OXFORD – Ole Miss will celebrate its reinvigorated baseball facility this weekend. Success between the lines at Oxford-University Stadium/Swayze Field could go a long way in determining whether fans will celebrate the stadium this postseason.
In a myriad of baseball polls, SEC-leading Georgia has found a spot at No. 1 in one of them.
The Eastern Division Bulldogs are No. 1 in the USA Today/ESPN coaches poll, No. 4 by the National Collegiate Baseball Writers, No. 5 in Collegiate Baseball and No. 8 in Baseball America.
They’ll be at Ole Miss for three games this weekend. First pitch tonight is 6:30. Remaining game times are 4 p.m. Saturday and 1:30 p.m. Sunday.
The Rebels (30-11, 11-7 SEC) are ranked No. 11 by Baseball America and the National Collegiate Baseball Writers, No. 13 by Collegiate Baseball and No. 15 by the coaches.
A visit from anyone’s No. 1 creates a bit of a buzz, but Ole Miss coach Mike Bianco believes his players will be stoked for other reasons.
“Our players realize how good they are, but I think there’s more of a mystique about, ‘They’re winning the conference,’ than ‘They’re ranked No. 1 in the country,’ ” he said.
Whatever the motivation, Georgia’s (32-9, 13-5 SEC) credentials are impressive, and the Rebels have an opportunity to make a statement now that will carry some weight in a month when the NCAA baseball committee selects 16 regional host sites.
Ole Miss had hosted a four-team regional for four consecutive seasons before hitting the road to Miami last season.
“This one of those situations where you don’t want to look back and say, ‘What if,'” relief pitcher Jake Morgan said. “It means a lot to play the No. 1 team in the nation. If we win two of three or if we sweep, it’s that much more help to host and for seeding in the tournament.”
Ole Miss was a No. 5 national seed in 2005 – meaning it would not have had to leave home prior to the College World Series – when it lost in the super regional to Texas.
Consecutive 4-3 walk-off wins on Friday and Saturday over Arkansas in Athens, Ga., last weekend propelled Georgia to the top of the coaches poll.
The Bulldogs lost 2-0 on Sunday and after a mid-week split – losing Wednesday night to Jacksonville State 9-7 – arrive in Oxford having lost two of their last three.
The Rebels have won five of their last six including an 8-4 win at Southern Miss on Wednesday night in which they totaled 17 hits.
Ole Miss lost its last home series to South Carolina but won twice last weekend at Florida.
Led by first baseman Rich Poythress, who leads the SEC in hitting at .411 and is second in home runs with 20, the Bulldogs are batting .275 against conference teams and pitching with a 4.61 earned run average.
Ole Miss is hitting .282 and leads the SEC in pitching in conference games with a 4.29 ERA.
The Rebels believe they have a place in the discussion of elite SEC teams.
“I think we’re right up there at the top as a team. We know how good we can be. We feel like we can beat anybody on any given day if we give our best. That’s how we feel, and we want to bring that confidence to this weekend,” center fielder Jordan Henry said.
– Tonight: Ole Miss LHP Drew Pomeranz (4-1, 3.59) vs. Georgia RHP Trevor Holder (6-2, 3.88)
– Saturday: Ole Miss RHP Phillip Irwin (5-3, 3.57) vs. Georgia LHP Alex McRee (4-0, 2.19)
– Sunday: Ole Miss RHP Scott Bittle (4-2, 2.33) vs. Georgia RHP Justin Grimm (2-2, 4.12)
Parrish Alford/NEMS Daily Journal