Hoover Homecoming

Fuller Smith's headed home from Oxford, and just in the manner he had hoped for. His bags are packed for the Southeastern Conference Tournament, not for good.

The Rebel senior from Vestavia Hills, like Hoover a suburb of Birmingham, is looking forward to a return trip to the league's postseason event. Until the last day of the regular season, it looked like Ole Miss might miss out on the fun for the first time since 2002.

That wasn't the gameplan for any of the Rebels, especially the hometowner. Now Smith and his teammates will load a bus Tuesday morning with extending their stay as long as possible on their minds.

"It's been a fun year," said Smith, along with junior infielder Evan Button a co-captain of the team. "We all would like to have done better earlier and not had to squeak into the SEC Tournament. But baseball's baseball. As long as you're still alive, then come Regional and Super Regional time, you're fine."

According to Smith, the team always believed it would be in Hoover this week.

"I think we all knew we were going to go," the Rebel OF/DH said. "We got out there Saturday (in the finale at Kentucky) and it was a must win. I've never seen us more calm and confident about ourselves."

The Rebs won 7-5 in 11 innings. Ole Miss is 34-22 overall and .500 in league play at 15-15.

"It was crunch time and you put these guys in a situation like that, winner go on, loser go home, then I think we respond well," said the co-captain.

They get another shot to move on Wednesday night. And they may have to win a game or two to make sure they play on next week in the NCAA Tournament.

"I don't know. That's a good question," Smith said when asked if the Rebels needed more than the 34 wins to be able to compete for a national title starting next week. "We're just going to go over there, do our best, and try to win games. As long as we're in the 64-team field, we feel like we've got a shot."

The Rebels face No. 1 seed and overall SEC regular season champ Georgia Wednesday at 5 p.m. The Bulldogs, 35-19-1 and 20-9-1, made the league's biggest turnaround this season. The SEC East's Bulldogs didn't make the Hoover field or the NCAA tourney a year ago.

It's the eighth-seeded Rebels who line up first with a shot to beat the champs. Two weeks ago Ole Miss lost two of three games in Athens.

"They've got a deep pitching staff, and they compete really well," Smith said of Georgia. "They'll challenge us with a lot of fast balls, and they'll come after us. Their hitters are good. They get up there and work their tails off. It will be a good matchup."

Postseason is always a brand new start. The Bulldogs, with an RPI currently at 12, don't necessarily need to add to their resume. They'll host a Regional. But with a win or two, they could be a candidate for a top 8 national seed.

Just playing Georgia should improve an RPI for the Rebels that's in the 40s. But a win would help even more. Ole Miss may already be in the NCAA tourney. But one win, and certainly two, would help keep Selection Monday from being a nail-biter.

Smith said he and his teammates are headed to Hoover to do their part. They expect a large crowd of Rebel supporters, which has become the norm at this event the past few seasons.

And he will have some extra support in the stands from local family and friends.

"The whole Smith clan will be there," he said, smiling.

"We're going over there to try to win four games," Smith concluded.

If they're all in a row, the SEC tourney title will be theirs.

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