The SEC Tournament and NCAA regionals are both less than a month away, and the Ole Miss Rebels are hoping to make a strong case for a trip to Omaha. Following a dominant two-game weekday showing against University of Louisiana Monroe, the Rebels are now setting their sights on the No. 7 Florida Gators.
The three-game series kicks off this Friday night in Gainesville, Florida. The Gators, who sit just a game away from the SEC East lead spot, will test the durability and talent of head coach Mike Bianco’s young team. With the list of remaining regular season games shrinking each week, now, more than ever, the Rebels need a strong weekend showing. Here are a few keys to victory this weekend:
Florida has taken the opening game of all but three series this year. Losing the first game of a series is never a good omen. Often, nerves and untested depth can result in an embarrassing, hard-to-recover-from loss.
Bianco and his players have shown, time and time again, that they have the maturity to recover from early adversity; series wins against LSU and Mizzou offer plenty of evidence to support this claim. Should Florida seize the opener, Ole Miss must remain focused enough to recover for game two and respond with an improved performance.
The Rebels are primed to face one of the nation’s best coaches this weekend. Kevin O’Sullivan has coached the Gators for 10 years, taking his team to the NCAA Tournament in each of those years. Last season culminated with a No. 1 seed and an Omaha appearance. The veteran coach has also been awarded SEC Coach of the Year twice and NCAA Coach of the Year once.
While the statistics are flattering, numbers cannot do justice to the impact O’Sullivan has on his teams. For the Rebels to defeat the Gators, they must first defeat the Florida coaching staff. How?
Ole Miss will need to get on the Florida coach’s nerves early and often with momentum shifting plays, quick scoring and precise pitching. If Bianco’s men can accomplish these objectives while maintaining both offensive and defensive discipline, they can minimize O’Sullivan’s impact.
Take Chances and Break the Six
Without taking a substantial amount of risk, Ole Miss will not stand much of a chance against this talented Florida. With six straight wins, the Gators are making a late postseason run both in their conference and nationally. For Ole Miss to step in and take down a talented, in-form team, it has to literally and figuratively swing for the fences.
In order to take the series in Gainesville, Bianco will need to take risks and adapt in the moment. Smart but aggressive play coupled with an unwillingness to back down, plus maybe an alignment in the stars, could be enough to give Bianco a series win over O’Sullivan and the Gators.