A few notes and thoughts on Ole Miss’ 6-5 Sunday comeback and a weekend sweep of Auburn. …
In the sports media biz we often work ahead. It’s that our get caught unsteady on deadline.
There’s a certain amount of risk with working ahead, and I, others too I’m sure, experienced that today when the game story that was written when I walked down the steps in the ninth inning was blown up. The one that reached the website and will reach subscribers’ doorsteps tomorrow morning in no way resembled the earlier effort to describe Ole Miss and Auburn in Game 3.
Bullpen pitching was the story of the day. The Rebels pummeled Auburn’s, getting five runs in 1 1-3 innings against the relievers.
Meanwhile, the Ole Miss bullpen allowed just one run in 7 2-3 innings against a bunch that was the No. 2 hitting team in the SEC when the weekend began.
Down to its last five outs, Ole Miss had two home runs, a two-run job by Colby Bortles to give the Rebels life in the eighth, then a 3-run shot by Ryan Olenek to tie the game in the ninth.
The postgame had all the excitement you might imagine for a four-run ninth and a walk-off win. And it was deserved.
The Rebels fought and persevered. Bortles had two hits in his last two at-bats, turning up big in the rally after an average weekend. Olenek’s home run was big-time clutch for a freshman. Henri Lartigue’s walk-off hit was his fourth of the game, and he was 9-for-13 on the weekend.
Now for the wet blanket portion of Weekend Review.
The Rebels could get nothing done against Auburn right-handed starter Casey Mize, and that’s unfortunate since Mize’s ERA was approaching 3.50.
The sweep was huge. However, it means that Ole Miss, while 10-8 and in the thick of the SEC West race – tied with MSU and LSU in second and two games back of Texas A&M – has picked up six wins against the two worst teams in the division.
Sweeps are hard to come by, and they’re good no matter who they’re against, but Arkansas and Auburn will be among the teams fighting to reach the SEC tournament.
Having lost series to MSU and Alabama, Ole Miss does not have the tie-breaker against any mid- or upper level SEC West team.
The Rebels have a chance to change that this week when LSU visits.
They will likely try to change that with James McArthur as the Game 3 starter.
After throwing 86 pitches in a 7-0 win over Memphis on Tuesday, McArthur relieved Sean Johnson in the second inning Sunday. He got out of a jam and went on to pitch 4 2-3 scoreless innings with two hits allowed. He walked one and struck out four.
Bianco had given some thought to starting McArthur in Game 3 against Auburn.
Sean Johnson’s worksheet to date made a change open for discussion, especially as McArthur’s star continued to rise, but change wasn’t a must. Johnson had not been as crisp as the Rebels’ other two SEC starters. That’s not an unusual situation. Many SEC teams have that, and Ole Miss has had it before. When you have it the goal is to find someone who can begin a game under control and present the bullpen with a manageable situation.
Johnson has done that that this year. Prior to Sunday, while his starts had been short, he’d not given up more than two earned runs in any single start, and had given up fewer than two runs three times. One of those was last week at Alabama when Johnson left after the fourth inning and presented a 1-1 game to his bullpen. Three Ole Miss pitchers proceeded to give up six runs on six hits in the fifth.
All signs point to McArthur for Game 3 against LSU especially since Bianco announced that Chad Smith will start Tuesday’s non-conference game, the role McArthur has held to this point. This “non-conference” game is against MSU in Pearl, by the way.
Here is another reason the Auburn sweep was big.
There are four SEC series remaining. Ole Miss goes to A&M on the final weekend, a Thursday-Saturday event May 19-21. If Ole Miss goes to College Station without 14 conference wins it will place a lot of pressure on itself.
Fourteen may not be the magic number for SEC wins that guarantees an NCAA tournament berth, but if 14 won’t get you there 13 certainly won’t.
The Aggies are the league’s best offensive team, and they have the pitching to give Ole Miss real problems, because frankly most teams do.
A&M went into this weekend with a staff ERA of 3.07, fourth in the league and better than the Alabama staff that shut down Ole Miss last weekend.
Simply put, Ole Miss has nine SEC games ahead with LSU at home, Georgia on the road and Kentucky at home, games in which it can take A&M out of the postseason equation.
After Sunday’s win the Rebels need to go 4-5 in those nine games to get to 14 SEC wins.
That should get Ole Miss back in the NCAA tournament. Anything earned in College Station — or before — could go toward seeding and, perhaps, put Ole Miss on solid enough footing that it doesn’t get shipped to California again.
By the time that A&M series rolls around the Aggies could have the additional incentive of playing for a national seed.
Food for thought here. Simply making the NCAA tournament is not the goal for this program. That’s where the program is right now, however. The larger goals of SEC title, host, super regional, CWS, etc., are goals that need to be addressed in the off-season through recruiting.
About the weekend …
Ole Miss was good on offense for two games and a couple of innings against Auburn, but it still hasn’t proven it can hit good pitching.
Auburn doesn’t have good pitching. The Tigers hired a good pitching guy when they named Monroe County native Butch Thompson head coach last fall.
For Auburn baseball it’s situation similar to when Hugh Freeze, an offensive guy, was named head football coach at Ole Miss.
Defense carried things early while the offensive pieces came together.
Auburn will get there on the mound. It’s not there right now. It was there enough to clamp down on Ole Miss for most of Game 3. The Rebels had 13 runs on 23 hits in the first two games.
A couple of other notes from the weekend …
Henri Lartigue was 9-for-13 for the weekend as mentioned above. A good weekend.
J.B. Woodman was 5-for-8 over the first two games but 1-for-5 in Game 3.
Errol Robinson was 3-for-12 at the plate but was stellar defensively.
Bianco was clearly more intentional about starting runners and trying to generate offense for a team that isn’t producing enough big innings.
The first half of the year Wyatt Short was a lights out closer. His role began to change a bit when Bianco tinkered with the idea of making him the Game 3 starter.
Short has pitched long relief and short, but Friday night was the first time I’ve seen him get pulled for poor performance. His velocity was down, and he wasn’t hitting his spots. Control was an issue.
It was a 6-3 game in the ninth when Auburn loaded the bases against Short. He was pulled in favor of Will Stokes.
Stokes walked in a run to make it 6-4 but responded with three straight outs, two of them strikeouts to secure a 6-4 win. He was good again on Saturday with 1 1-3 innings of one-hit, scoreless relief and earned saves in both Ole Miss wins.
It may not be that roles are changing, but the bullpen is stronger when two guys are capable of closing games.