By Parrish Alford/NEMS Daily Journal
OXFORD – Rarely is a .237 batting average cause for celebration.
It is now.
It’s not the number itself, but it’s from where Ole Miss batters have risen.
Prior to the Alabama series the Rebels were hitting .216 against SEC competition. That was two sweeps and six-straight conference wins ago.
In the larger statistical picture that jump in production has only allowed the Rebels to go from woeful to meager.
It’s the smaller picture that has Ole Miss alive in the NCAA regional host conversation, climbing from a 4-8 SEC start to 10-8 with 12 games left.
First, the Rebels have been able to distance themselves from the disappointing home series loss to Texas A&M and two weeks later being swept at home by Vanderbilt.
The final weekend series with the SEC’s other superpower, LSU, looms, but for now the Rebels have gotten into a more manageable part of the schedule with Alabama and Tennessee the last two weeks. It’s not that Ole Miss is miles ahead of these two, but for two weekends the Rebels have been able to make the big pitches and get the run-scoring hits at the most important times.
They’ve been able to get timely contributions from players whose season box scores won’t jump out and grab you. Sikes Orvis and Will Jamison both hit home runs and were 2-for-5 in last Saturday’s 6-4 win. They were hitting .254 and .233 going into Tuesday’s game at Arkansas State. Freshman Christian Helsel filled in for injured shortstop Austin Anderson and went 4-for-6 on the weekend including an important bunt in the three-run ninth on Sunday.
The weekend prior Ole Miss pitching allowed Alabama to score in only three of the 29 innings played.
Beginning Thursday with Kentucky and again next weekend at Auburn the Rebels will face opponents with sub-.500 league records.
Not that anything is guaranteed (see Texas A&M above), but it does seem to be an interesting opportunity for a team that may be gathering momentum.
Say, for the sake of argument, the Rebels for the next two series continue to get tone-setting pitching in the openers from Bobby Wahl – who hasn’t allowed a run in his last 16 2/3 innings – effective bullpen work and timely offense. That could set up the Mississippi State series, May 10-12 at Swayze Field, as a regional host play-in match.
There’s a lot of water to pass under the bridge before then, and for that to happen the Rebels, who aren’t blowing away people, must continue to do the little things … the clutch things.
These are the things the Rebels have done the last two weekends and why a .237 batting average against their peers is cause for modest celebration now and cautious optimism for the stretch run.
Parrish Alford (firstname.lastname@example.org) covers Ole Miss for the Daily Journal. He blogs daily at InsideOleMissSports.com.