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Ole Miss vs. Southern Miss baseball 2014: Midweek rivalry struggles continue

The Rebs dropped a third consecutive game to the Golden Eagles on Tuesday, extending their recent woes against USM and Memphis. Why have these games been such a challenge?

Southern Miss was 12-12 heading into Tuesday night. Ole Miss was 21-4 and ranked as high as No. 9 in the country. Southern had a team batting average of .243 with just one player hitting over .300. The Rebs had a .304 average and six starters over .300. The Golden Eagles had a staff ERA of 3.70; Rebel pitchers had a combined ERA of 2.03.

So of course Ole Miss blew a 3-run lead to lose, 5-3, to Southern Miss in Pearl.

Three weeks after losing to Memphis in Oxford, the Rebels dropped yet another midweek rivalry game on Tuesday night, a bewildering trend that has been gaining momentum for years. Ole Miss has now lost three in a row and six of the last seven against USM. They haven't beat Memphis in two years and have lost six of the last eight of those matchups.

Since the Governor's Cup renewed in 2007, the Rebs have a losing record against Mississippi State in the annual midweek meeting.

Sure, these aren't conference games. They're not weekend series. Midweek games in college baseball are in many cases more about experimenting and getting young players experience than than they are about winning. Young pitchers are left in to struggle. Top batters are pulled in clutch situations for guys you've never heard of. That's just how it goes.

You also have to accept the fact that these games simply mean more to USM and Memphis than they do to the Rebels. Ole Miss is probably the best team either of these clubs play in a given season. And while geographic and cultural proximity makes these big games to us fans, they count just the same as the rest of them in the record book.

With all that said, the Rebs' recent inability to beat these two teams is surprising. No, we're not throwing our top arms, but neither are they (Southern's Tuesday guy was making just his third start of the season). Ole Miss had seven of its typical weekend starters in the lineup on Tuesday. They put up just four hits.

The losses to USM and Memphis are particularly frustrating, but the Rebs have had trouble in midweek games as a whole in 2014. While they have a respectable 6-2 record in those contests, most of them have been closer than you would like. Of those six wins, four of them were one-run games (and a fifth was a one-run game entering the ninth inning). Two of them were walkoffs. Excluding an opening-week 6-0 win over UT-Martin, Ole Miss has outscored its midweek opponents by an average of just .57 runs per game.

I'm certainly not arguing that this is a bad team. They're still 21-5 and ranked in the upper half of most of the major polls. They just finished a sweep of an (admittedly bad) SEC team and were a strike away from taking a road series from then-No. 1 South Carolina. But the very fact that this is a good team makes these midweek rivalry losses that much tougher to stomach.