By Parrish Alford
OXFORD – In a sport that cherishes numbers, .400 is special.
So while Alex Yarbrough concerns himself with team goals – and there’s much work to be done as Ole Miss takes on Tennessee in what is likely Yarbrough’s final SEC home series – he can’t help but keep an eye on the individual numbers.
Game times at Swayze Field are 6:30 today, 4 p.m. Saturday and 1:30 p.m. Sunday.
The Rebels (31-18, 11-13 SEC) can take a big step toward the SEC and NCAA tournaments with success against the Vols (24-24, 8-16).
Yarbrough’s current batting average of .407 ranks him second in the SEC behind LSU left fielder Raph Rhymes at .500.
Rhymes got the better of the head-to-head matchup last weekend going 5-for-11 to Yarbrough’s 4-for-14.
In Game 1, Rhymes had two hits, walked and scored the winning run in the top of the 13th. Twice in extra innings Yarbrough struck out with the winning run at second base.
Bianco and Godwin encouraged Yarbrough as midnight approached following a four-hour game.
“They were telling me, ‘It’s one game, you’re still the same hitter,'” Yarbrough said. “It was good to get back in a groove the last two games.”
If Yarbrough ends the season at .407 he’ll tie Chris Snopek for No. 6 on the school’s single-season batting average list.
Yarbrough has 194 at-bats. Ole Miss has had only three hitters sustain .400-plus with more than 200 at-bats.
Bianco says Yarbrough, a junior from Allen, Texas, is older and wiser and has benefitted from dependable sticks around him in the batting order.
“He’s more mature, more confident, and he’s surrounded by some guys who are more consistent,” Bianco said. “Teams have to pitch to Alex, they have to go after him, and doing that can be a two-edged sword. He’s a guy that can spray the ball all over the field.”
The draft-eligible Yarbrough is projected to go between rounds 4 and 10 in the MLB June draft.
“I try to focus on these last two weeks,” Yarbrough said. “That will take care of itself once we get there. We still ways to go.”
He hopes to travel the ways with the same consistency that’s helped him reach this point. Yarbrough has shown steady improvement since his freshman season, hitting .283 then and .350 last year.
The biggest difference now he says is pitch recognition.
“I think it’s the ability to pick up all four pitches. Coach Godwin’s been great with helping me get my foot down, making sure I’m on time for the fastball but that I can also pick up the off-speed pitches. I think I’m swinging at a lot more off-speed pitches early in the count. I’m putting good swings on, and I’m able to barrel it up too. I think that’s been the biggest thing about hitting for average,” he said.
On The Hill
TONIGHT: Ole Miss RHP Bobby Wahl (5-1, 2.14) vs. Tennessee LHP Dalton Saberhagen (5-1, 2.92
SATURDAY: Ole Miss RHP Mike Mayers (4-2, 4.01) vs. Tennessee RHP Nick Williams (3-4, 3.67)
SUNDAY: Ole Miss TBA vs. Tennessee