By Parrish Alford/NEMS Daily Journal
OXFORD – As Mississippi’s SEC schools meet this weekend in a baseball series with major implications in the conference standings, it doesn’t matter if the primary participants come from deep in the heart of the Magnolia State or from sea to shining sea, Ole Miss players and coaches say.
MSU lists 12 Mississippi players on its roster, and Ole Miss has nine. The Bulldogs are more likely to have natives show up among the position players, while the Rebels will likely have Mississippians pitch in relief.
“Just being here for one year I’ve heard about how much people don’t like State. They want to win, and they want to win bad,” said Ole Miss catcher Stuart Turner, a junior college transfer from Eunice, La., who leads the Rebels with a .397 batting average.
First pitch at Swayze Field for tonight’s Game 1 is 6:30. Game 2 begins at 4 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday’s Game 3 will be televised by CSS at 1 p.m.
The most likely Mississippian to bat for Ole Miss is Austin Knight, a sophomore catcher from Hattiesburg, and that would most likely be in a pinch-hit role.
Relief pitchers Aaron Greenwood (Byhalia), Matt Denny (Jackson) and Jeremy Massie (Sardis) could see action.
“Everybody understands the rivalry with Mississippi State,” says Bobby Wahl, tonight’s starting pitcher and a native of Springfield, Va. “Everybody’s jacked up and looking forward to playing these guys. We’re pretty excited about it.”
The Bulldogs have won three of the four regular season series since John Cohen was named MSU coach in 2009.
Ole Miss swept the series in Starkville in 2010 but lost twice in Oxford the next season and in Starkville last year.
Beating the Bulldogs is always important in these parts, but the Rebels (33-16, 12-12 SEC) are eager to get another SEC series win with only two of them remaining. With six SEC games left, Ole Miss has lost four of its last six and likely still has work to do to secure an NCAA tournament bid.
“We’ve just got to finish strong. We know that. We feel that we definitely have better ball to play in front of us,” Turner said.
Bianco says players don’t have to grow up in Mississippi to appreciate the significance of the rivalry.
“I think everyone appreciates and understands the rivalry. I don’t think it matters if you’re from California or Pennsylvania or Florida. I think you get it.”