Cladded in T-shirts and gym shorts, Ole Miss gathered in the left field grass under a gray sky at John Lee Griffin Stadium on the campus of Samford University. The Rebels laid on their backs and began to stretch. The moment was symbolic of what the overall goal was for the Rebels on Friday, to get off of their feet following a brief practice and take advantage of the day off.
“It’s really big for us to get the day off and be able to hydrate and get our legs back under us,” Junior catcher Henri Lartigue said following Ole Miss’ 12-9 win over Vanderbilt last night that secured the day of rest that is awarded to just two teams by going 3-0 in the SEC tournament. “It’s single elimination for us now, so you don’t get that courtesy loss, so it’s nice to have that day off underneath our belt so we can be really ready to play on Saturday.”
“It’s a good thing,” Mike Bianco said on Friday. “It’s a good thing because it means you’ve won a couple of games.”
Two of Ole Miss’ three wins this week have come against some of the SEC’s most elite pitching in South Carolina’s Clarke Schmidt and Vanderbilt’s Jordan Sheffield, and that was one of the biggest knocks on this team at times this year. It appears that a lineup that had a lot of moving parts has finally meshed, and it did so at the right time.
“We’re really clicking on all cylinders right now,” Colby Bortles said. “Coach has finally found the lineup he likes. In the beginning of the year, we were all saying there are so many pieces to this lineup, and we can be really good offensively. Moving toward the SEC tournament, I think everyone can see the offense we have.”
The Rebels have scored 27 runs in this tournament and Bortles is right in the heart of the middle of a lineup that is 17-35 with 18 RBIs.
Ole Miss found out its opponent on Friday will be Texas A&M, a team that beat the Rebels twice in three tries in College Station to conclude the regular season. Bianco will send Chad Smith to the mound in Saturday’s semifinal. The junior right-hander will be throwing in a tournament that helped plant his baseball roots. Smith grew up about
“It’s exciting. I’ve been coming to it for a long time. It will be an honor to go out there and play on that field,” Smith said. “I feel good. I’m looking forward to getting out there tomorrow. It’s an elimination game. I want to go out there and give my team a chance to get to the championship game.”
It has been an up and down year for Smith who began the year as the number two starter for Ole Miss, before hitting a rocky stretch to begin SEC play. Smith pitched well in a couple of midweek games, and got another shot at SEC last weekend, helping the Rebels salvage the series finale in College Station.
“Started off OK I thought and then hit a rocky road. But as of late I believe I’ve figured it out a little bit and been throwing well lately,” he said.
If you’ve made it to this point to the SEC tournament, it likely means your pitching has been taxed pretty heavily, and that is the case with Ole Miss, which makes this day off even bigger.
Will Stokes, Brady Feigl, and Andy Pagnozzi have carried heavy loads out of the pen so far, but there are other arms that haven’t thrown yet that will be called upon.
“Going forward Im sure you’ll see (Dallas) Woolfolk, you could see (Matt) Denny, and (Andrew) Lowe is kind of that option where, does he come in relief? or does he start a championship game?,” Bianco said. “We’ll just have to see how tomorrow plays out.”
Bianco said he was unsure if Stokes would be available for Friday, and said Brady Feigl would not be, but added that Wyatt Short would definitely be available to go.
As this team continues to notch quality, resumé-building wins in this tournament, its stock for becoming a national seed, and hosting both a regional and a super regional in Oxford has gone up, and many feel that they one win away from locking that up, but that’s not something they think about.
“We don’t talk about that at all,” Bortles said. “The main thing is that we’ve accomplished one of our goals, and that’s 40 wins.”
Ole Miss has done that, and added a couple of more this week, and its earned it its first SEC semifinal trip since 2010.
(This week) we wanted to prove we weren’t the seventh best team in the conference,” Bortles said. “I think we’ve done that so far. But there’s more baseball to play and there’s more games to win.”
First pitch on Saturday against the Aggies is slated for noon.