A week ago yesterday, the Ole Miss Rebel baseball team sat in their hotel rooms in Columbia, SC, with some soul-searching to do.
After losing Friday and Saturday to the Gamecocks, sitting at 7-7 in the SEC and not having won a Sunday game since - it seems - a couple of weeks after the Cotton Bowl, it was time for the Rebs to man up or the season was perilously close to slipping into mediocrity, or worse.
It's cliche', but it was gut-check time.
They could have gone in a lot of directions, but they decided to battle.
The Rebs tuned in for a much-needed, critical Sunday win over the Cocks, moving their SEC record above .500, followed up with a mid-week victory over Southern Mississippi, who hates Ole Miss worse than the plague, and set themselves up for a much-anticipated weekend showdown with LSU, the number 5 team in the country and the defending national champs, arguably the finest baseball program the past couple of decades in the nation.
Geared up, feeling some momentum and ready to get after it, Mother Nature stepped in and delayed the big show with some heavy rains Friday and another wave of the wet stuff Saturday morning and early afternoon.
But the clouds dissipated, the sun came out and a doubleheader was on for Saturday afternoon/night.
A ballyhooed pitching matchup between the Rebs' Drew Pomeranz and LSU's Anthony Renaudo never materialized. Both of the aces, usually money in the bank for both programs, just didn't have their best stuff.
The Rebs built a big lead behind the bats of Matt Snyder, who had six runs batted in, and Tim Ferguson, who was on fire at the plate.
LSU, however, answered the bell, but their comeback bid fell short with the Rebs holding on for an 11-9 victory.
The momentum built from the week prior keep chugging, but the Rebs hit a snag early in the second game falling behind 5-0 in the nightcap.
As if the opener did not have enough drama, more was on the way - much more.
Starter Aaron Barrett got over the rocky start and held the Tigers at bay until the Rebel bats could get in the groove, which they did with four runs in the fourth to tie the contest up at 5-all.
Taylor Hashman, who has been platooning but has been in a zone of late, had the big blow - a two-run shot to knot the score.
The Rebs - and Hashman - did not wait long to strike again. In the fifth, with the bases juiced, Hashman hit a gapper to right center that cleared the bases and put the Rebs up 8-5.
Again, LSU would not go gently into that sweet Rebel night, roaring back to tie the score at 8 each and forcing the game into extra frames.
Welcome to the hero circle, freshman Alex Yarbrough and sophomore southpaw reliever Matt Crouse.
Crouse, all 150 (guess) pounds of him, shut the Tigers down for 2.2 innings and gave the Rebels time to get some offense going.
The only problem was that the Tigers had other thoughts with reliever Matty Ott, as good as any closer in the country, on the mound.
In the bottom of the 11th, however, the confidence and momentum of the previous games showed up again and Yarbrough, a true freshman, delivered a single on a 3-2 fastball up the middle to plate the winning run.
Sunday, with an unusually large crowd (over 8,000) showing up and another beautiful day on tap, LSU seemed to have the upper hand most of the way.
For five or six innings, it looked as if the Rebels were somewhat "satisfied" to have won two of three from the Tigers.
In the early going, the focus at the plate seemed lacking, but the Tigers could never really put the "new look" Rebels away.
The Rebs hung around and hung around until they found lightning in a bottle again, this time with Snyder cutting the score to 6-5 with a solo shot and Yarbrough, yes him again, hitting his first career home run to tie the score at 6 in the bottom of the eighth.
Rebel closer Brett Huber locked down LSU in the eighth and ninth and in the bottom of the ninth, all Rebel hell broke loose.
The Rebs loaded the bases on two singles and a walk and left everything up to SS Kevin Mort.
LSU employed a defensive setup with an extra infielder, a drawn in infield and two outfielders. Odd, but they had no choice but to try something unconventional to try and cut off the winning run.
Mort never gave them a chance, launching a deep fly to the warning track in left that fell for the game-winning single.
The Rebels had broomed the Tigers, a feat rarely done.
"First of all, I think the crowds in all three games were a major factor," said Rebel Coach Mike Bianco. "We usually don't draw as well on Sunday, but the fans showed up and it was a big boost to us and a factor in the win.
"Second, we were going through an offensive slump a couple of weeks ago. Every team does that, but some don't battle out of it. Our guys kept grinding and worked their way through the slump. I'm proud of them for that. We had some bumps in the road and we handled them."
And most importantly, in any sport, but perhaps more so in baseball, the Rebels have regained the swagger, belief and confidence they had earlier in the year.
There is still a lot of baseball left to play, starting with a couple of mid-week games this week and then a three-game set at Starkville against MSU, never an easy assignment, but the sweep of LSU could be just what the doctor ordered for this rejuvenated band of Rebels.
Seasons can turn for better or worse on one series.
This one has to be for the better.
A week ago this past Saturday, the Rebels were 7-7 in the SEC and facing a crossroads.
Today, they are 11-7 in the league and on a torrid roll having swept one of the best teams in America.
Baseball, Rebel baseball. Don't you love it?
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