Eye on the Tigers

Ole Miss right fielder Matt Smith, a fourth-year junior, is a big believer in the process.

His head coach, Mike Bianco, preaches it daily. College baseball is a demanding sport, with the peaks rewarding and the valleys unforgiving. An ability to maintain perspective, paired with a good amount of "flushing," is almost as important as wins and losses.

So while the No. 18 Rebels limp into the first of a three-game series against No. 16 Auburn having won just two of their last six Southeastern Conference games, Smith is keeping his cool. He's played on ballclubs, and found success, in must-win situations before.

"Having to (win), it doesn't add any more pressure," he said Tuesday as the team prepared for the Tigers. "I guess you'd say games like this are easier for people to say they are focused for. You should be that way the whole time.

Matt Smith

"We've done well at the end of seasons since I've been here. It's just one of those things where it's not any more pressure. It's here. It's right in front of you. You know what you have to do. You have to go out and do it."

Still, if Ole Miss (36-17, 16-11 SEC) is to take the series against the surging Tigers (36-17, 17-10), it will need more production at the plate.

As a team, the Rebels are hitting .294 on the season, with 56 home runs. But in SEC play, they're hitting a collective .266, good for last in the conference. They've also managed 234 strikeouts.

Auburn, however, has had no trouble scoring runs. The Tigers, with a potent lineup, are hitting .354 as a team and .337 in conference games. War Eagle digs the long ball, too. They've hit 106 on the year, which leads the nation.

"They're the best offensive club in the conference," Ole Miss head coach Mike Bianco said. "We just have to play well, pitch well, and defend well, try to limit their opportunities.

"We can't walk people like we did last weekend. We can't give them free baserunners. Certainly they're going to swing it and get their share of home runs. The other thing is we have to be able to score ourselves. We've got to do better than we have the last couple of weeks."

In their last seven games, the Rebels have scored just 21 runs.

The absence of Matt Snyder, who is hopeful of returning to his customary cleanup spot Thursday, has had an obvious affect. His nine home runs provided protection for Smith, while his slugging percentage and on-base percentage top the team in both categories.

"It's no secret," Bianco said. "Take the four-hole hitter out. It's a big difference."

A sweep this weekend means Ole Miss at least ties for the SEC West crown, depending on the outcome of Arkansas and Vanderbilt. The Razorbacks are 16-11, just like the Rebels.

An opportunity to once again host an NCAA Regional, the sixth in seven seasons in Oxford, is also on the line come first pitch at 6:30 p.m.

"It's a huge weekend," junior center fielder Tim Ferguson said. "We've got to outswing them. They can swing the bats. We're excited, because we still practically control our own destiny to win the West. We get a couple of wins here, we get to host a Regional here. That's what we all want to do. It's a great crowd, great stadium, and we play well here.

"This weekend is huge, and we're going to play up to the hype."

Junior LHP Drew Pomeranz takes the mound Thursday to meet sophomore LHP Cory Luckie, who is 6-3 on the year and sports a 6.36 ERA. Pomeranz is 7-1 overall and leads the conference in strikeouts (121) and ERA (2.15).


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