This weekend, Ole Miss softball will travel to Gainesville, Florida for a three-game series against the top-ranked Florida Gators. Despite facing one of the top five toughest schedules in the NCAA, the Rebels enter the series ranked 18th in the nation with a record of 31-13.
Ole Miss’ season has taken a positive turn in the mid-season. After starting 0-6 against SEC competition the team is now 6-9 and in a three-way tie for seventh with Mississippi State and Kentucky. The Rebels are riding a five game win streak following a shutout win against Memphis, a three game in-conference sweep against No. 16 LSU and a convincing victory Tuesday against UT Martin.
In the last 11 games of the regular season the Rebels will compete against two top-25 teams (No. 1 Florida and No. 12 Alabama) and two top-50 teams (No. 28 Missouri and No. 50 Jacksonville State). The weekend’s series in Gainesville will be a true test for the Rebels as the regular season nears its end with the team’s sights set on the NCAA tournament.
A win against the Florida Gators will not come easy. Limiting the Gators 11th-ranked scoring offense will require continued success from pitching standouts Kaitlin Lee and Morgan Bruce. In the recent sweep against LSU, the Rebels first ever sweep of a ranked SEC opponent, the duo combined to complete two shutout games and totaled a 0.64 ERA across 22 innings. The Tigers posted only 16 hits and a measly 0.198 batting average.
A strong hitting performance against the Gators sophomore standout pitcher, Kelly Barnhill, is also important. Barnhill leads the country in ERA (0.19), hits allowed per seven innings (2.78) and strikeouts per seven innings (13.0). She is yet to lose a game in 18 starts and has allowed only three earned runs in 110 innings pitched. Ole Miss sluggers Elantra Cox, Kylan Becker and Miranda Strother will need to be on their A-Game to generate offense for the Rebels. If Elantra Cox can hone in on opportunities at the plate she can extend her 14-game hitting streak, the longest in Ole Miss history.
The last meeting between the Rebels and the Gators took place in the 2016 SEC Tournament. The Rebels, coming off of their first ever tournament win against Georgia, held the Gators to only one run in a hard fought 1-0 loss. After four scoreless innings the Rebels failed to bring home a runner in scoring position. In the bottom of the fifth inning the Gators batted in the game’s only run.
The Rebels, hungry for redemption, hope to prove themselves as title contenders in this weekend’s series. Head coach Mike Smith, fresh off of his 100th win, surely hopes his team will continue to prove their dominance in this weekends challenging series.