Championship Monday

The masses who left Oxford-University Stadium Sunday night will re-enter the gates later today for more baseball. After seven complete they didn't think they'd be back, but they will be.

This isn't much of a look back at what did happen as what's gotta happen. Now that Virginia has put Irvine out, the Cavaliers are just waiting on that Western Kentucky win tonight so they can host this weekend.

The Rebels will have something to say about that. What will it be?

The momentum is with Western Kentucky. You don't go out and win two games like the Hilltoppers did Sunday against those odds in that situation and not feel like you're going to win the thing Monday night.

Ole Miss (42-18) has to offset that. The Rebel players have to feel the same way. They have to bring that attitude to the ballpark this afternoon that this is their time and place and they are nine innings away from playing more baseball at Swayze later in the week.

Fans can help. The way Ole Miss fans from the grandstand to the outfield stood and tried to lift the team after the Sunday game was tied 9-9 and again after the visitors led 10-9 was impressive. That has to happen again at 7 o'clock tonight and throughout the evening to help Ole Miss regain the momentum it clearly lost.

How long can Drew Pomeranz go? What about WKU starter Matt Ridings?

Both started for their teams Friday. Ridings has had a little longer to rest since his game was earlier that day and he went less innings but still threw almost as many pitches.

Ridings, a junior righty, went 6.1 innings against Missouri allowing four runs on five hits with eight strikeouts and four walks. He threw 100 pitches that day.

Pomeranz was masterful, holding an outmanned Monmouth team to a run on five hits through eight innings with 10 strikeouts and two walks. He threw 109 pitches that night.

Those pitchers are used to starting every seven days with some bullpen work in between. Which one will be more effective on two days' rest?

Western's offense built a 6-0 lead in the first inning against the Tigers in the opener and Ridings said that helped him.

"It's always easier to pitch anytime you come off the first inning and get six runs," he said. "It takes pressure off of me."

No doubt Ridings will be looking for his team's potent and powerful offense to do the same thing tonight, to give him that lead and let him work.

The Rebels are usually a slower starting team offensively. They do, however, normally get a run or two early and eventually score six to nine runs a game, as Coach Mike Bianco has pointed out through the year. They may have to score more than that tonight and they need a faster start. This one could turn into a scoring fest given the amount of innings played so far by both teams.

The Rebels have some pitchers who haven't seen any time this weekend. Aaron Barrett, Wade Broyles, and Michael Park are rested and ready. The other seven on the weekend roster have pitched at least some.

When Bianco was asked after Sunday night's game how many would be available, he said all of them.

WKU (42-19) has played one more game than the Rebels this weekend. The Hilltoppers have used eight hurlers to this point.

But the third-seeded Hilltoppers do most of their damage with their bats, just like they proved Sunday night.

"We never feel like we are totally out of the ballgame," said Topper slugger Wade Gaynor, whose three-run homer in the eighth tied the game and set things up for the game-winning homer in the ninth for Jake Wells. "Whenever you are down 9-3 at Ole Miss in front of 10,000 people, you don't have anything to lose. We just wanted to take good at-bats and hitting is contagious."

The Rebels must answer with a contagious run of their own tonight, must be as effective with their offensive execution as they were in Sunday night's game, which was impressive through seven innings.

They must stay away from giving up the big inning to the strong-hitting Hilltoppers. That was a killer Sunday night.

They need to have one of those type innings themselves, score four or five runs, get them on and get them in. And do it again.

They need continued stellar defensive play, as they've gotten most of the way. Some of Kevin Mort's plays at short this weekend alone have been highlight caliber. That type defensive effort can be contagious, too, and lift a team. We saw that Sunday night as well.

And they have to pitch it effectively, in whatever form that ends up being.

The top-seeded SEC champions must also get a victory. Otherwise there will be no tomorrow. And no Super Regional in Oxford this weekend.


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