Feeling Better About Themselves

There was a spring in their step Monday, and the weather was crisp and cool as the Ole Miss Rebels went back to work following their 5-4 victory at South Carolina Sunday. It's amazing what one win can do.

Of course, that's one win after four straight losses. Now the Rebels, 24-13 overall and 8-7 in Southeastern Conference games at the halfway mark of league play, can feel better about themselves. But more than that, they can play better. And they did that on Sunday.

They were timely. Just five hits, which is a concern on a Sunday, but there were equally as many runs scored. Which meant pitching on Sunday was better than it's been.

David Goforth's starts are giving the Rebels a chance. Matt Tracy and Brett Huber finished things up after Goforth departed on Sunday.

Pitching gave the Rebels an opportunity to win Sunday. But it was a big fifth inning of four runs, including a two-run shot from Matt Smith to make it 4-2 Ole Miss, that set things up.

After USC tied it 4-4 in the bottom of the fifth, David Phillips sent one out of the park to lead off the seventh. And then it was all about pitching and defense.

Who knows what the win will do? It certainly vaults the Rebels into a six-game homestand, starting with Southern Mississippi Tuesday at 6:30 p.m., on a positive note. That was sensed at practice Monday.

"After losing four (games) in a row and not playing well in a few weeks, it was probably more critical to just win (a game) than to win on Sunday," Ole Miss head coach Mike Bianco said. "Now (the players) are feeling a little better about themselves."

The first thing the Rebels worked on at Monday's practice was what they were worst at over the weekend. Bianco sent them through an intense period of working on bunt defense. Of course that also helps the Rebels on another aspect that isn't their forte' and that's bunting offense.

Bunting. Not what Ole Miss baseball does best by any stretch, on either side of the ball. And Monday they got after it to improve those aspects of their game.

Matt Snyder

Bianco said Matt Snyder continues to improve from his many bumps and bruises. After dislocating his left shoulder twice early this season and following that up with a head injury after being hit during an at-bat at Georgia weekend before last, Snyder has made it back to DH.

But that's likely all we'll see of the sophomore first baseman from here on out in 2010.

"Right now it doesn't look like he'll play first again this season," Bianco said. "Not because physically he couldn't do it. He physically could do it probably now. It's the chance of (the shoulder) coming out. It's come out three times on him already, once in high school and twice here. There's a high percentage he will get the surgery on it this summer to prevent that from happening again. So too many opportunities for him to get hurt again (if he is at first base anymore this season)."

That means a lot of Miles Hamblin and some Mike Snyder and perhaps Matt Smith, although less likely, at first the rest of the way.

Taylor Hightower

"We're looking at a combination," Bianco said. "If it's a left-handed pitcher, Mike (Snyder) could be out there. Right now Miles is ahead of Mike defensively. Miles played terrific defensively this weekend and made some big plays."

That would mean less of Hamblin at catcher as well, and a lot of Taylor Hightower.

"We obviously want to keep them fresh back there, but Taylor's done so well," Bianco said. "His numbers are outstanding. He's literally in his first year of catching. He's a sophomore but didn't catch much last year. He's really done outstanding and also done well switch-hitting."

Eric Callender didn't pitch at South Carolina over the weekend. He's been one of the first relievers Bianco has gone to this season.

"He's got a little tenderness in his arm (forearm)," Bianco said. "It's nothing serious, we think. It hurts him when he releases and pushes down, similar to (Brett) Bukvich last year in the Super Regional. He had it last Tuesday when he threw against Memphis. We could have used him. It was a combination of we'll use him (at USC) if we have to, and we won't if we don't. Could he throw (Tuesday)? Sure. But we'll see."

Sophomore LHP Matt Crouse (2.73 ERA, 2-1 record, 11 appearances, 4 starts, 1 save, 26.1 innings pitched) will start for the Rebels Tuesday night against the Golden Eagles. USM is 18-16 and fell to Ole Miss 11-6 in March at Pearl.

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