Two weeks ago the Ole Miss baseball team got swept by Alabama, drawing a collective "here we go again" from Rebel fans conditioned to conference-play collapses. But rather than the expected implosion, the Diamond Rebs have responded by winning seven of their last eight. They kept the momentum going last week, grabbing a pair of midweek wins over Memphis and Murray State before heading down to take two of three from Mississippi State in Starkville.
The #Grinders were celebrating their Super Bulldog Weekend and turned out in big numbers to watch their humble heroes take on the elitist, cash-greedy "Northerners." They pulled over 13,000 on Friday, then set a national attendance record on Saturday with 15,586… which made it all the more satisfying when the Rebs -- outside of a bad half-inning on Saturday -- thoroughly outplayed them.
That one bad half-inning I mentioned was the bottom of the tenth on Saturday, when Ole Miss blew a three-run lead to let State walk off. We'll get into all the hot takes surrounding that loss and Mike Bianco's role in it, but it did make Sunday's ass-whooping that much more impressive, considering the mental fortitude it took to move past what was one of the more epic WAOM moments in recent history.
Last week: 4-1
Overall: 29-9 (9-6 SEC)
Tuesday: Ole Miss 9, Memphis 1
Memphis had won six of the last eight matchups in this series, including a 4-1 game in Oxford earlier this season. We recently noted the Rebs' struggles in midweek rivalry games, so it was good to see them get off the slide against the Tigers in AutoZone. Will Allen and Sikes Orvis sent out back-to-back dingers in the fifth and Jeremy Massie turned in a quality start to pick up his second win of the year.
Wednesday: Ole Miss 8, Murray State 5
Freshman starter Evan Anderson let the Thoroughbreds (did anyone else know Murray State's nickname was the Thoroughbreds?) jump out to a three-run lead in the top of the fourth, but the Rebel bats responded with six runs in the bottom of the frame and held on from there. Matt Denny grabbed the win and Wyatt Short bagged his second save of the season.
Friday: Ole Miss 6, Mississippi State 1
Ole Miss jumped out to a 2-0 first-inning lead and never looked back. Five Rebels notched multiple hit nights and Orvis and Braxton Lee each had a pair of RBIs. Chris Ellis struggled with his control a bit and was in pretty serious pitch count trouble by the fourth inning. He was able to buckle down and power his way into the seventh and Short worked the final 2⅓ for the save. With Aaron Greenwood sidelined with an abdominal issue, using just two pitchers in the win was big for preserving arms for the rest of the weekend.
Clearly trying to save his own relievers, John Cohen allowed starter Ross Mitchell to throw 122 pitches over 8⅔ innings, despite the fact that he labored through several stretches. Cohen knows his player's durability limits better than I (Mitchell has worked long innings all season, so it's something he's capable of), but leaving him in for that many pitches in a five-run game for the sole purpose of saving the bullpen is verging on unscrupulous.
Of course, it wouldn't be the first time a State coach risked his player's shoulder in order to beat Ole Miss.
Saturday: Mississippi State 6, Ole Miss 5 (10 innings)
And you thought that blown ninth-inning lead in Columbia would be the peak of WAOM this season. Having gotten a two-run homer from Orvis and an insurance run in the top of the tenth inning, the Rebs held a 5-2 lead heading into the bottom of the frame and looked poised to take the series. Then shit got ugly.
Josh Laxer, who entered in the eighth and had been dominant up until that point, suddenly collapsed, allowing the Bulldogs to grab three runs to tie the game. Bianco then inserted Preston Tarkington, who allowed the winning hit to Gavin Collins. Both the tying and winning runs crossed the plate with two outs. The key play in that sickening series of events was a throwing error by Preston Overbey on what should have been the second out. If Overbey completes that routine play, the Rebs win 5-4 and Bianco is spared a storm of hot takes.
Because don't you know there were hot takes.
@FauxHughFreeze lax wasn't looking sharp either though... You can't let a closer go through the lineup and keep throwing— Rowdy in Right (@swayzescrazy) April 12, 2014
My dog could run away on the leash Mike Bianco has been given at Ole Miss @RedCupRebellion— Cody Miles King (@PositivistMe) April 13, 2014
Bianco has done a good job managing pitchers this season, but it's hard to defend his decision to leave Laxer in during that rally. Lax got a quick out to open the inning but then allowed consecutive doubles to cut the lead to 5-3, a moment that, for a closer pitching into his third inning, should have been viewed as a red flag. He was then allowed to face three more batters (though, like I said, we're not having this discussion if Overbey makes the play at second).
Sunday: Ole Miss 12, Mississippi State 2
Kudos to the Rebel squad for having the mental toughness to shake off what could have been a debilitating loss. Less than 24 hours after a gut-wrenching defeat, they came out and clowned State off the field. Of course it didn't hurt that the Bulldogs had nothing left in the pitching cupboard. Ole Miss pounded out an absurd 20 hits, including a 4-for-5 day from Austin Anderson and three-hit games by Overbey and Auston Bousfield. The Sunday Sizzle was scorching early, as Sam Smith kept State off the board until the seventh. He finished with two runs and six hits over six innings.
- The Rebel offense averaged 15.2 hits and 8.2 runs per game last week.
- Will Allen and Sikes Orvis have combined for 68 RBIs and 13 home runs this season. Last year, that pair totaled 44 RBIs and nine home runs between them and carried the worst two batting averages of the regular starters.
- Speaking of homers, the Rebels as a team have now slapped 25 dingers through 38 games this season, meaning they've already surpassed the 23 they had all of last year.
- Ole Miss can become the first SEC team to 30 wins next week against LSU. They have played one more game than most of the West, but because the Rebs don't play a midweek game
Tweet of the week
This was after the WAOM on Saturday of course.
If the Bible was written today the part of Job would be played by an Ole Miss fan.— Kyle Cole (@TheRealKyleCole) April 12, 2014
March 17-19 vs. No. 8 LSU: The Rebs host LSU in a huge series that will go a long way in dictating how the SEC West shakes out. Game 1 is on Thursday and will be broadcast on ESPN U, so Swayze should get pretty damn rowdy.