HED:Successful Rebs, Dogs return to action

CATEGORY: Baseball

AUTHOR: PARRIS

HED:Successful Rebs, Dogs return to action

By Parrish Alford

Daily Journal

Each coming off impressive Southeastern Conference series victories, Mississippi State and Ole Miss will play just once this week before returning to the SEC race.

Both games are tonight.

State travels to Jackson for a 6:30 p.m. first pitch against Jackson State at Smith-Wills Stadium.

Ole Miss is at home for the third of three games against Southern Mississippi, also at 6:30 p.m. The Rebels have dropped the first two: 6-4 in Jackson March 23 and 12-3 in Hattiesburg last week.

State held at No. 7 in the Collegiate Baseball poll after two wins against Alabama, which dropped two spots to No. 18. The Bulldogs moved up a spot to No. 9 in the Baseball America Poll.

State dropped the opener to Alabama 6-4 but rebounded to win 5-4 Saturday and 10-9 Sunday. The Bulldogs have gone 4-2 against key Western Division opponents Auburn and Alabama over the last two weekends.

They step out of Western Division play Friday, traveling to Knoxville to face Tennessee, the last place team in the East.

While the Bulldogs have won four straight SEC series, they’ve swept no one, and MSU coach Pat McMahon isn’t counting three victories over the Vols just yet.

“Our approach to the season is critical,” he said. “With the team gaining experience as the year unfolds, every time you go into an SEC weekend it’s very important that you play one game at a time. It’s a long season. You play for the moment, but each game becomes an impact at the end of the season.”

Jackson State comes into tonight’s game in first place in the Southwestern Athletic Conference’s Eastern Division at 14-2. The Tigers are 18-15 overall and are coming off a four-game sweep of Mississippi Valley State in SWAC play.

State defeated Jackson State in Starkville 8-0 Feb. 16.

Ole Miss got solid pitching and timely hitting in a sweep of Florida in Oxford.

Tonight the Rebels need a win to keep from being swept by Southern Mississippi.

The Golden Eagles are coming off a Conference USA sweep against Alabama-Birmingham.

USM is 24-9 overall, 9-3 in C-USA for third place behind co-leaders Tulane and Houston who are both at 10-2.

Wins against SEC teams will enhance USM’s NCAA tournament chances.

“It has to,” second-year coach Corky Palmer said. “It improves your RPI, no doubt. The SEC has the highest RPI in the country. I think they’ll take three from our league, but we’ve got to make sure we’re in the top three. I’m smart enough to know that. We need to be sitting at 37 wins going into the (conference) tournament.”

The Rebels outscored Florida 8-0 Friday, 6-5 Saturday and 14-4 Sunday for their second SEC sweep of the season. Ole Miss is in third place in the Western Division, two games behind Arkansas and a half game ahead of State.

The Rebels are back in Oxford this weekend to face Georgia, which climbed into third place in the East after winning twice against South Carolina.

Winning on the weekends is of the utmost importance as Ole Miss tries to make the SEC tournament for the first time in four years.

But the Rebels are just four games over .500 overall and need some midweek wins to strengthen their chances for an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament.

“It’s becoming evident that that’s going to be crucial for us,” Ole Miss coach Pat Harrison said. “We’ve played well sometimes during the week but not been able to win. It’s going to be about winning midweek games if we want to do something in the postseason.”