Rebels baseball prepares for matchup with Southern Miss

Posted on Apr 4 2017 - 8:00am by Ethan Wright

Sitting at 16-12 on the season and just 3-6 in conference play, Ole Miss baseball’s Tuesday night matchup against No. 17 Southern Mississippi is shaping up to be a must-win for coach Mike Bianco’s Rebels. The 6:30 p.m. game will pit the Rebels, still reeling from a series sweep at the hands of intrastate rival Mississippi State this past weekend, against the Golden Eagles, who are flying high on a 24-5 record.

While the Golden Eagles’ schedule may not be quite as competitive as Ole Miss’ has been so far, they have still rolled through 15 of their last 16 opponents, including a 7-5 neutral-site victory over the very same Bulldogs that ravaged the Rebels last weekend. Tuesday night’s matchup will be played at that same neutral venue – Trustmark Park in Pearl – and if the Rebels do not improve, they, too, may fall victim to Southern Miss.

A recent trend for the Rebels, and that has Bianco rightfully worried, has been the complete disappearance of offensive consistency. In its three game series with Mississippi State, Ole Miss averaged only 2.3 runs per game and were held to a dismal four or fewer hits in two of those games. Yet, the evidence of offensive underproduction stretches even farther back than last weekend.

In fact, during only five of their last 20 games have the Rebels registered more than four runs in a game. Ole Miss has lost 11 of the 15 games they’ve scored four times or less.

Even more concerning for Rebels baseball fans is how well Southern Miss has been pitching lately. The Golden Eagles’ pitching staff includes a 2016 Freshman All-American in Nick Sandlin, a 2016 first-team All-Conference USA and preseason All-Conference USA in Kirk McCarty and another preseason All-Conference USA in Taylor Braley. Perhaps most impressive among these is Sandlin, who has won five games, saved three and has not allowed a single run in his 11 appearances.

Because of the depth and talent of Southern Miss’ pitching rotation, it will be imperative that Ole Miss readjust its hitting strategies and mend any issues at the plate before Tuesday’s head-to-head. Much of this readjustment should be focused on the freshmen, only one of whom is batting over .250. Among the first-year starters, Thomas Dillard, in particular, has been unnaturally quiet lately, registering only two hits in the last six games. Dillard, who started the season on fire, actually led the team in batting average for the first few weeks but now sits on the bottom half of the stat sheet.

Dillard and the other freshmen’s improvements hitting-wise will be paramount if Ole Miss is to have a shot at taking down the Golden Eagles. While pitching should keep Ole Miss in the game, as it has nearly every matchup so far, the Rebels simply cannot win if the offense fails to show up.  If Bianco can light a fire under his young team and its bats, as well, then this neutral-site matchup might just be the turning point Ole Miss needs this season.