Final weekend will decide tournament field|[05/17/07]

Published 12:00 am Thursday, May 17, 2007

In the wild world of Southeastern Conference baseball, every game counts.

None more than the final conference weekend of the year, which begins today for the 12 SEC schools.

Mississippi State, currently in second place in the SEC Western Division, will host Alabama, while third-place Ole Miss will travel to meet Arkansas, the West’s No. 1 team.

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Depending on the outcome of the weekend series, the Bulldogs and Rebels can either advance to Hoover for the SEC Tournament or be left on the outside looking in.

&#8220Every game in the SEC counts, but what makes this weekend so important is because you have no more time to make things up,” said Ole Miss coach Mike Bianco, whose team will carry a 33-20 overall record into the series.

Eight of the 12 conference teams earn berths to play in the SEC Tournament, which will begin on Wednesday in suburban Birmingham. Only Vanderbilt, the top-ranked team in America, has secured its berth in Hoover.

Only Auburn has been eliminated from the tournament, with Georgia and Tennessee on life support.

Mississippi State is 14-11 in SEC play, but is coming off a week in which it went 1-4, including two conference losses to Georgia. The Bulldogs have had five games rained out, including Tuesday’s matchup with Arkansas-Little Rock.

&#8220I’ve never seen a season with five rain outs and no more time to make the games up,” Mississippi State coach Ron Polk said.

More importantly, though, is the injury bug that has bitten the Bulldogs.

&#8220If we weren’t so banged up, I would feel better about our club. But injuries are a part of baseball,” Polk said. &#8220Right now, we need to get through this season and finish strong.”

Leading hitter Brandon Turner, along with Cade Hoggard and Jeff Flagg, are day-to-day. Turner leads the Bulldogs with a .414 average, while Edward Easley is hitting .376 and Jeffrey Rea is hitting .350. Rea is third on the MSU all-time hits list with 320, eight behind Richard Lee.

Pitcher Aaron Weatherford will not play against Alabama.

The Bulldogs’ pitching rotation is intact, though, with Chad Crosswhite, Justin Pigott and Josh Johnson getting the starts.

Ole Miss will mix its rotation up a bit with Will Kline taking the bump tonight. Bianco said Friday’s and Saturday’s starters will be decided after tonight’s contest. Bianco said Brett Buckvich and Lance Lynn likely will get the starts, but he did not say in what order.

Bianco had to shuffle his thinking a bit with the early series. Most conferences play the final series of the year on Thursday-Friday-Saturday instead of the usual Friday-Saturday-Sunday. It is designed to give teams a bit of extra rest going into Wednesday’s tournament openers.

&#8220It allows us a chance for one more day on campus, one more day to rest before Hoover,” Bianco said.

Zach Miller leads Ole Miss with a .394 batting average. Former Vicksburg High standouts Jordan Henry (.388) and Justin Henry (.384) are second and third on the team.

Ole Miss defeated Vanderbilt to win the 2006 SEC Tournament and eventually hosted its second straight NCAA Super Regional.