knows this week will be busy

Most of the crowd was still seated or standing in its purchased locations at 8:29 CT Sunday night when Zack Cozart strolled to the plate. It was likely the all-star's last at-bat at Oxford-University Stadium/Swayze Field.

His team led 21-9 at the time and was well on its way to a third straight Oxford Regional title. Many of the fans, sensing it was the shortstop's last at-bat in his home ballpark, came to their feet and applauded as they hadn't since the Rebels rallied from an 8-7 deficit earlier.

Way back when he got here out of Collierville (Tenn.) High School, Zack Cozart battled former Rebel Ryne Porter for the starting shortstop position. That was in the fall of 2004. Cozart won that war and hasn't looked back. As far as the shortstop position goes the past three seasons, neither have the Rebels.

With No. 1 on his back and the bleach-blond locks under his cap, Cozart at short has been as solid as anything you could point to concerning the baseball program at Ole Miss the past three years, a program which has become one of the top 16 nationally year in and year out.

Cozart heard the crowd as he walked to the plate in the eighth inning. It meant something to him, as has his three-year tenure on Swayze Field.

"It was kinda neat. I got emotional," said Cozart, an at-bat in which he walked. It was one of two base on balls for him on the night. Besides those two at-bats, Cozart was 3-for-4 with 2 RBI and 2 runs scored.

"It was exciting to know that the fans realized that it could be your last time to play here," he said. "Hopefully we can get over that hump of a Super Regional and get the fans to Omaha."

That's the plan. It's been the plan through two Oxford Super Regionals the past couple of years. The program has tried to get to Omaha for the College World Series. It tries again this weekend, but likely it will have to do so on the road. The chances of an Ole Miss-Arizona State matchup in Tempe, Ariz., appear to be looming on the western horizon.

"It's always exciting to play in a Super Regional," the third-year junior said. "Every year I've been here, we've been in one with a chance to get to Omaha. It'll be tough again, but we have the team to do it. We're looking forward to it."

The Rebels looked at first in their 21-13 win over Sam Houston State to already be thinking about another Super Regional. They fell behind 3-0 in the top of the first. They committed two errors. One of them was a dropped popup to Cozart.

There was disbelief among all, Cozart included.

"I don't think I've ever dropped a popup," he said.

Maybe it was the extra-inning affair played before them as Southern Miss fell to Sam Houston State in 11 innings. Maybe it was sitting around all afternoon, the tension that comes with playing for an NCAA Regional title. Maybe it was that they'd been here before and weren't as intense and focused as they should have been right off the bat.

"I don't know how much of a factor any of that was," Cozart said. "It was just one of those things where we started off bad but came back to play a good game."

That they did, answering Sam Houston State with six runs of their own in the bottom of the first.

But the Rebels were going to win this game. Top seeds don't lose games to fourth seeds after the fourth seed has already played a game earlier in the day.

When Sam Houston State went ahead 8-7 in the top of the fourth, the Rebels simply answered with nine runs in the bottom of the fourth, much like they'd done in the first inning.

So with their sights toward a Super Regional and their goal Omaha, Cozart and his teammates will have a busy week, especially if they indeed have to travel.

But there's another order of business this week, too. The major league draft begins Thursday. Cozart, among other Rebels, will be drafted.

Playing professional baseball has always been his dream. He'll get that chance, and by the time the Rebels play in a Super Regional this weekend, he will know just which team wants him as a part of its future.

Cozart basically says the hay is in the barn. He's relaxed and at peace that he's done all he could during a lifetime of baseball. Now he'll sit back and wait - and prepare with his teammates for a Super Regional.

He says he watched and learned from former teammates how to handle this season and this week.

"I've had a lot of opportunities, because there've been a lot of them (drafted)," Cozart said. "Chris Coghlan (drafted last year) was one of my good friends, and he just handled it so well. I'm going to be as relaxed as ever this week. You can't worry about it. It can be a crazy day."

He admits that it sometimes has been a distraction for him, and yes it's been in the back of his mind for a long, long time. In all likelihood he'll be gone at season's end.

"I know for a fact after going through what I've gone through this year, that it will be an exciting time to get it behind me," he said of the draft. "I'm looking forward to it, actually forward to it being over with."

Unlike Ole Miss fans who'd just as soon his career as the Ole Miss shortstop would never end.

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