In a conference loaded with talent and potential, losses in quick succession will find a team tumbling down the standings. That has happened to the Rebels as what once was a tie for first in the division has become one spot off the bottom.
Poor showings against Kentucky, Auburn and Mississippi State have Mike Bianco and his team looking for a response as they play host to Texas A&M this weekend.
The Aggies are one of the top teams in the SEC, and the Rebels need a complete performance to come out victorious.
The Aggies come to Oxford in second place of the SEC West, just behind Arkansas. They have only dropped one of their six series in conference play to this point, losing two of three to LSU.
The only other series they did not win was a home series against Missouri where the rubber match had to be called in the tenth inning.
Starting pitching tips in favor of the visiting side. John Doxakis boasts a 2.15 earned run average in league play with a 2-1 record. Asa Lacy is 3-3 with a 3.47 earned run average against the conference.
Both have surrendered just six extra-base hits. Lacy averages 1.47 strikeouts per inning, and he is limiting opposing hitters to a .183 batting average against. The fact that these two are both left-handed presents a big problem for the Ole Miss offense this season. Ole Miss struggles to put good at-bats together when they face pitchers from the left side.
Offensively, the Aggies are scoring just over five runs a game against SEC opponents. This team gets the job done by spreading around the damage. The team only has 10 home runs in SEC play with nobody having more than three.
Braden Shewmake is the marquis name for the Aggies. The former All-American is hitting .318 this season with 16 hits for extra bases. He adds 15 walks and six stolen bases to a resume that landed him on the watch list for the Golden Spikes award.
The momentum seems to be the exact opposite for the Rebels than that of the Aggies. The Rebels have dropped four of their last six games in the league and are coming off a one-sided defeat at the hands of Mississippi State in the midweek.
The pitching staff is foundering. The offense is stagnant. Fielding is questionable. The team is in a funk that would have been hard to imagine just a few weeks ago after sweeping Florida.
Grae Kessinger’s torrid pace in conference play has been the story for the Ole Miss offense. The junior shortstop is hitting .453 against SEC pitching, 110 average points higher than the next Rebel hitter. His power made an appearance on the last day against Auburn when he blasted two home runs to account for three of the five runs scored in the extra-innings loss.
Cole Zabowski has been productive to a similar level that Kessinger has been. The lefty lost an 11-game hitting streak in conference play against Auburn. The junior is hitting .343 in conference with six league home runs to lead the Rebels. He will need to stay patient at the plate as the starters for the Aggies will have the advantage of facing the left-handed Zabowski.
With players like Tyler Keenan, Thomas Dillard and Ryan Olenek not being as productive in conference as their overall statistics illustrate, Zabowski will be vital this weekend.