On From Hoover

HOOVER, Ala. – And now, even more important opportunities lie ahead. The Rebels leave here after five games and have to believe they have a shot to advance from a four-team tournament and a two-team series. One is upcoming. Both could be.

One key to not winning the SEC Tournament: In each of their two losses here, they gave up five runs in one inning. That's tough to come back from against Vanderbilt and LSU, the two teams it happened against. And so they lost both.

The door was opened for the Commodores Saturday morning by an infield throwing error. On Sunday against the Tigers, starter Nathan Baker ran into some trouble in the fifth and the inning got away from them.

Not scoring early against LSU also hurt. The Rebels had runners at first and third with an out in the top of the first inning after taking a 1-0 lead and left them there. After getting another run in the top of the second, the Rebs had runners on first and second with an out and left them there.

Ole Miss led 2-1 at that point, but they'd need more. It was going to be a high scoring day. LSU got eight runs and the Rebels two. Those two early runs. And that was it.

Another concern for next week and the next. Once again the lack of offense at critical times. In other words, timely hits.

But it is baseball and so it happens. Of course if not for Michael Guerrero's rocket to left against Kentucky, a timely hit if ever there was one, then we're not even sitting here today, most likely.

It was good to see Guerrero, named to the All-SEC tourney team, have as good an offensive display as anybody in recent memory, certainly with the long ball. His five home runs were one of the event's highlights.

And Jordan Henry, another all-tourney pick, was as good as he's ever been in a Rebel uniform this weekend.

The Rebels' other all-tourney selection, Lance Lynn, appeared to be in top form in his only appearance, a start in the Rebs' first game against Georgia.

Although Vandy came through the loser's bracket and won last year's tourney, it's tougher to do. In 2005 when Ole Miss lost to State, the Rebs played six games, the Bulldogs four. This weekend LSU played four and the Rebels five.

It does make a difference, obviously from a pitching standpoint.

So they leave here a more confident team than when they arrived, playing some of their best baseball of the season. And now it's back to a sixth straight NCAA Regional and a seventh in eight years.

Oxford won't host and that's a shame. The event is run so well and the crowds are huge. The NCAA loves it there and looks for every reason to come to Oxford for baseball.

Couple of things stand out about that. The SEC got just two host sites, as few as there's been in years. And a lesson learned for the Rebels. You have to take care of business before mid-May. This time of year is better served to pad the resume.

Some key injuries hindered them (see Button not playing, and note Guerrero's return and the difference it made). Some sleep-walking through a couple of games (see Central Arkansas, Arkansas State, and a Sunday game at TCU for starters) hurt as well.

You win say a couple more non-conference games and a couple more regular season conference games, and there is an Oxford Regional for the fifth straight year. And you're a No. 1 seed as well.

But that's neither here nor there at this point. What's important now is finding out where they'll go (11:30 a.m. CT Monday), what their seed is, and who is in the field.

The Rebels left here a tired bunch but will be rejuvenated come Monday around lunchtime when they hear their destination.

It won't be Oxford, but wherever it is, I do like their chances in a short tourney.

The Rebels talked last week about the SEC Tournament being a new season, a second season. They backed it up by getting to Sunday.

Now they move on to yet another season, where even more important opportunities lie.

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