Let's get this out of the way from jump street: this trip to the SEC Tournament isn't particularly meaningful for Ole Miss. The only real drama down the stretch for this team was whether they would finish above .500, and with that guaranteed, they're likely locked in as a two seed in the NCAA Tournament (D1 Baseball has them as a two in Tallahassee). I suppose a win or two in Hoover would be good insurance for a two seed, but outside of winning the whole thing, the Rebs' showing this week probably won't make much of a difference.
In fact, there's a school of thinking that says a deep run in the conference tournament can be counterproductive because it doesn't let you rest pitchers. Ray Tanner was famous for making quick exits in Hoover, and all he did was win consecutive championships at South Carolina.
No, I'm not suggesting Mike Bianco's gonna go out there and take a dive in the first game (which is Tuesday at 9:30 a.m. CT against Alabama). There are still two important things the Rebs can look to accomplish this week:
1. Keep the momentum going.
This team's hot, having won six of its last seven games. More importantly, the bats are starting to come around. The Rebs are 10th in the league with a .269 team batting average, but over the past seven games, that number's up to .302. So much of a successful tourney run is about getting hot at the right time (see: Mississippi State in 2013), so if Ole Miss can win a couple games in Hoover before they dip out, it will hopefully carry over into regionals.
2. Find some pitchers.
The Rebs' biggest weakness right now is pitching depth. Christian Trent and Brady Bramlett can beat anybody in the country (though they've both been laboring a bit of late), but its a crapshoot after that. Scott Weathersby, who's starting against Bama on Tuesday, had an ugly 10-hit outing against State last week. And Will Stokes and Evan Anderson, the most likely options at the No. 4 spot, have ERAs of 6.70 and 6.02, respectively. The bullpen doesn't look much better: with Weather Man plugged in as a starter, Jacob Waguespack and Wyatt Short are the only reliable options.
Typically, Bianco likes to start experimenting with his pitchers late in the season during midweek games, but with things being so tight this year, he had to focus more on winning those games. So Hoover might be a bit of a testing ground, allowing him to feel out who is dialed in and who can be trusted in regional play.
The Crimson Tide (30-26, 12-18 SEC) head into the Hoover Met fresh off a series loss losing to No. 9 Vanderbilt, but have won seven of their last 10 games, including a sweep of Auburn. Geoffrey Bramblett will get the ball for Mitch Gaspard's club Tuesday morning and will look to earn his second victory over the Rebels this season. He defeated Ole Miss in the Sunday game to allow Bama to avoid a sweep in Oxford. At the dish, Gaspard's club is paced by Mikey White (.341, 4 HR, 33 RBI), Casey Hughston (.332, 6 HR, 41 RBI) and Georgie Salam (.279, 3 HR, 25 RBI). When playing at the Met in SEC Tournament play, Alabama owns an all-time 54-50 record (6-6 under Gaspard). Keep in mind that the Met has been Bama's home park this year while their stadium is under construction.
How to watch the first game
When: Tuesday, 9:30 a.m. CT
TV: SEC Network
Ole Miss: RHP Scott Weathersby (4-1, 2.39 ERA, 48 K, 12 BB)
Alabama: RHP Geoffrey Bramblett (7-3, 4.13 ERA, 59 K, 29 BB)