Governor's Cup

Some call it the 31st most important game of the regular season, after the 30 Southeastern Conference games. Certainly the Governor's Cup, today at 6:30 p.m. in Pearl, is not your ordinary non-conference contest.

"It's a lot more fun for the players," said Ole Miss head coach Mike Bianco of the annual capital city area matchup between the Rebels and the Mississippi State Bulldogs. "You get into conference play, not that all Tuesday and Wednesday games are not fun, but you go down to Pearl, in the Jackson area, and put 6,000, 7,000, maybe 8,000 people in a AA stadium, it's fun. And when you're playing your arch-rival, there's more on the line than the typical midweek game."

Bianco is coaching in his ninth Governor's Cup against MSU, although when the game was played at Smith-Wills Stadium in Jackson until three years ago, it was called The Mayor's Trophy game. Bianco's record as coach in this game is 5-3. After losing the first one he coached in back in 2001, his teams rolled off five straight wins. State has won the two played in Pearl.

MSU head coach John Cohen, the former Mississippi State player who was head coach at Kentucky for five years through last season, is coaching in his first Governor's Cup.

Cohen and Bianco competed against each other as players, when the Rebel head coach was an LSU catcher and Cohen played for the Bulldogs, then again when Cohen was head coach at Northwestern (La.) State and Bianco was at McNeese State as head coach. And during the past five seasons when Kentucky played Ole Miss.

The Bulldogs enter the game with a 19-17 record this season. Ole Miss is 25-10.

"You watch their year and they've had some good games and they've had some games that they've struggled in. And that happens," Bianco said. "From everything you hear and from what I've read in the papers, they play differently. They play with more energy, and that's what you would expect. Everywhere John's been, they attack offensively. They do a lot of different things. They're trying to get hit and walk and bunt. They try to put a lot of pressure on your defense. Certainly when you look at their numbers this year, you can see that. They have more stolen bases than any Mississippi State team since I've been here. More HBPs. They seem to fight in games that they're behind. They're playing hard, at least that's what we hear."

Bianco will send fifth-year senior Brett Bukvich (LHP, 4-1, 3.86) to the mound in his home county to face the arch-rival.

"He and (Nathan) Baker are the two guys who have started the Tuesday/Wednesday games, and we only have one game this week," Bianco said. "He threw terrific last week, and being a fifth-year guy and being from down there, it's fitting he gets to pitch in this game."

Bukvich pitched seven innings in the Rebels' 7-0 win last Wednesday night against New Orleans in Oxford. He gave up three hits and had seven strikeouts and two walks.

"I can't wait. I'm looking forward to it," said Bukvich, who relieved in this game two years ago and was the starter last year. "It's familiar territory against a familiar foe. So I'm ready to go."

State starter Ricky Bowen (RHP, 1-1, 6.75) pitched in this game two years ago. But it was last year's third game of the SEC series when he started in Starkville that is more memorable. Ole Miss had won the first two games of the series by large margins. But Bowen handcuffed the Rebels in a 4-0 win.

Bukvich, who played at nearby Northwest Rankin High, said anytime UM and MSU meet it's an important moment.

"A lot of the players know each other, and there are a lot of friends on each team," he said. "It's fun. It's good competition. And a lot of us are from the Jackson area."

One of those is another fifth-year Rebel, Logan Power, who prepped at Hillcrest Christian School.

"It's a lot of fun," Power said. "Every year my mom tells me a long list of people that are coming to the game. There will be a lot of people there for both sides. It will be real intense. It should be a good game."

Power, whose brother, Mark, played baseball at Mississippi State, said this game definitely isn't your average non-conference, midweek game.

"Them being our instate rival makes it bigger," he said. "They'll play hard, and we'll play hard. There will be a lot of fans at the game. It will be fun."

Ole Miss travels to Florida for three games this weekend, while MSU hosts Cohen's former team, Kentucky.

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