Rebels regrouping as road trip continues

Published 7:56 am Friday, April 13, 2018

Ole Miss is still in good shape as the Southeastern Conference baseball season hits the halfway point this weekend. Still, it is smarting at what could have been.

The Rebels (28-6, 7-5 SEC) dropped their first series of the year last weekend at Mississippi State. Last Sunday’s 7-5, 11-inning loss to the Bulldogs dropped Ole Miss out of first place in the SEC West for the first time this season and provided the first real dose of humility for a team that has climbed as high as No. 3 in some national polls.

The Rebels will try to get some of their swagger back this weekend, when they go on the road to face Vanderbilt (20-13, 7-5) in a three-game series beginning Friday night.

Email newsletter signup

Sign up for The Vicksburg Post's free newsletters

Check which newsletters you would like to receive
  • Vicksburg News: Sent daily at 5 am
  • Vicksburg Sports: Sent daily at 10 am
  • Vicksburg Living: Sent on 15th of each month

“You’ve got to play better,” Ole Miss coach Mike Bianco told the Oxford Eagle earlier this week. “This is the SEC. Doesn’t matter who you play. Certainly in this (MSU) series when you’re playing a rivalry series, but it’s the SEC and all the teams can beat you if you don’t play well enough.”

The series with Vanderbilt continues an eight-game road trip for the Rebels. They bounced back from losing two out of three games to Mississippi State by crushing Southern Miss 11-3 Tuesday in Pearl.

The latest outing was a big step forward offensively. After leaving 12 men on base and going 3-for-12 with runners in scoring position against Mississippi State, the Rebels cranked out 14 hits and against their other in-state rival.

A six-run second inning propelled them to the win and the season sweep of Southern Miss.

Before facing Southern Miss, Bianco was confident in the Rebels’ ability to bounce back.

“I think we’ll respond,” Bianco told the Oxford Eagle on Monday. “It’s a tough month of April. Playing the games down in Pearl make the games even more difficult with the midweek games, but we’ve got to be tough enough to handle it.”

While Ole Miss was trying to handle adversity, Mississippi State is trying to find a way to deal with success. It followed up the series win over Ole Miss by beating Alabama State 15-4 on the road on Wednesday.

The Bulldogs (17-16, 4-8), who struggled through the first six weeks of the season, have suddenly won four of their last five games and can climb out of the SEC West cellar by winning this weekend’s series at Auburn (23-11, 4-8).

Auburn has lost four games in a row and six of seven. The Tigers have lost their last three SEC series.

“I think that’s what we needed as a club. It puts a lot of confidence in us and lets us know that we are a team that can make a run with all these other teams,” Mississippi State infielder Hunter Stovall said at a press conference earlier this week, in reference to the Ole Miss series. “This series has made us realize we can be who we want to be.”

What they hope that is, is a team that can still climb up the SEC standings and reach the conference and NCAA Tournaments. Five games separate the first- and last-place teams in the SEC, and 10 of the league’s 14 teams are within three games of each other.

That could make this weekend a pivotal one as the upper echelon tries to distance itself from the bottom feeders.

Mississippi State coach Gary Henderson seemed optimistic about his team’s recent upswing, yet wary that another bad weekend could quickly undo it.

“Once you get back out there, what you did last weekend is great but it doesn’t stick with you for long during the next contest,” Henderon said during a press conference earlier this week. “So I think it’s good for our team to know we can beat a good team and win a series, but then you have to go out and prove it again.”

About Ernest Bowker

Ernest Bowker is The Vicksburg Post's sports editor. He has been a member of The Vicksburg Post's sports staff since 1998, making him one of the longest-tenured reporters in the paper's 140-year history. The New Jersey native is a graduate of LSU. In his career, he has won more than 50 awards from the Mississippi Press Association and Associated Press for his coverage of local sports in Vicksburg.

email author More by Ernest