Commonwealth Connections

CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. - Mike Snyder said he never saw it coming. Nobody said coming to Ole Miss meant this when he was being recruited.

Of course, there was no way to know. Now two years running, the Rebels and the Virginia Cavaliers have been a part of the same venue for postseason baseball.

"It is funny," said Snyder, one of the twins who plays for Ole Miss and hails from Centreville, Va. "We come down 16 hours from home (for college), and then Virginia comes to our Super Regional and we lose to them. Now this year maybe we can get a little revenge."

Last year Ole Miss won game one of the Super Regional in Oxford before losing the back two games and missing out on another trip to Omaha for the College World Series. It would have been Ole Miss' fifth trip to the Elite Eight of college baseball.

On the other hand, it was Virginia's first trip to Omaha in its program's history. But before the Rebels and Cavaliers can get together again, there are games to be played on Friday. Virginia, the top seed, plays fourth-seeded Virginia Commonwealth in the afternoon. That night the Rebels, seeded second, play third-seed St. John's.

For the Snyder twins, there's a connection to every team in the field. Even St. John's.

Mike and Matt have known Red Storm outfielder Tim McCormick, also from their area of Virginia, "since we were seven," said Mike. "We know guys on VCU. We know guys on Virginia."

Matt, like Mike, says going home to play at their homestate university will be special.

"My dad just said for us to get as many tickets as we could," Matt said. "So this will be fun."

"I can't wait," Mike said. "We've been waiting to get to play in front of family and friends, and people we've known basically our whole lives. It's going to be special."

Matt, who wears No. 33 for the Rebs, said last year and this year could be precursors of things to come.

"Next year, maybe we'll face them in Omaha," he said.

That would mean not being in the same Regional or Super Regional. Since the Snyders have been at Ole Miss, the Cavaliers have followed.

"I'm sure our mom hasn't slept yet (since Monday)," said Mike, No. 32 on the roster. "She's going to see her babies play."

She won't be difficult to find either. She will be the one with the Ole Miss jersey on, the name Snyder on the back, and the combination of both their numbers "332" on the back as well.

The Snyder twins aren't the only ones headed home to play this weekend. Add Matt Crouse to the list.

The Haymarket, Va., native has become a valuable addition to the Rebels' pitching staff. The left-handed sophomore, who pitched in the junior college ranks as a freshman at Young Harris College in Georgia, has 20 appearances and six starts in 52 innings for Ole Miss this season. He brings an ERA of 3.12 and a 5-1 record with one save into the Regional.

At 6-foot-4, he's a tall presence on the mound. But he arrived paper thin and has worked to gain weight since he got on campus last summer.

Matt Crouse

"It was tough this fall to put weight on," said Crouse, who now weighs 186, up from 174 back then. "But this spring I was actually able to put some weight on. I'm just eating more for one thing. That's been helping me out a little bit."

The weight room has also helped. Crouse said it's improved his pitching to be a bit more bulky than before.

"I just feel stronger and can go out there inning after inning and repeat my mechanics and get around the mound a little bit better," he said.

Crouse also says he feels good about his progress and is glad to be helping the team.

"It hasn't been a really big transition for me," he said of the recent additional innings he's picked up. "I've just been getting a few more innings. I just go out there whenever my name is called and try to fill up the zone."

Crouse said he can actually pinpoint a moment when things seemed to come together for him this season, and his game has been lifted ever since.

"On Saturday the second game against LSU, coming in in a tie game and shutting them down for a couple of innings and getting the win," he said. "That definitely helped my confidence a lot."

Crouse picked up the win in relief for Ole Miss in that contest with 2.2 innings of work. He allowed only one hit with one walk and struck out four in his time on the mound as the Rebs beat LSU 9-8 in 11 innings.

Pitching coach Carl Lafferty said Crouse has the tools to succeed, and that is why he is helping the team.

"First of all is his makeup and his mentality," Lafferty said. "He is such a competitor. It's his willingness and him wanting the baseball and wanting to be out there in the big situation and also his aggressiveness. And his delivery, with the way he really keeps the ball behind his body, his fastball really gets on the hitter quicker than normal.

"Talking to other coaches in the league, even Auburn, they said hitters were coming back and telling them that the ball really gets on you so much faster than you think," Lafferty continued.

Lafferty credits Crouse with doing what it takes to improve.

"He's done a great job getting in the program and working his tail off. He's really increased his velocity. He's a kid that works every day to get better and competes on the hill when he's out there. As a coach, that's all you can really ask."

Crouse says playing at UVA's Davenport Field this weekend will be special.

"I'm definitely excited. I'll have a few people there. Me and the Snyders will probably fill up the stands a little bit. I think I got 12 texts as soon as it came up (the Rebels were going to Charlottesville). It will be interesting to go back up there. The field plays really big. It's a pitcher's park."

That makes Matt Crouse even more excited to be back "home" playing baseball again.

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