By Parrish Alford/NEMS Daily Journal
HOOVER, Ala. – Struggling Ole Miss begins SEC tournament play today hoping a new start helps it find an old friend – offensive consistency.
With nine games left the Rebels were in the hunt for SEC and overall championships but couldn’t put together enough scoring to go more than 2-7 down the stretch.
Today with a scheduled start time of 1 p.m., the No. 6-seeded Rebels will face No. 3 seed South Carolina, which finished second to overall champ Florida in the Eastern Division.
The game will be televised by SportsSouth where available and will be streamed live at ESPN360.com.
Ole Miss (36-20) has pitched well enough to win more games than it has of late, particularly in series against Arkansas and Alabama, but averaged just 2.6 runs in its last nine SEC games.
“Postseason is like a new season. That’s how you kind of look at it. Play well through postseason, and nothing else will really matter. People will remember what we do in postseason, hopefully, and not what we did in the regular season,” junior outfielder Matt Smith said.
Smith was 2-for-10 as Auburn swept three as Swayze Field over the weekend, dropping his average to .347.
The Rebels may be catching a break. South Carolina coach Ray Tanner has decided not to throw his No. 1 pitcher in the SEC opener.
Senior right-hander Blake Cooper dominated the Rebels in Columbia with a four-hit complete-game shutout.
Nolan Belcher, the sophomore left-hander the Gamecocks (43-13) will throw, has posted good numbers in limited action.
Belcher has appeared in only two SEC games this year, both in early April, when he gave up a combined three hits, three walks and three earned runs in an inning and a third against Mississippi State and Vanderbilt.
He had better SEC numbers last year when he was a member of the weekend rotation. He started against Ole Miss, scattering nine hits, walking three and striking out nine in a complete-game 2-1 win.
Ole Miss players say they need to concern themselves less with the opposing pitcher and more with their individual performance.
“We just need to compete and try to beat the pitcher. It’s you against the pitcher. It is a team effort, but if each guy goes up there and says, ‘You’re not going to throw it by me, and I’m going to get a hit here,’ that’s just part of that confidence,” senior third baseman Zach Miller said.
Miller was 1 for 12 against Auburn, and his averaged dipped to .295. He says the Rebels are pressing as an offense and need to find some way to regain the confidence they displayed in a 10-game win streak from April 18-May 2. The streak began with a 5-4 win in the Sunday game at South Carolina.
“I look back at when we won those 10 games. We were really clicking as a team, and we weren’t really worried about things,” he said. “We didn’t think too much at the plate, and we were just reacting.”
Ole Miss coach Mike Bianco says there’s no “magical wand” to get the Rebels out of their funk.
He’s tried loosening up things at batting practice, more time with video study, trying to get the light on for one guy with hopes that others catch on too.
“The confidence level isn’t very good after a weekend like this, and sometimes you just need a fresh start,” he said. “Sometimes you need to leave home and get into a tournament where you know your backs are against the wall.”
Contact Parrish Alford at 678-1600 or firstname.lastname@example.org.