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Hot Rebels, cold ‘Dogs enter SEC tourney

JACKSON – Mississippi enters the Southeastern Conferencetournament after a historic weekend. Mississippi State is going,too, after the Bulldogs avoided making the wrong type ofhistory.

The state’s SEC schools are gearing up for the league tournament- even though they’re seemingly headed in opposite directions.

Ole Miss (40-16) heads into the postseason after tying a9-year-old school record for victories, claiming a share of itsfirst SEC West title since 1982 and getting hot at precisely theright time.

”We’re playing pretty good baseball at this point and we’vereally been playing pretty good baseball for the last five weeks,”Ole Miss coach Mike Bianco said Monday during a mediateleconference. ”We’ve played pretty well in all three phases thelast half of the season.”

The No. 4 seeded Rebels finished 18-12 in conference play andshared the division title with LSU, which received the No. 2overall seed because the Tigers won two of three meetings.

Ole Miss has improved as the season progressed, matching theschool-record 40 victories in 1995. The Rebels have won fivestraight, and they’ve won 16 of 20 since an April 17 loss in BatonRouge, heading into their tournament opener at 8 p.m. Wednesdayagainst No. 5 seed Alabama (37-19) in suburban Birmingham, Ala.

Bianco said the key has been effective starting pitching. Amongstarters, Eric Fowler has won four times and Matt Maloney won threetimes during the Rebels’ latest surge.

”We’ve been pretty consistent defensively, and maybe asconsistent as you can be offensively,” Bianco said. ”The onething we didn’t have was consistency on the mound. We’ve been ableto do that the last 4-5 weeks.”

Mississippi State (36-20) returns to the league tournament aftermissing out last year. The Bulldogs haven’t missed the tournamentin consecutive years since the mid-1970s.

However, they seemingly backed in this time. The Bulldogs lostnine of their last 17 games, and dropped two of three to LSU thispast weekend but managed to qualify for the tournament when theother contenders for the bottom spots kept losing, too.

The Bulldogs’ reward is the No. 7 seed, and a rematch withsecond-seeded LSU (38-18) at 10 a.m. Wednesday in the opening gameof the double-elimination tournament.

”The good thing about that is that we’ve already got detailedscouting reports on each other, so we don’t have to think backabout a month or two,” Mississippi State coach Ron Polk said.

Interestingly, the bitter cross-state rivals helped each otherout this past weekend.

With the Rebels’ sweep of Arkansas, the Razorbacks were knockedinto the No. 8 position, clearing the way for Mississippi State toslide into the seventh spot.

And while the Bulldogs beat LSU just once, it was enough toallow Ole Miss to move into a tie for first in the West and claimthe division co-championship.