Ole Miss improved to 6-0 in SEC play following its sweep against Alabama, but the team has a lot to be worried about in the next few weeks.
The Rebels anticipated a midweek matchup against North Alabama, but due to weather conditions, it was postponed to next week. This means that Ole Miss will play five games next week. It will start with North Alabama on Monday and Alcorn State on Tuesday before facing No. 1 Arkansas at home for a three-game series beginning Friday.
To be successful leading up to this week, Ole Miss is going to rely heavily on its pitchers. Gunnar Hoglund has become the new ace for the Rebels, and was the starting pitcher against Auburn and Alabama. Hoglund’s performance stood out in both weekends. He pitched eight innings in a narrow 1-0 win vs. Auburn and then pitched six innings against Alabama. In Tuscaloosa, he allowed three runs on six hits with 10 strikeouts. His overall ERA for this season is a solid 2.63. While he was pitching, Alabama was only able to score on three solo home runs. Taylor Broadway has also proved to play an important role for this team as a closer. He is 3-0 on the season and has an ERA of 2.45.
For the middle of the series, Doug Nikhazy will most likely be the guy to pitch against Florida. Nikhazy had his first SEC start of this season following a minor chest injury. He pitched for five innings, allowing no runs on one hit, with seven strikeouts and two walks. Following Nikhazy, Drew McDaniel came in to pitch three scoreless innings. Derek Diamond was the starter in game three of the series, and will most likely be stepping into that role again. Diamond pitched for six innings, with six hits, three runs, and six strikeouts. The Rebels were able to get the sweep.
In order for Ole Miss to be successful down this stretch of SEC play, the bats have to be hot. Florida has a combined pitching ERA of 3.84, and plenty of players who will have no problem making big plays on defense.
Luckily, the accolades for the offensive production just keep coming for the Rebels. True freshman TJ McCants was named SEC Player of the Week after his weekend in Tuscaloosa. McCants hit .364 in the Alabama series with a team-high five runs scored, a double, a home run and three RBI. He has been tremendous in the outfield, despite only having six starts in that position.
Tim Elko now leads the SEC in RBIs with a 4-for-5 day after driving in five runs on a three-run double in the fifth inning and a two-run home run in the eighth in the third game against Alabama. The home run was his ninth of the season, the second most in the SEC.
“You’re just trying to keep the blinders on and win the next game,” head coach Mike Bianco said. “When it’s over, you realize sweeps are tough and we have two of them back to back, one on the road.”
The Rebels now have their first 6-0 start since 1969 — when famed quarterback Archie Manning played shortstop.
Ole Miss will have a more difficult time as it heads to Gainesville to take on the Gators, but a 6-0 start and a strong pitching staff could be enough to give them all the confidence they need.