The Ole Miss baseball team started off conference play hot as it scored 33 runs in three games to win its first conference series of the season against a scrappy Auburn team.
The Rebel offense bounced back as strongly as it could have after a disappointing midweek loss to Southeastern Louisiana. Ole Miss won the first game of the series by a score of 13-6, despite a less than perfect start from starting pitcher John Gaddis. The second game of the series saw the Rebels give up the most runs that it has given in a game since St. John scored 20 on them in the 2010 regional. Ole Miss would lose 19-5 in a game where it couldn’t produce an out or quality at-bat with ease. In the rubber match, Ole Miss avoided any real concern of a series upset as it pounded on a weak Auburn pitching staff and finished off the series with a lopsided 15-2 win. The Rebels survived the first week of conference play on the road and improved its record to 15-4 and 2-1 in SEC play.
The starting pitching needs work
Through five weeks of the season, the Rebel starters on the mound seem to be the team’s weakest link. In three games, the starting staff gave up 11 runs in a combined 11.4 innings of work. Newly positioned game one starter John Gaddis struggled to settle in early and gave up four runs in his first two innings. Derek Diamond didn’t look any better than what he has shown this season in the second game, as he failed to pull himself together and get off the mound after finding himself in some trouble early (A recurring problem with his game). Diamond was pulled after just 3.1 innings and was replaced by Jack Dougherty. Dougherty produced solid numbers (5.0 IP, 7H, 7SO, 2ER) in the series finale despite not having his best stuff. He showed he can compete as a starter in conference play but still needs to improve in order to consistently give the team a chance to win in the SEC. The offense is potent, and the bullpen can do what it needs to do to close out games, but the starting pitching has to improve in order to keep the Rebels in the game for at least five innings, or this team’s ceiling for what it can be decreases dramatically. At the moment, the Rebels don’t appear to have a pitcher on their roster that looks capable of competing on Fridays in the SEC consistently, which will be a problem as the season pushes along. Head Coach Mike Bianco still has a little ways to go before he figures out the right role for everyone in the rotation, but, fortunately, he has a few different options to work with. It will be interesting to see what the Rebels choose to do on the mound for the rest of the season. Regardless of what they do, the starting pitching needs to be better in order for the Rebels to make a deep postseason run.
Ole Miss needs Kevin Graham
The senior left fielder who is arguably the best hitter on the team will miss the next 3-5 weeks with a broken bone in his wrist. If you could point out one flaw in the Rebel offense, it would be that the lineup as a whole has a tendency to go cold sometimes. When the Rebels are hitting to their fullest potential, nobody in the country has the pitching talent to compete well enough to shut down the Rebels, but Ole Miss has shown over the past couple of years that it will go cold as a team from time to time. The one usual exception to its momentary struggles is that Kevin Graham seems to never slump, regardless of what the team is doing. In the second game of the series, Ole Miss really needed a consistent hitter to give them good at-bats to keep them in the game, and that option just wasn’t available in the lineup at the time. The Rebels clearly were struggling from the right side of the plate and needed another left-handed hitter to balance it out. Ole Miss did score 33 runs in three games, but if there’s one thing to take away from the series it is that the pitching will really struggle at times. The offense is going to have to win some games completely on its own, and it really needs Kevin Graham back in the lineup if it wants to win when it doesn’t bring its A-game at the plate.
Rebels remain number one
The D1 baseball Top-25 poll kept Ole Miss as their No. 1 team in their rankings after its series win at Auburn. The Rebels come in at No.1 for the second straight week and will take that ranking into this weekend when it hosts the No. 5 Tennessee Volunteers. Ole Miss is one of four SEC teams ranked in the top five and one of seven ranked in the Top-25. The rankings in reality are meaningless and have no impact on NCAA tournament seeding, as the tournament committee will select who plays where at the end of the year. But nonetheless, it is pretty cool to look up at the scoreboard during games and see the “No. 1” by Ole Miss’s name and Rebel fans will get to see that for at least one more week.