Never One Better

Some baseball weekends rank way up there in the big picture. Ole Miss' sweep of LSU does, and that's without knowing what it may mean to the Rebels from this point on.

The first thing beating the visitors from Louisiana three times did was extend their winning streak to five games. Starting with a Sunday win at South Carolina, the Rebels haven't been the same team.

Now they're 28-13 overall and 11-7 in Southeastern Conference play. Few saw this coming a couple of weeks ago when midweek losses to Arkansas-Little Rock and Memphis had some outside the lines about ready to give up on this ballclub.

But inside the lines and the locker room, it was a different story. They knew they were capable of something as big as a win streak that would include a three-game sweep of the defending national champs, ranked in everybody's top five all year.

But what caused it? Mindset is one thing, but that can only take a team so far. They have to perform.

Let's say you got through Friday's storms and were thinking about what might happen on doubleheader Saturday. It might go something like this.

Had you been told Drew Pomeranz would walk nine batters and not make it to the fourth inning of game one, you'd have said the Rebs were likely going to lose. So would I.

Had you known Aaron Barrett would give up four runs in the top of the first inning of game two, rekindling flashbacks of the 2009 Aaron, you'd have said the Rebs were probably done for in the late game on Saturday. So would I.

Alex Yarbrough

Of course you and I would be wrong on both counts. And that's because the Rebel offense picked up the slack of the starting pitchers. And when the starters left, the relievers pitched like they hadn't all season. (And truthfully Aaron got things together after that and pitched more than admirably.)

The relievers were effective for the most part all weekend. And when they weren't at times, the Rebel defense was there to pick them up.

It was that kind of weekend for the Rebels.

For LSU, which fell to 32-9 overall and 11-7 in the SEC, same as Ole Miss, it was a weekend they'd just as soon forget. Or learn from.

The Tigers wasted little time exiting the ballpark Sunday. They cleared the visiting dugout, boarded the bus and headed out.

This was a heavyweight slugfest between two powers of college baseball. One program has been there for a while, winning its sixth national title in less than 20 years last June.

The other program has been so close it seems almost unfair. Everything's in place for it to happen for that program as well, but it just hasn't yet. Weekends like this one prove it can.

Both are programs that have been loaded with talent for a number of years. When Mike Bianco brought a bit of the magic LSU was experiencing to Oxford 10 years ago, things changed here. Better players arrived. More fans arrived. More kids wore Ole Miss shirts and caps and got into Rebel baseball. It became the thing to do as the weather warmed up each spring.

More attention was brought to the program, too. ESPN, The Magazine was here this weekend. That doesn't happen if you're not "somebody" in sports.

LSU and Ole Miss baseball are.

It was all billed as a Friday night pitcher's battle between two of the top picks for the upcoming June draft. Beyond that, nobody knew what to expect.

Taylor Hightower

That memorable pitching matchup never materialized and is not something anyone will talk about from this weekend ever again. It turned into a home run derby, thanks to the winds that swept across the state from west to east all weekend.

Combined, the two teams hit 13 round-trippers in three games. There were seven in the first game alone as the Rebels won the opener 11-9.

Home runs excite fans, and if they win games, coaches love them, too. This weekend even Alex Yarbrough, the Rebels' superlative freshman second baseman, got his first one. And it was huge.

His bottom of eighth blast to right on Sunday, that just got over the wall, tied the game 6-6 and set things up for Kevin Mort's bases loaded single over an unusual defense that basically ignored anything long and attempted to make a play somewhere in the infield.

Yarbrough said he didn't know his was gone, "until it was gone."

"I just kept running," he said.

And Mort. As amazing a story as there's been in Ole Miss baseball in years. Here's a kid that was recruited by really no other bigtime D-I programs at all. He treks across the country from California to play two years at Ole Miss after junior college, replacing none other than all-everything Zack Cozart.

And, just like Cozart, now everybody would like to see him stick around for another year or two.

But he can't. His eligibility will be over when this season ends.

All he and his teammates can do now is focus on the immediate task at hand. And that is two non-conference home games this week against Murray State and Tennessee-Martin.

Then it's on the road to Mississippi State where Ole Miss hasn't lost a series since 2002, in arguably the most memorable of all the bad moments of the Bianco era.

That's when Ole Miss needed to win one game to get to Hoover for the SEC tourney, and MSU had to win all three to get there. And the Bulldogs did.

So where does this weekend sweep of LSU actually rank in the Bianco era? We'll see how it plays out from here on to be certain.

But at this point I'd have to say there's been no regular season three-game series here to match it. Unless it was sweeping MSU in 2005 at home, which was the first time that had happened since 1978.

But because of one Sunday win at South Carolina and four more wins since then, all of a sudden this is an Ole Miss team that believes it can do more special things this season.

One game at a time. One inning at a time. One pitch at a time.

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