Rebels make final push in the bayou

By Parrish Alford/NEMS Daily Journal

Ole Miss starting pitchers are standing behind their beleaguered bullpen.
The No. 23-ranked Rebels are hoping for more of the same from their front-line pitchers and for revival from their relievers when they seek to strengthen their postseason resume at No. 2 LSU.
The first of three games in the final SEC regular season series begins tonight at 6:30 at LSU’s Alex Box Stadium.
Game times are 7 p.m., on Friday and noon on Saturday.
Tonight’s game will be televised by ESPNU, Saturday’s game by CBS College Sports.
The Rebels are 35-18 overall following a 10-3 loss at Southern Miss on Tuesday night and 14-13 in SEC play.
nothing to gain
LSU (46-7, 21-6 SEC) cannot win the overall conference title and cannot lose the Western Division. Tigers coach Paul Mainieri will rest his ace, Aaron Nola (10-0, 1.99), who normally starts Game 2.
Mainieri says the decision to rest Nola allows him to give innings to others he believes he’ll need for postseason and to rest Nola as well.
“I’m going to use everyone on our roster this week. There’s no question about that,” Mainieri said. “Every one of our pitchers is going to pitch.”
Nola’s absence could turn Friday’s second game into a battle of bullpens.
LSU will start right-hander Kurt McCune (3-1, 3.38), who has pitched just 131⁄3 innings over seven appearances.
Ole Miss will counter with right-hander Sam Smith, of Lake Charles, La., who has averaged 42⁄3 innings in eight SEC starts.
bullpen struggles
Ole Miss starters have left with a lead in eight of the Rebels’ last nine SEC games. The only blemish in that run was when Smith left his Kentucky start trailing 2-1 in the fifth. The Rebels went ahead 3-2 with two runs in the bottom of the inning.
“I don’t know if anybody can say that. These three guys, when they’ve left the game, they’ve left with a lead.
“They’ve done a terrific job, and I don’t know that we can ask much more of them,” Ole Miss coach Mike Bianco said.
Protecting those leads has been a different story for Ole Miss.
Four of those eight games ended in losses. In last Saturday’s 10-8 win over Mississippi State, Smith allowed three runs over six innings while the bullpen allowed five over the final three.
“For us as starters, it would be better if we could go deeper into games,” said Smith, who also expressed confidence in the relievers. “Those guys have been tested, and they’re good. We’re going to figure it out.”
Tonight’s starter agrees. Mike Mayers shared the SEC’s weekly pitching honor this week after seven innings of two-hit, shutout baseball against the Bulldogs.
“Those guys can get it done. We believe in them still,” he said.
I trust that they’ll turn it around.
parrish.alford@journalinc.com