If the time is right for Ole Miss to win an SEC championship, it will likely be because the timely hitting was right as well.
Timely hitting wasn’t there for most of the Rebels’ series loss against Mississippi State last weekend – and when it was, timely pitching wasn’t.
With a trip to Arkansas ahead, No. 9 Ole Miss needs a little help from the Bulldogs this weekend but still has a shot at its first overall SEC title since 1977. League-leading LSU plays at MSU starting tonight; Alabama, Florida and Ole Miss are all within a game of the Tigers.
First pitch for the Rebels (37-15, 17-10 SEC) and Razorbacks (32-17, 14-12 SEC) is at 6 tonight at Baum Stadium.
“We look at it like Mississippi State played great. We didn’t play our best, but they played phenomenal. We have to flush it and get on to the next series,” Ole Miss infielder Tim Ferguson said. “That’s what we’ve been so good at this year, forgetting the past and getting on with the present.”
Flushing that memory may depend on how the Rebels hit with runners in scoring position.
“I don’t know that there’s one thing you can practice or look at from a game or weekend and say we didn’t do this, and that’s why we didn’t hit with runners in scoring position,” Ole Miss coach Mike Bianco said.
The Rebels are hitting .331 with runners on base, fourth in the league. They lead the SEC in hitting with runners in scoring position at .334, but their 399 runners left on base rank seventh in the conference.
Lacking great power, this Ole Miss team has leaned more on “small ball,” though that doesn’t really show in the number of sacrifice bunts. It does show in steals, where the Rebels are third in the SEC, compared to ninth last season.
Center fielder Jordan Henry leads the SEC with 31 stolen bases in 37 attempts. He will set the Ole Miss season record the next time he grabs a base successfully.
Sporadic clutch hitting isn’t always about the team at-bat.
“Sometimes it’s about execution by their guy, making pitches, which is something we’ve been able to do on the other end,” Bianco said.
In the Game 1 loss against MSU, the Rebels weren’t able to string hits together for a big inning early against State starter Tyler Whitney.
Whitney was teetering in the fifth and walked two batters but got a swinging strikeout of Zach Miller to get out of the inning.
“We didn’t get to their bullpen, which was their weakness. You could tell, every time we got to the bullpen, it was a little different ballgame for them,” Bianco said. “Had we answered earlier, maybe we get Whitney out and get to the bullpen earlier and have a better shot.”
The Rebels missed several early opportunities to break through with gusto against seldom-used freshman right-hander Devin Jones in game three. Twice in the first three innings Ole Miss had runners on first and second with less than one out and did not score.
The Rebels finally turned the tide against Jones in the sixth with consecutive two-out hits from David Phillips and Kevin Mort and opened up the game against the Bulldogs’ bullpen in the seventh and eighth.
“In certain situations the approach changes, like with a runner on third and less than two outs. You’re really trying to just put the bat on the ball and get that guy in. That’s what we work on day in and day out,” outfielder Logan Power said.
– Tonight: Ole Miss LHP Drew Pomeranz (5-3, 3.58) vs. Arkansas LHP Dallas Keuchel (7-2, 3.99)
– Friday: Ole Miss LHP Brett Bukvich (8-2, 4.01) vs. Arkansas RHP Brett Eibner (4-4, 4.25)
– Saturday: Ole Miss RHP Phillip Irwin (6-3, 3.76) vs. Arkansas RHP Justin Wells (2-0, 3.43)
Parrish Alford/NEMS Daily Journal