By Parrish Alford/NEMS Daily Journal
OXFORD – Ole Miss enjoyed a burst of offense in the third inning Tuesday night, enough to carry the day in an 8-0 non-conference win over Jackson State before a sparse gathering at Swayze Field, but it’s offense that’s been the sticking point in an otherwise solid start for the Rebels.
The Tigers (7-8) were held at bay by Matt Tracy for seven innings, Eric Callendar and Mike Mayers for an inning each.
Jackson State never advanced a runner to third base, and Ole Miss has allowed just one run in its last 36 innings going back to the weekend sweep of Lipscomb.
With SEC play beginning this Friday, Ole Miss (14-4) figures to need more production from the batting order against Western Division rival Alabama.
In the most recent release of SEC statistics, the Rebels are 11th in hitting at .288, 10th in runs scored with 90.
Ole Miss coach Mike Bianco says his offense is “taking baby steps and continues to improve.”
The Rebels went into Tuesday’s game leading the SEC in strikeouts with 130 and in grounding into double plays with 15.
They hit into three more double plays against Jackson State.
“A lot of times double plays are balls that are hit well. If a ball’s hit a few feet to the left or right it might be a two-run single. We’re not concerned about that at all. Double plays are just something that happens,” sophomore second baseman Alex Yarbrough said.
Yarbrough had a two-run double, and Matt Snyder had an RBI double in the fourth.
The Rebels posted three more runs in the eighth. Newalu and Mathis had RBI hits after Preston Overbey led off with a double.
Before the Friday game against Lipscomb set the Rebels on their current four-game win streak, they had dropped three straight against Tulane twice, Western Kentucky once, and had scored just five runs in that span.
“It’s no secret that the Saturday Tulane game we got stale offensively, then Sunday and against Western Kentucky, just not much offense to speak of, not a lot of hits, not a lot of opportunities and certainly not a lot of runs,” Bianco said. “But we’ve gotten better, some better swings. It happens, like it can happen in hitting and with some young guys in the lineup, we had a bad game and lost some confidence.”
The strikeouts aren’t coming from one source or two where a day off, a chance to refocus, might change things.
There are seven players with 10 or more strikeouts, led by junior Snyder with 16 and the freshman Overbey with 15.
Bianco has addressed the strikeouts with emphasis in practice on two-strike hitting.
The Rebels do not appear to be a team doubting themselves as Alabama comes in at 11-6.
“We’ve done some work on hitting with two strikes. I don’t think we’re two concerned about it. We like our approach, and we’re confident,” Yarbrough said.
– Mississippi State 9, Eastern Illinois 4: A four-run first inning gave Mississippi State early momentum as the Bulldogs blew past Eastern Illinois.
The Bulldogs improved to 13-4 and closed out their season-opening 17-game homestand.
“We had some sloppy innings tonight,” MSU head coach John Cohen said. “We managed to get through them and learned a lot about our team. We look forward to starting SEC play.”
Nick Vickerson collected three of Mississippi State’s 11 hits, while Daryl Norris had two. Norris provided a three-run double in the fourth inning to push Mississippi State’s lead to 9-3.
Bulldog starter Kendall Graveman (2-0) worked the first five innings to earn the win. Graveman allowed seven hits and three runs (all earned), with two strikeouts and a walk. Andrew Busby, Chad Girodo, Norris and Bradford each threw an inning in relief.
MSU will travels to Lipscomb for its first road game of the season in a 6 p.m. contest today.