Halfway Point

Normally we do our interviews in left field, just beyond third base, away from the crowds and not too far from where the players hold their postgame huddle with the coaches. But on Sunday, we went into the dugout.

It had begun to rain on this Easter afternoon, and it was 3 o'clock, which would have been an hour and a half into a normal Sunday game. But this one was backed up to noon, from its original 1:30 p.m. start. Good thing, too. The rain got much harder, and there would have been no way to finish the game had the start time remained as scheduled.

It has been since the last weekend in March, 2003, that an Ole Miss baseball team has been swept three games at home. That was by Mississippi State on a cold Grove Bowl weekend, Eli Manning's last spring game in a red and blue uniform.

There has been much winning by Ole Miss baseball teams in the six years since. As a matter of fact, not only has Ole Miss not been swept at home in three games by anybody since then, the Rebels have won every series against the Bulldogs, including one memorable sweep in 2005.

The Rebels and Bulldogs meet again Tuesday night. This time it's in Pearl, that non-conference, metro Jackson annual event that for years was played at Smith-Wills Stadium and is now played in shiny, still-new Trustmark Park, home of the AA Braves. It used to be called the Mayor's Trophy game and now it's called the Governor's Cup.

While not a conference game, it's still an important game – to get another win, so fans can brag a little on Wednesday, and to showcase your program in another part of the state than where your campus is located.

But on Sunday after the Rebels beat South Carolina, the attention wasn't yet on Pearl but was squarely on the business the Rebels had taken care of in game three of that series.

The team missed an opportunity, really with just one more win, to make up some substantial ground. At 9-6, the Rebs are currently tied with Florida for fourth overall in the SEC standings. They travel to Florida this weekend.

Georgia swept at Kentucky to move to 11-4 and leads the SEC race. Arkansas, 10-4, fell at home twice to Vandy and got rained out in game three. LSU, 10-5, won two of three at Alabama.

South Carolina came to Oxford 5-7 in the league. There was pre-series talk of some of the position player/hitting losses USC had from last season. Coach Ray Tanner and his program have been winners for years. It was only a matter of time before they righted things.

Drew Pomeranz was not his usual self Friday night, and the Rebels fell behind by a lot early. They played catchup until time ran out and they were still two runs short.

Phillip Irwin on Saturday wasn't quite as good as he's been all season. But he got no offensive help as the Rebels had a hard time hitting the freshman lefty from USC, Nolan Belcher, who pitched a complete game.

Enter Scott Bittle and Jake Morgan, who combined to stop any more weekend damage and gave the Rebel bats time to wake up and break out on Sunday. The Rebels finally got their first lead all weekend in the bottom of the sixth in the finale.

That two-run inning, which put them ahead 2-1, seemed to be the lift they needed, and the Rebels added four more runs before this one was through.

There was a sense of relief more than remorse from the players and staff. There was a feeling that at 9-6, all their preseason goals can still come true.

Here's a look at three of the strongest teams of the decade, where they stood at this point, and how they finished.

The 2004 Rebels, the first UM team to host an NCAA Regional, set the midway point standard for the Mike Bianco era. They were 11-4 at this stage and went 7-8 the rest of the way.

The 2005 team, the first to host a Regional and a Super Regional, was the opposite of the team the season before, standing 7-8 at this point and going 11-4 over the last 15 to win the SEC West.

The 2006 team, which won the SEC Tournament and hosted a Regional and a Super Regional the next two weekends, was 7-8, then 10-5 after that.

I get a sense that more of our fans than ever understand the long grind that is a baseball season. We've all come a long way in understanding that a loss or two along the way isn't always "the end" and that a win or two doesn't always mean things are A-OK.

However, Sunday's win against South Carolina was almost one of those in the "must-win" category. Not because the end of the season is near, but because there are only 30 conference games and you want to win as many of them as you can.

The more of them you win, the better your chances of reaching your goals. With its latest win, this team, now 25-10 overall, can move on from here toward those goals and feel confident it can get there.


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