One More Time

FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. - Arkansas had an impressive fireworks show following Ole Miss' 9-3 win over the homestanding Razorbacks Friday night. For the Rebels, now tied for first place in the SEC overall race, the celebrations can wait.

Honestly when the game ended, the Rebels had no idea they are now in a two-way tie for the conference regular season crown with LSU, which had lost at Mississippi State.

"Tomorrow's a big game," said Matt Smith, a team co-captain of this year's Rebel squad along with Brett Basham, after the Rebels had taken the series by claiming the first two games. "We can get 40 wins. We can get 20 conference wins. So it's a big day tomorrow."

Somebody told Smith the Rebels also were in first place and still had a chance at the top seed in the upcoming SEC Tournament.

"I didn't know that until right now," he said, smiling, a little stunned.

The Tigers are now tied with Ole Miss at 19-10 in SEC games.

"Nice. Awesome. Sweet," Smith said, smiling again, less stunned. "So LSU lost tonight.

"We'll approach (game three vs. Arkansas) the same way we always do," Smith continued. "We'll come out here and hopefully play well and win."

The Rebels, 39-15 overall, have done a lot of that this year. There've been way more ups than downs.

It seems like a long time ago that the Rebels lost two of three in Mobile to open the season. Who can even remember the TCU series at home, when the Horned Frogs scored all those runs in that one game, and the other two games were called off because of weather?

Even disappointing Sunday losses against Vanderbilt, LSU, and Alabama, along with series losses at home to South Carolina and Mississippi State, aren't on the radar screen anymore.

Of note. The Rebels never lost more than two games in a row all season. There was nothing close to a lenghty slump.

Sure they all count. Everything counts, which is one of Bianco's mottos.

But what counts most now is Saturday's regular season finale.

There's a lot to like about this Rebel team. They've just been mentally good all year, for starters.

Add to that the fact that their team chemistry has been as good as I've seen from any team, and you have a good mixture of what's needed for success. And I haven't even mentioned talent. But it's there.

This team is sneaky good. They don't bowl you over when you first look at them as far as size. Not that being big or tall makes one a better baseball player, necessarily.

Zach Miller and Kevin Mort aren't exactly mammoth. Where would this team be without those two all-stars?

Mort made only his fifth error of the season Friday night. Last year's play at short, before the arrival of Mort this year, was a problem for the team.

Miller at third was a bold move that worked from day one. He looked comfortable and natural there. The move allowed some other positives to happen at second base with Tim Ferguson and Evan Button.

The emergence of Kyle Henson has been big. He and Basham have been so solid behind the plate. And Henson's offense, like the three-run homer Friday night that padded the Rebel lead up to 7-3 at the time, has been so significant.

Jake Morgan's role as closer, after Scott Bittle moved to starter, was key. Had he not emerged in that role, Bittle might not have been able to be moved.

Jordan Henry, with the Ole Miss single-season steals record now, gets on base in half of his at-bats this season. He scores half of those times.

Jeremy Travis has gotten some big hits and been solid all season. Logan Power comes to play every day and holds the all-time RBI record at Ole Miss.

Nathan Baker's obvious improvement and confidence. Brett Bukvich's nine wins this season. Rory McKean's key role as a dependable reliever.

Matt Snyder no longer being a "freshman." Drew Pomeranz evolving into one of the league's best game one starters.

David Goforth's effectiveness time and time again out of the bullpen. David Phillips and Michael Hubbard coming through in clutch situations or just getting a hit to keep something going.

And lately this team doing it all without Bittle. Hopefully the pitcher that some in college have said is the best they've ever faced can return for Hoover and beyond.

Because at this point, who knows how far this team can go? But the ingredients appear to be there.

Phillip Irwin stepping up last fall, this spring – and today as the starter. So key for this ballclub.

Irwin's candor, demeanor and attitude in dealing with everything from his performances on the mound to his interviews with us have been noteworthy.

It was again late on Friday night.

"To go out and win the SEC title would be just amazing," said Irwin, who pitched the Rebels to an 8-1 win last Sunday at home against Mississippi State. "It's baseball. I have to trust my routine. Hopefully I'll get more than enough run support. With Jake and Goforth in the pen, it makes you feel really good on the mound."

I have heard more than one parent say this year that the players on this team "really like each other."

That's not to say players on other teams haven't. What it does say is that there is a bond and a chemistry and a togetherness on this squad, and that's all helped to get them where they are today.

On the final day of the regular season, they'll try to put it all together one more time.

Then it could be fireworks time for the Ole Miss Rebels.


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