Focused Rebels Ready for Final Stretch

As the final four weekends of SEC play begin Friday, Ole Miss is aware that all breathing room is now absent. The time is now to achieve the season's goals.

Mike Bianco attempted to refocus the Rebels prior to Tuesday's game against Murray State, and Ole Miss is 2-0 since the talk that apparently came at the perfect time.

Bianco admitted that the Rebels might have been adversely affected by lofty preseason expectations, so the Ole Miss coach simplified what the team needs to accomplish.

"Coach Bianco talked about enjoying the process," Matt Smith said. "In order for us to be champions, we have to concentrate on everything in every game. Our overall goal is the College World Series, but there are a lot of things along the way.

"Winning the West and putting ourselves in position for a good regional draw are two of those things. We have to relax and focus in this final stretch."

Bianco's speech centered on isolating everything that occurs during the course of a game. He feels the Rebels need to individualize every pitch, every at-bat and every inning. Doing this will hopefully decrease the pressure and get Ole Miss back to playing fun, loose baseball.

"It's no secret that we haven't handled it (expectations) well – the adversity and things that have happened throughout the season," Bianco said. "Here is a team that is super-talented that doesn't always play that way. We need to worry pitch-by-pitch instead of worrying about the wins and the batting averages or the ERA. You play the game for enjoyment, competition and the at-bat.

"Regardless of what is going to happen at the end of it, compete during the at-bat and realize that sometimes you will succeed and sometimes you will fail, same with the pitcher and the fielder. We have been too result oriented. We either won, lost, failed or succeeded. With the stress and the expectations, we haven't played the way we are capable even in a lot of the wins. Hopefully we will start playing freer."

The Rebels have been dissected from every angle because of the early accolades, and although everything hasn't gone smoothly, Ole Miss still leads the West by two games and is nationally ranked.

However, even in the lockeroom, it is hard to keep the positives in perspective with the negatives.

"In all honesty, no it doesn't even seem like we are winning the West," Smith said. "It seems like when we have an opportunity to put it away for good, like against South Carolina where we lost two, we aren't taking control when we need to. That is the frustrating part. We are confident and could have already locked down the division."

That is what should remind fans that the 2008 baseball ride is far from over. Everybody associated with the program is unsatisfied, but the year isn't over and hopeless. Many teams would gladly trade situations with the Rebels.

The "disappointing" club boasts arguably the top pitching rotation in the SEC and has a firm hold in the standings. More was expected, but more also remains possible. There are flaws that need to be corrected before the postseason arrives, and that is what causes the sense of urgency.

Ole Miss is at a crossroads and needs to perform up to its potential from this point. Omaha is attainable whether the Rebels host or not, but playing solid, fundamental baseball is mandatory.

Four weekends remain, and Ole Miss is still searching for consistency. Time is dwindling, but the pieces could fit at any moment. Ole Miss' ability to find the correct keys will dictate how the team will be judged.

"It is do-or-die right now," Smith said. "There are big expectations and either we are going to man up and do it or we're not at this point. Everybody has finally started to realize that. We have to play every inning, every at-bat, every pitch."

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