Ole Miss’ Sam Smith relishes chance to be near Lake Charles again _lowres

Mississippi pitcher Sam Smith (29) throws against a Washington batter in the second inning of an NCAA college baseball regional tournament championship game in Oxford, Miss., Monday, June 2, 2014. (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis)

OXFORD, Miss. — Sam Smith hopes he doesn’t have to pitch this weekend.

The Ole Miss third starter is a competitor who always wants the ball, but Smith would be completely content watching his teammates take two straight games against Louisiana-Lafayette this weekend at the Lafayette super regional.

If the Rebels (44-18) end up in a third game with the College World Series on the line, like they have in three of their four super regional losses under Mike Bianco, Smith will get the start and shot to end Ole Miss’ 42-year Omaha drought.

“Hopefully we do it in two games, and I never see the mound,” Smith said. “Obviously I’ll be ready for Monday and go out there and give my team a chance to win.”

The junior from Barbe High in Lake Charles did just that in the regional final, giving up just two unearned runs on six hits in 4.2 innings. The Rebels beat Washington 3-2 in 10 innings to advance to face the No. 6 national seed Cajuns (57-8).

The solid outing was a positive sign for Smith, who was one of the Southeastern Conference’s best Sunday starters before a late-season slump.

Smith put together eight straight quality starts, allowing 13 earned runs in 52.1 innings from March 2 until April 19 but gave up 17 earned runs in his final 21 innings prior to regional play. That latest stretch included a seven-inning, one-run performance against Georgia.

Better fastball command was a major key to Smith’s success.

“I threw my fastball where I wanted to against Washington, and that’s one of the issues I’ve been struggling with,” Smith said. “We threw a lot more sliders also to keep them off balance.”

With Ole Miss’ ticket allotment for this weekend slim, Smith’s return home isn’t without some necessary work to get family and friends into Moore Field. He’s familiar with the surroundings after playing at Lafayette in high school.

He grew up playing against UL-Lafayette star Jace Conrad. The two talked Tuesday and said their congratulations.

“We’re all texting and calling each other to get tickets passed around,” Smith said. “My family will be there. I’m good. I’m excited to go back home.”