It all starts on the mound for teams that win, as Coach Mike Bianco has said for years. For the Rebels this season, it's been who finished many of the games that proved to be vitally important.
When closer Scott Bittle moved to the Sunday starter role in late March, one of the reasons the coaches were able to do that was because of Jake Morgan's emergence as a top closer.
Morgan continues in that important role, and he knows he'll be called on this week if the Rebels are to have the success they've had the past few seasons here.
"We've always had a really good bullpen," said Morgan, a hard-throwing right-handed third-year sophomore. "This year even more than last we've had people who have thrown more often. I think we've got a really good shot here. And even if our starters can't go as long as we hope they can go, we've always got a good chance to win, especially with the kind of guys we've got."
Morgan has made 22 appearances this season, all in relief, with a 1.85 ERA and a 3-1 record. The Canton native said the Rebels want to win the tournament but also want to continue to win to improve their prospects at a national seed.
"The only thing we can do is go in there and do well again," he said. "We've done well there the last few years. We just want to win as many as we can."
Morgan said the Rebels, 40-15 overall and a school-record 20-10 in SEC play, are a confident ballclub heading into their first game of the tourney today against Georgia (35-20, 15-15).
"With success comes confidence," said Morgan, mentioning the Rebel haven't lost more than two games in a row all season. "We've been successful this year. We've been really consistent. It helps boost everybody's morale and confidence to have that type season and that type success."
Third-seeded Ole Miss and sixth-seeded Georgia played a three-game series in Oxford April 24-26 with the Rebels taking two of three games. Georgia won the series opener 6-3 on Friday night behind a grand slam from Joey Lewis in the seventh inning. Ole Miss won 10-8 win on Saturday as Evan Button came up with a game-tying single in the eighth and Logan Power then popped a game-winning double two batters later to push the Rebels to a 10-8 win. On Sunday the Rebels claimed a 6-1 win behind the arm of Bittle as he pitched 7.0 innings and allowed one run on five hits with 11 strikeouts.
Bittle, the Rebel senior All-American, won't be pitching in this tournament. He hasn't seen action since that day against Georgia in late April because of injury. More evaluations are scheduled today on his situation.
The Rebels have done well against Georgia under Bianco, posting a 13-9 record in the series over the last nine seasons. Ole Miss won the regular season series this season and have claimed five series against the Bulldogs in seven years of play. The two teams did not face each other in the 2002 or 2003 season due to the rotation of the Southeastern Conference schedule.
Ole Miss and Georgia have had a tightly contested series through the years. The Rebels currently lead the overall record 31-30. The two teams first played in the 1929 season, splitting the series.
Ole Miss and Georgia had never played in the Southeastern Conference Tournament until meeting in the opening round of the event a year ago when the top-seeded Bulldogs and 8th-seeded Rebels faced off. Ole Miss won 4-1 behind the arm of starter Lance Lynn and the bats of Jordan Henry, Fuller Smith, Cody Overbeck and Michael Guerrero.
The Rebels have had success in the SEC Tournament throughout the years beginning with the first event that was hosted in Oxford in 1977. Ole Miss - the SEC Champions at 15-9 - went 4-1 in the 1977 tournament and claimed the first-ever tournament title. All-time in the history of the event, the Rebels have posted a 23-19 record in the Southeastern Conference Tournament.
*** Ole Miss athletics media relations contributed to this story.
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