Ole Miss baseball hopes to get back on track this weekend with another road SEC series, this time against the nationally-ranked Arkansas Razorbacks.
The Rebels have gotten off to a sputtering start in conference play, sitting at a 3-3 record after dropping a series against Missouri last weekend. Ole Miss got solid pitching performances on Friday and Saturday from Will Ethridge and Doug Nikhazy, but the Rebel offense continued to struggle against left-handed pitching, mustering a mere nine runs combined in the series.
Speaking of Doug Nikhazy, it appears that the Rebels may have found in him an answer to their Saturday pitching struggles. Nikhazy pitched 7.2 innings of two-hit, scoreless ball last Saturday as Ole Miss claimed its only win of the weekend in a 3-0 decision over the Tigers. Nikhazy has looked solid against quality non-conference opponents and in his first SEC test, and if the Rebel offense can get going again, the combination of Ethridge and Nikhazy on the mound on Friday and Saturday could give Ole Miss an advantage moving forward.
Therein lies the problem, however: the offense. Mike Bianco’s squad came into the year boasting one of the most talented lineups in the SEC and nation but has struggled to put together consistent performances at the plate and have formed a habit of stranding runners on the base paths.
While the Rebels have been pleasantly surprised by pitchers like Nikhazy and reliever Austin Miller, the lack of offensive production in SEC play and against stout non-conference competition is concerning, to say the least. Still, the Rebels have the talent to be elite at the plate, but time will tell if they are able to remedy their offensive woes, especially against lefties.
Although none of Arkansas’ typical weekend starters are left-handed, Razorback head coach Dave Van Horn might take notice of the Rebels’ struggles against southpaws and have an extra emphasis on bringing in left-handed relievers to face Ole Miss this weekend.
The Razorbacks are fresh off of a series win over Alabama but lost Saturday’s game against the Tide 10-0. Saturdays have been the Hogs’ weak link so far this season with two of their four losses coming in the second game of the weekend. Although Arkansas failed to push across any runs in their Saturday match with the Tide, they still swing the bat pretty well as they have six consistent starters batting over .300 on the year. The Razorbacks have also hit 26 home runs in their 25 games, meaning that Rebel pitching staff will have their work cut out for them this weekend.
Last season, Ole Miss took two of three games from Arkansas in Oxford, a series that gave the Rebels the tiebreaker when it came to the SEC West title at the end of the season. Arkansas advanced to the College World Series in Omaha last year, however, and was a dropped pop up away from winning a national championship over Oregon State.
Although both of these teams have noticeable issues that need to be resolved as conference play continues, they both have the talent to make a deep postseason run if their respective rosters can mesh together, so this weekend could once again have a large impact on the SEC and national landscape of college baseball.
This weekend’s games will be broadcast on ESPNU (Friday), SEC Network (Saturday) and SEC Network+ (Sunday). First pitch tonight is scheduled for 8 p.m. with Saturday and Sunday’s games slated for 3 p.m. and 1:30 p.m., respectively.