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Right Field Review: Ole Miss baseball narrowly avoids the sweep at UCF

An infuriating inability to hit a baseball with a man in scoring position cost the Rebs two of three tight games against UCF, but there are still some positive takeaways from the weekend.

Steven Branscombe-USA TODAY Sports

Game 3 of the weekend series against UCF was how we all hoped Ole Miss baseball would look this season. Sikes Orvis and Colby Bortles (both playing in their hometown of Orlando) went yard, Sam Smith made it all the way to the sixth (!) inning, Wyatt Short shut things down on the back end to pick up the save and the Rebels pulled out a tight 4-3 win over the 15th-ranked Knights.

If only the rest of the weekend had gone as well. Ole Miss blew leads in each of the first two games and left Florida with their first series loss of the year.

The Rebs led 4-0 as late as the sixth inning on Friday and went into the bottom of the eighth still up by two runs. But a leadoff double chased Christian Trent (who nonetheless had a pretty impressive outing) and Mike Bianco's decision to put freshman Will Stokes on the mound resulted in two runs and a tie game. An inning later, UCF's JoMorcos Woods hit a two-out, walkoff single off Short to score the winning run from second.

Because the weather gods have decided that no baseball will be played on Saturdays this year, rain pushed Game 2 to a seven-inning affair at 9 a.m. local time on Sunday. Ole Miss took an early 1-0 lead in the first, but lost the lead in the fourth when Brady Bramlett, who picked up his first loss of the year, gave up a two-run shot.

The scoreboard

Friday: UCF 5, Ole Miss 4
Sunday Game 1: UCF 3, Ole Miss 2
Sunday Game 2: Ole Miss 4, UCF 3

5 big takeaways

1. The pitchers did enough to win.

The pitching was far from brilliant, but considering that UCF came into the weekend with the sixth-best team batting average in the country, the Rebel arms held their own. The Knights entered the series averaging 13 hits and nearly 9 runs per game, but Ole Miss held them to an average of 7.33 hits and 3.67 runs.

Christian Trent, who left Friday's game in the eighth with a 4-2 lead, got plugged with a no-decision after a six-hit, three-run outing. But that does keep his undefeated record intact -- he's never lost a game in 20 starts as a Rebel.

2. The Rebs couldn't get the clutch hit.

Up 4-2 in the top of the eighth on Friday, Ole Miss had runners on second and third with one out, poised to step on UCF's throat. Instead, back-to-back strikeouts let the Knights out of the jam and they went on to tie the game in the bottom of the frame. That inability to bring runners home was the story of the weekend: the Rebs could never get the big hit to put the game away and stranded a boatload of men in scoring position.

Chase Parham pointed out an even more concerning stat: five Rebs struck out with men in scoring position and less than two outs -- a scenario in which almost any type of contact scores a run. One of the few times that an Ole Miss batter did put the ball in play in that situation turned into an inning-ending double play.

3. Errol Robinson does it again.

This is damn near identical to the game-ending double play he pulled off last week. It also earned a nod from Sportscenter.

4. Do we have a new leadoff hitter?

Bianco shuffled the top of the lineup for both Sunday games, trading J.B. Woodman out for true freshman Kyle Watson. The move had mixed results: Watson reached base on all three trips to the dish and scored a run in the early game, but went 0-for-4 with three strikeouts in the next. All three of UCF's starters this weekend were righties, by the way, so this was more than just a matchup ploy. Woodman will probably keep seeing plenty of time in the leadoff spot, but Watson's clearly going to be in the mix as well.

5. Don't get too worried just yet.

A non-con series loss sucks, but UCF is a really good team and a pair of one-run losses to a top-25 opponent shouldn't do much damage to the Rebs' rankings or RPI. The other thing to consider is that a series this early in the season gave the advantage to UCF, a team with significantly more experience. Seven guys in their starting lineup are seniors, while six Rebel starters have been playing D1 baseball for a year or less.

The most important takeaway from the weekend is that Ole Miss has the pitching to stand up to a big-time offense. If they can start getting a few more clutch hits, the Rebs could be a helluva team this season.