Next Game A Week Away

HOOVER, Ala. – Some champions come to the SEC Tournament and don't play like it. Happens fairly often. It did to Ole Miss in its first two games.

It did to Georgia last year. The SEC champion Bulldogs went 0-2 here, made it to Omaha and were the national runner-up.

The Rebels (40-17) weren't themselves here, not the team they'd been over the course of most of the 55 games they'd previously played this season. They hadn't lost more than two games in a row throughout the course of the year. Here, that's all they got to play.

Of course, when you play in the nation's best conference and the best eight of those teams are here, then you know what you're up against.

Georgia? Florida? Two of the best in the conference and the country.

The Rebels had beaten both of them two-of-three in their respective series this season. Those two series wins went a long way toward Ole Miss becoming conference champs and also what should be another reward for the team and program.

While talk of being a national seed has diminished, hopes of an NCAA Regional hosting bid are still very much alive. Those 16 host sites will be announced Sunday. The rest of the field will be announced Monday.

If the Rebels don't get to host, and I fully believe they will, then it will be NCAA 2, Ole Miss 0 as far as hosting (counting men's tennis, of course).

But there is too much money to be made in Oxford for baseball. And this baseball team, like men's tennis, deserves to host. They played their way into hosting before coming here.

Ole Miss head coach Mike Bianco was asked by a TV reporter how much the SEC tourney should weigh in determining anything from this point on.

"I hope the SEC Tournament doesn't count at all," Bianco said, then breaking into a slight smile.

And it likely won't, as far as next weekend for the Rebels is concerned.

If you look at the starting pitching for Ole Miss, the Rebels got about what they have all year from Drew Pomeranz and Brett Bukvich. The sophomore lefty got into the sixth, allowing just four earned runs on five hits with six strikeouts and two walks. And the fifth-year lefty, although giving up two solos and being credited with two throwing errors, pitched into the fifth with five earned runs on five hits with seven strikeouts and a walk.

At the plate, Ole Miss didn't appear to be itself. In this big ballpark you weren't expecting a lot of home runs. None in two games perhaps wasn't a total surprise given this team's lack of long ball prowess.

But leaving 13 on against Georgia was a killer in game one, especially when the Bulldogs cleared them off when loaded that one time, and also because the Bulldogs only left five on. The Rebels got them on, at least to first base, but couldn't move them further.

The Rebels couldn't get much of anything done against Florida starter Anthony DeSclafani, a right-handed freshman with nine starts and 10 relief appearances (including two vs. Ole Miss in Gainesville). Once again no extra bases and just seven hits – while Florida had 15, including three home runs.

Both days Ole Miss was swinging at a lot of first pitches, which is fine if you get a hit. And some of the Rebels just looked out of kilter at the plate. They left the bases loaded, which happens sometimes, three times in two days. As pointed out earlier, they just weren't themselves these last two games.

And then there were the Scott Bittle and Rory McKean sagas. Instead of being a big part of his team and pitching staff the past month, Bittle continued medical evaluations in Birmingham. There is hope for next weekend, but there has been hope every weekend the past month.

And McKean's situation, more unofficial rumor than official word, was a topic here. The fourth-year junior RHP was an important part of the staff all season. The hope, like for Bittle, is that he will be available for Regional action. Bianco said he feels good about McKean's situation for next weekend.

So the Rebels leave here unusually early this time around. Not since 2004, the program's first year to host an NCAA Regional, had they gone 0-2. That year South Carolina got the best of them in dramatic and heartbreaking fashion on a Wednesday night. Then the Rebels limped through an early-morning close loss to Arkansas to head back home before playing again for a week.

This year they'll carry the SEC championship trophy back to Oxford and the likelihood of another Regional hosting situation, the fifth in the last six seasons.

The Rebels were good most of this season. There were some rocky moments and tough losses, as there always are, but not many.

Here at the SEC tourney, there were two of those games. Now they have a week to get ready for more baseball in 2009.

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