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Rebels, Tigers hunting for crown

[5/21/04]Ole Miss can thank Mississippi State for a change.

The Bulldogs took two of three from Arkansas last weekend, allowing the Rebels to move into a tie for first place in the Southeastern Conference Western Division with Arkansas (35-18, 17-10 SEC).

In fact, Ole Miss’ Stephen Head gave his appreciation to Brad Corley’s ninth-inning blast in Sunday’s 5-4 win over the Razorbacks.

“They pulled out that one, so that was good,” Head said. “That was kind of nice of Brad to hit that walk-off home run.”

Ole Miss (38-15, 17-10) will host LSU (39-14, 16-11) in a three-game series beginning tonight at 6:30 with hopes of claiming its first SEC title since 1982.

“It’s going to be the biggest weekend in the history of the stadium, for sure,” Ole Miss coach Mike Bianco said of 15-year-old Swayze Field. “I don’t know if there’s ever been a series that’ll be this anticipated, with LSU and all their tradition and all their success over the past 10-15 years.”

Both Head and Bianco hope playing at home where the Rebels are 25-5 this season will give them the edge.

“It’s awesome for us to be able to play LSU at home, especially the way our fans react to the LSU-Ole Miss rivalry,” Head said. “It’s going to be a great weekend in Ole Miss history, and hopefully we can beat the Tigers.”

Bianco, who was an assistant coach for LSU from 1993-97, will have a little extra incentive to win, Head said.

“It does mean a little more to him because it is LSU,” Head said. “But we put ourselves into position to win the SEC championship, so I think it doesn’t matter who we’re playing that he’d be fired up.”

The Rebels will be without weekend starter Brae Wright, who was dismissed from the team on Wednesday for violating team rules. Wright was 6-2 with a 2.81 ERA in 10 starts.

Mark Holliman (8-2, 2.33 ERA) will take the mound tonight, but the other two starting spots are undecided.

LSU will counter with Lane Mestepey (5-1, 3.77 ERA) tonight and Nate Bumstead (8-3, 3.95 ERA) on Saturday. Sunday’s starter is unknown.

The Rebels have been playing better since a mid-season slump, in which they lost eight of 10. Ole Miss took two of three from Arkansas two weeks ago, and followed with a three-game sweep of Florida (37-16, 16-11) last weekend.

“We’re playing well, playing with some more confidence,” Bianco said. “Every team’s going to hit that bump in the road. I think it’s how you handle it, and if you can come out of it.”

Mississippi State may be coming out of their current funk.

The Bulldogs (31-22, 10-17) helped themselves by taking two of three from Arkansas last weekend, but still need more help to reach the SEC Tournament.

The top eight teams in the conference advance to the tournament. The Bulldogs sit in a tie for ninth place with Alabama (29-23, 10-17), who they play in a three-game series in Tuscaloosa, Ala. beginning tonight at 6:30.

Tennessee (34-19, 12-15) and Auburn (31-22, 11-16) are just ahead of the Bulldogs for the final two tourney spots.