He’s not unintelligent by any means, so Morgan, an Ole Miss relief pitcher, was able to laugh it off with the rest of us.
In trying to describe the emotional state of an Ole Miss team that has dropped five of its last six SEC games, Morgan was searching for the word “morale.” He took his best swing but missed and told us the team’s “morality” is very good.
It’s nice to know that promiscuity is not an issue for the Rebels, because there have been enough issues on the field, mostly defense and pitching, especially in Morgan’s absence.
A senior from Canton, Morgan walked off the mound with severe shoulder pain in Game 3 against Alabama on the opening weekend of SEC play. He was able to avoid surgery but went six weeks before appearances until he got back on the mound Sunday at Florida and looked very close to his old self.
Questions of morale and confidence were abundant earlier this week. There’s never a good time to lose five of six, but the slide leaves the Rebels in danger of missing the SEC tournament, something that’s happened just one other time in 10 previous seasons under Mike Bianco. The Rebels, in fact, have found their way to the event in Hoover, Ala., seven years running.
If Ole Miss had dropped five of six in early April there would be more days on the calendar to do something about it, but there are only nine remaining SEC games, and the Rebels have to start winning if they intend to play past May.
About those issues on the field. There were fewer of them in Gainesville, Bianco said. Indeed, Ole Miss played two errorless games and had just two errors in the third. Pitching wasn’t bad but wasn’t good enough – not even close – to beat the fifth-ranked Gators.
In short, Ole Miss didn’t give away the series, Florida took it.
In the big picture, that may be a more disturbing fact, because it shows the gap between the Rebels and the SEC elite. Not too long ago the Rebels were among the elite. Now they are in an obvious transitional phase, hoping that the MLB draft in June won’t raid a signing class that could help get them back there.
In the meantime, there’s enough ability on this team to beat enough Western Division brethren to get back to Hoover. You can feel a lot better about yourself while rebuilding if you make the SEC and NCAA tournaments in the process.
However, while the Rebels have the good fortune of missing Vanderbilt on the schedule, they also had the misfortune of playing vulnerable West teams LSU and Auburn on the road and went 2-4 in the process.
Now a visit from No. 2 South Carolina follows the Florida trip.
Confidence and momentum are important assets in all forms of competition. Ole Miss players insist that self doubt has not crept in and that they are in the proper state of mind for the remaining SEC schedule. They’re going to have to find ways to get the big hit and score against top-flight pitching this weekend.
If they don’t, confidence could be an issue the following weekend against Mississippi State in a rivalry series that could go a long way in determining an SEC tournament bid.
So, salute the Rebels for their morality, but they need their morale up to play their best baseball against the defending national champs and take a big step toward postseason.
Parrish Alford (firstname.lastname@example.org) covers Ole Miss for the Daily Journal. He blogs daily about Ole Miss athletics at NEMS360.com.