Ole Miss shortstops Zack Cozart and Ryne Porter have been friends, they've been rivals and they're now interlocked in a battle for the Rebel starting shortstop job.
Both are expected to get a start this week as the No. 17 (SW) Ole Miss baseball team (5-2) takes on Northwestern State (9-4) Tuesday and Wednesday at Swayze Field.
Tuesday's game begins at 6:30 p.m. and features Ole Miss junior right-hander Anthony Cupps (2-0, 2.45 ERA) against senior left-hander Rusty Jones (1-0, 2.53 ERA). Wednesday's game will start at 4 p.m.
The battle at shortstop is an all Memphis affair. Cozart, a freshman, is from Collierville, Tenn. Porter, a sophomore, is from Germantown, Tenn. They've grown up friends.
"It's pretty tough especially because Ryne and I came from the same town," Cozart said. "Our parents are good friends, and we're competing against each other. If I play, it's a lot harder to take it that I'm playing over him than it would be if I were playing over someone else. I'm sure it's the same for him."
Growing up, Cozart was especially close with Porter's younger brother Russell Porter. The two spent several years playing on the same youth league teams and became good friends. As a result, the Cozart and Porter families came to know each other well.
Ryne Porter enrolled at Collierville High School and a year later, Cozart joined him. It was the only year the two would share a high school, however. After his sophomore year, Porter transferred from Collierville to intense-rival Houston High School.
The two have once again become teammates this season, Cozart's first at Ole Miss. However, there remains a rivalry of sorts.
And it has been an intense rivalry in the sense that both shortstops have remained pretty even.
'It was an even battle through the fall and early part of spring," Ole Miss head coach Mike Bianco said.
Cozart slightly established himself as the opening day starter. Since then, he has done nothing to lose the role. Then again, neither has Porter. Through seven games, Cozart has six starts and Porter has one. The reason Porter's starts have been limited has been Cozart's play.
"It's nothing that Ryne didn't do," Bianco said. "Zack has just played so well in his first few starts."
In Cozart's first career game, he went 2-for-4 with a double, a triple, two runs and an RBI in the season opener against Arkansas State Feb. 15. On Saturday, he went 3-for-3 with a home run and three RBI against Southern Illinois. More importantly, Cozart's defense has been solid. He's looked smooth and has made just one error in 32 chances.
Meanwhile in Porter's only start against Belmont Feb. 22, he went 2-for-5 with three runs and three RBI and also looked smooth defensively on his three chances without an error.
It gives the Rebels depth at a position where they have been particularly strong in recent years with Chad Sterbens (1999-2003), who recorded at least one hit in 91 of 109 career games against Southeastern Conference opponents, and Matt Tolbert, who was considered one of the best defensive shortstops in the conference in 2004.
"It makes you feel comfortable as a coach when you have that kind of depth at that position," Bianco said. "It makes them both better players. You know that every ground ball and every batting practice is important."
Cozart noted that the competition does put more pressure on him at every practice.
"We're out there trying to impress coach (Bianco) every day," Cozart said. "Every time we practice, every time in the weight room, everything you do, you have to do your best. If you have an off day you know the other guy may be doing well."
The Rebels did not practice on Monday, and as of press time, Porter could not be reached for comment.