The grind of the best league in college baseball has not been kind to Ole Miss in recent weeks. The Rebels have been up and down all season but looked to have a new energy heading in to the month of May after sweeping then No. 6 Texas A&M and winning a series in Baton Rouge for the first time since 1984.
That momentum in conference play was short-lived, however, as the Rebels were swept by Mississippi State in Oxford during commencement weekend and gave up a five-run lead to Arkansas State, dropping a puzzling midweek game.
The Rebels were able avoid a second-straight SEC sweep last Sunday after nearly giving up another five-run lead to Tennessee. Mike Bianco and the rest of the team have Ryan Olenek to thank as he came in and shut the door in the ninth inning for his first save of the season, giving the Rebels the 5-4 win.
Ole Miss’s 16-14 conference record gives them the No. 7 seed in the SEC Tournament. The Rebels could use a run similar to the one in 2018, when they won the title in dramatic fashion. They’ll face the No. 10 seed Missouri Tigers today in Hoover, Alabama. The first round of the tournament is single elimination and and early exit from Hoover could be disastrous for the Rebels.
Missouri welcomed Ole Miss to Columbia in the early going of conference play and handed the Rebels their first series loss of the season. The Tigers edged out the Rebels in a series-opening 2-1 pitcher’s duel. Ole Miss came back to win the next game 3-0 behind a dominant performance from Doug Nikhazy in his first weekend start, allowing only two hits in 7.2 innings pitched. Nikhazy and Parker Caracci combined for the shut out.The Rebels lost the rubber match 8-5, unable to hold on to an early lead.
Should the Rebels defeat the Tigers on Tuesday, they’ll face the No. 2 seed Arkansas Razorbacks on Wednesday. The Rebels did take two out of three in Fayetteville in late March, but the Razorbacks have caught fire since then with sweeps over Mississippi State and Tennessee and series wins over Kentucky and LSU.
This is an all-important week for the Rebels as far as NCAA tournament seeding. It’s unlikely that a 16-win SEC team is excluded from the tournament, but an unimpressive showing in Hoover and whatever regional they’re placed could put Ross Bjork and adminstration in a sticky situation with the crowd of Bianco critics that has grown over the season.
The game against Missouri will begin at 2 p.m. today and will be a broadcast on SEC Network.