For much of the last two decades of the 20th century, Ole Miss, Vanderbilt, and Kentucky, three of the more northern teams in the former 10-team league of the SEC, weren't a regular at this event or in the postseason. That they are now shows what some commitment, hires, and recruiting can do.
When Mike Bianco came in, it was a different ballgame. Same with Tim Corbin at Vandy and John Cohen at UK.
These are three intense and focused programs led by equally intense and focused head coaches. Bianco, Corbin, and Cohen are in this thing to win it. And their programs reflect it.
But it still comes down to the players. They make the plays and the pitches. Ole Miss had a couple of miscues defensively Thursday night that were made up for by the powerful blasts of Matt Smith and Michael Guerrero. And the Rebel pitchers.
With a bullpen as strong as the Rebels have, you can get through a tournament like this and have a real shot, especially if you win the first two and get the off day.
Drew Pomeranz was good last night through three and then began to have some trouble in the fourth as UK got three runs. When he couldn't get the last out of the fifth, Brett Bukvich came in and did. He got Brian Spear to fly out after the previous two batters, UK's three and four guys Sawyer Carroll and Collin Cowgill, walked.
Buk's entrance and immediate ending of that inning was key.
So was Jake Morgan. The redshirt freshman has developed into a reliable reliever this season. He was confident out there in those last two and a third innings he pitched. The Canton Academy product allowed one run on one hit with a couple of strikeouts and not a walk.
You can win tournaments like this one with performances like Morgan's out of the pen.
Here's hoping Matt Smith's two-run, two-out blast keeps him moving up, along with the four RBI he had in the contest. His 7th-inning shot that almost topped the second wall in center field put the Rebs up 6-5, and the response by him and his teammates spoke volumes about their mission here this week.
That came before and after errors by Overbeck and Ferguson left the door open for the Wildcats. The Rebels need to clean it up a bit defensively, and they know it. They know big hits like Smith's and Guerrero's won't bail them out every game.
But that's the thing about baseball. It won't have to every game. Just every once in a while, like last night.
A key moment in this one as well? How about Logan Power's first pitch single to center to open the bottom of the ninth. Carroll and Cowgill had combined for a triple and a RBI fly out to put their team ahead 7-6 in the top of the ninth. Power, batting third in the Rebel lineup, started things off for UM with his single. Although Overbeck struckout when new pitcher Scott Green came in after Power got on, Guerrero followed Overbeck and sent the first pitch to him into the night.
This one was every bit the slugfest it appeared to be. Two of the SEC's baseball programs that weren't feared all that much a decade ago are now in the hunt for hardware on a regular basis. Like Vandy. And South Carolina, who's had the most success of the four over the past several years with some Omaha trips.
All four, along with surging LSU and an Alabama team trying to make some real noise here, are still around on day three.
The Rebels practice this afternoon at Samford and then get ready to play more baseball at 10 a.m. Saturday.
They've done pretty well in the late games. Now we'll see how they do in an early game.
With names like Satterwhite, Baker, McKean, and Cryer, who we haven't seen yet, and Bukvich and Morgan who can likely return, the Rebels appear to be in good shape pitching wise. Get to Sunday and who knows? Lynn might throw some again. You want to win that first one Saturday and save all these guys as much as possible for a championship game Sunday.
Bittle was actually throwing in the bullpen late in the game against Kentucky. We might even see The Thing again this weekend.
These SEC tournaments are like this, and you never know what might happen or who will be involved.
Key players and moments in a tourney run
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