May arrives this weekend and brings with it the stretch run for SEC baseball.
With the season down to nine conference games, an Ole Miss team picked by league coaches to finish next-to-last in the division has some serious goals within its grasp and a favorable schedule ahead – as favorable as one can be in the SEC.
Ole Miss needed to win the Kentucky series for so many reasons, regional host and conference title aspirations obviously, but this team needed to win a series against an SEC opponent with those same goals.
Auburn and Missouri aren’t in that conversation, and Ole Miss left series wins on the table against South Carolina and LSU. Kentucky had a place at the table before being swept by Ole Miss.
It’s the sweeps – UK was the third for the Rebels this season – that have soothed the sting of a handful of games in which Ole Miss failed to make the decisive plays at the end.
With each weekend comes the goal of winning the series. Winning all three games is something extra. It’s not easy to do, and had the Rebels only won the series against Missouri, Auburn and Kentucky, they’d be three games back in the standings from where they are now, which is 13-8 and tied for the SEC West lead with Alabama.
Since going 20-10 in the SEC regular season in 2009 – the last time there was a regional at Swayze Field – Ole Miss is 58-62 in conference regular season play. Only once in the last four seasons have the Rebels finished above .500 in the league, and that was a 16-14 finish in 2010. That earned them a road regional at Virginia where they were 1-0 when Drew Pomeranz pitched, 0-2 when he didn’t.
Now with a sweep at Kentucky in pocket, the final nine SEC games for Ole Miss are against teams that are currently below .500 in league play.
The next six are at home against Arkansas this weekend and Georgia the next. Alabama, meanwhile, plays at home against SEC overall leader Florida then travels to LSU in its next six games. Could be a chance for the Rebels to make a move in the division.
Won’t be easy
This is not to say the next six will be easy. Arkansas, though 10-11 and tied for fifth in the West standings, has the league’s No. 2 pitching staff with a 2.31 ERA.
The games to this point have not been easy either, and the Rebels have put together a strong season with consistency both offensively and on the mound from a number of players who frankly haven’t been this consistent before.
If they maintain that pace, Ole Miss just might do something special.
Parrish Alford (firstname.lastname@example.org) covers Ole Miss for the Daily Journal. He blogs daily at InsideOleMissSports.com.