Well, the early stretch run was a long and winding one on the road that saw the Diamond Rebels (11-9, 1-2 SEC) go 1-3 against No. 12 UCF, 1-1 against No. 11 Louisville and 1-2 against then No.1-ranked LSU. Not bad for a team that is clearly rebuilding, still in search for their Sunday guy and starting three true freshmen.
Welp, here come the No. 1 Florida Gators (19-3, 2-1 SEC), fresh off a 4-1 week that saw them claim a SEC series against Tennessee and a midweek tilt against No. 20 Florida State. Life in the Southeastern Conference, huh? Once again, per usual, Friday and Saturday's games will be featured on SEC Network+ and the series finale will be featured on ESPNU.
Now let's take a look at three questions for the weekend at the Sway.
1. Can Christian Trent, Brady Bramlett and TBA slow down Florida's potent offense?
Kevin O'Sullivan's club will arrive ready to make noise with the bats as they hit .310 as a team (16th in the NCAA) and have already mashed 19 home runs on the young season. They are lead by junior outfielder Harrison Bader who is hitting .419 with seven home runs and 27 RBIs. The young man from Bronxville, N.Y. has been a man on a mission this season and is the fuel to Florida's offensive engine. Senior infielder Josh Tobias is second on the team at .375 and true freshman catcher J.J. Schwarz is on a tear of his own hitting .351 with five home runs to boot.
Trent will have to do what he does best and mix speeds and location to keep these Florida hitters off-balance. They like to swing, sometimes a little too much, as they've already struck out 114 times on the young season. Bramlett will need to continue to attack hitters with his fastball and utilize location with his changeup to get O'Sullivan's bunch out front and hitting into the improving gloves of the Ole Miss infield. TBA, well, we can only hope and pray.
2. How will the inconsistent Rebel bats handle Florida's weekend rotation?
The sophomore two-headed jort monster that is Logan Shore and A.J. Puk has been downright filthy this season. Shore, last year's national freshman of the year according to Perfect Game, and Puk are two dominant arms that you just expect to see on a weekend in the SEC now. Shore will sit in the low 90s with his fastball and attempt to buckle hitters with his changeup that can hover around the upper-70s. Puk is slightly different in comparison with Shore as he stands 6'7 and is left-handed. Puk will attack Ole Miss from a 3/4 arm slot and run his fastball up there in the low to mid 90s while mixing in an above average changeup.
Ole Miss, who hit it at a .250 clip, have been coming on of late. Freshman Kyle Watson still leads the team with his .339 average, but guys like freshman Will Golsan (.270), senior Sikes Orvis (.261) and freshman Tate Blackman (.242) are really coming along. But, they will need to be ready this weekend against a staff that preys on aggressive bats (Ole Miss has struck out 158 times this season) with changeups. The Rebels will need to hit the fastball early in the count and use their speed on the bases to put pressure on the Florida defense.
WHO WILL PITCH
For the second weekend in a row, Mike Bianco will not name a starter heading into a SEC tilt. At this point, I hope for my liver's sake and anything breakable in my house that this issue is addressed sooner rather than later. Last Sunday was a disaster to say the least as the Rebels were buried in an early four-run deficit against the LSU Tigers that quickly swelled to double digits. As this team continues to struggle (but, slowly get better) at the plate, the pitching on Sunday has to resemble something that has somewhat of a pulse.
Despite Sam Smith pitching two innings on Wednesday against Arkansas-Pine Bluff, you almost know that Mike is going to throw him, just to troll all of us. But, who knows? Sam still does not look 100% in my opinion and there are competitive arms in the pen to run out there. Wyatt Short sports the team's best ERA at 0.71, but he's primarily come out of the bullpen his entire young career in Oxford. Another candidate (in my opinion) is Scott Weathersby. The Weather Man showed starter-like composure last season in Omaha against a very, very good national runner-up Virginia team. But, we know that Mike and Coach Lafferty like having him on the back end to close out games.