The No. 4 Ole Miss Baseball team (17-4) will travel to Tuscaloosa, Alabama, this weekend to face the No. 24 Crimson Tide (15-6) after defeating Central Arkansas during its midweek game on Tuesday by a score of 5-2.
The Rebels started out SEC play strong last weekend, sweeping the Auburn Tigers in Oxford. The nationally ranked Rebels sit alone in the SEC West as the only team to start out league play winning all three of its games.
Though Alabama might not be considered to have an Omaha-ready team this year, it still has a sneaky lineup that could give the Rebels some trouble. Last weekend in its SEC season opener against Arkansas, formally the nation’s top-ranked team, Alabama’s bats exploded in the first game as it dominated the Razorbacks 16-1 on Friday. However, the Tide dropped its midweek game on Tuesday against Southern Miss, losing 5-4.
That doesn’t mean Ole Miss’s series against Alabama will be a walk in the park. Fortunately, the Diamond Rebels will have junior pitcher Doug Nikhazy back this week, who has missed the last few weeks because of a chest injury. Nikhazy will not be throwing the first game as he has been since last season. Instead, the junior pitcher will be the Rebels’ second-day starting pitcher.
This means that junior pitcher Gunner Hogland will continue to start the series as the Rebels’ day one pitcher. In three starts for the Rebels, Hogland has averaged an ERA of 2.27 and an IP of 3.1, including last weekend’s opening game, where the team helped him allow no runs, winning 1-0. Sophomore Derek Diamond will continue to be the third-day starter for the team.
Ole Miss baseball head coach Mike Bianco’s decision not to start Nikhazy for the first game of the series is likely due to strategy. While Nikazy is left-handed, Hogland and Diamond are both right-handed. This means that the pitching each day will start with the arms of a right-left-right. The pitching crew will have to continue to bring its A-game against an Alabama team that has shown its potential with hot bats.
On the offensive side, the Rebels will continue to look for their groove inconsistency at bat this weekend. Senior Tim Elko has been the hottest for the team so far, averaging .342 this year with eight home runs. The rest of the team, however, has been both up and down, and though several of the ups have been exciting, there is still a lack of consistency that the Rebels hope to solve before the league play gets tougher. A dark horse who is due for a big game swinging for the team is freshman Calvin Harris, who batted his best against Auburn last weekend including his first home run for the season.
The first pitch against the Crimson Tide will be Thursday, March 25, at 6 p.m. and televised on ESPNU.