By Parrish Alford/NEMS Daily Journal
OXFORD – In some cases, location isn’t everything.
Matt Snyder was not born into the Ole Miss-Mississippi State rivalry, he moved into it. Snyder, a native of Centerville, Va., feels no less a part of it. It matters to him.
“It’s just as much a rivalry to me now as it is to anyone else on the team,” says Snyder, who will try to deliver long balls and home runs to tilt the series the Rebels’ way this weekend.
Ole Miss and Mississippi State, both fighting for a spot in the SEC Tournament, meet tonight at 6:30 at Swayze Field.
Ole Miss (27-21 overall) and MSU (30-18) are both 11-13 in the SEC, tied with Auburn for the seventh and eighth spots in the SEC tournament. The top eight teams qualify.
Beyond pitchers David Goforth and Jake Morgan, it’s hard to find Mississippians who have made big contributions for Ole Miss this year.
The Rebels’ out-of-staters say you don’t have to be from Mississippi to understand the importance of the weekend on more than one front. Ole Miss coach Mike Bianco had no history with the rivalry before he was hired but said he’s learned the emotions it stirs in fans.
“Coach B told us last year, ‘Don’t get me wrong. I’m not from here, but I know.’ When he said that, I was like, ‘This is big,’” said Ole Miss center fielder Tanner Mathis, a native of Lake Charles, La.
The Rebels’ leadoff hitter, Mathis has reached base at least once in 37 consecutive games.
Ole Miss will be without a key offensive performer, senior captain Matt Smith, for the second straight week.
The Rebels, though, put together two solid offensive games against the SEC’s No. 1 pitching staff, totaling 17 runs on 23 hits to win Saturday and Sunday and take last weekend’s series against No. 2 South Carolina.
“We have all the confidence in the world. There’s nothing to State that we haven’t seen all year. South Carolina had all the arm angles. Even if State does have a sidearm lefty, we’ll be able to hit him. If they have an underhanded right-hander, we’ll be able to hit him,” Mathis said.
After a monster series at Auburn two weeks ago, Snyder has just four hits in his last 23 SEC at-bats. Against South Carolina he was 0 for 6 with runners in scoring position until Game 3 when he had a single and a two-run home run.
“Friday I was probably just trying to do too much. Other than that I feel great in the box. There have been games where I didn’t have anything to show for it, but that’s part of baseball. I feel great,” Snyder said.
Snyder remembers the not-so-great feeling his freshman year, the last time MSU was in Oxford. The Rebels – who would go on to share the SEC overall championship with LSU – were heavily favored in 2009 but lost twice to the Bulldogs. It is the only series MSU has won in the rivalry in the last seven years.
“I want to beat them here this year. My freshman year it was not fun at all, not a good feeling in Oxford when they came here and beat us,” Snyder said.
As Bianco has talked to his players, both native and foreign, about the emotions of the series, he has tweaked theirs a little bit by pointing out a fact that disappoints Ole Miss fans. Ole Miss has yet to defeat MSU in any of the major sports this athletic year.
What exactly does that mean for the baseball team?
“It means we need to step it up for the Rebels,” Snyder said.
Contact Parrish Alford at 678-1600
Miss. State @ Ole Miss
– Tonight: 6:30 p.m. (ESPNU)
– Friday: 7 p.m. (SportSouth)
– Sunday: 7 p.m. (SportSouth)
– Tonight: Mississippi State LHP Luis
Pollorena (6-3, 2.61) vs. Ole Miss LHP
Matt Crouse (6-4, 3.72)
– Friday: Mississippi State LHP Nick
Routt (1-2, 3.66) vs. Ole Miss RHP
David Goforth (4-6, 4.79)
– Saturday: Mississippi State RHP
Chris Stratton (5-5, 4.84) vs. Ole Miss
LHP Austin Wright (4-4, 4.92)