There was a lot of teeth gnashing after Ole Miss lost its SEC opener Friday night in Knoxville, a heartbreaking, 3-2 walk off that brought repressed fears bubbling to the surface of Rebel fans' collective conscious. I knew I shouldn't have bought into that non-con start. See, the offense really is a problem.
In the end, though, Ole Miss did what it was supposed to do in Knoxville: lean on its superior pitching depth to win a series against a banged up Vols team.
Not that those fears aren't well grounded. The offense, which has struggled to hit consistently all season but made its living off clutch situational hitting, suddenly couldn't get a hit when it needed it. Even during Sunday's 15-hit attack, the Rebs stranded five base runners in the first two innings. If this lineup isn't going to put a ton of base runners on (Ole Miss ranks 11th among SEC teams in batting average and ninth in on-base percentage), it at least needs to be efficient in scoring those that do reach. Let's see if hitting coach Mike Clement can dig the clutch bats back out this week.
Maybe everyone should just be using J.B. Woodman's bat. He went 5-of-11 over the weekend and crushed a late, game-tying homer that provided temporary optimism on Friday. He's now leading the team with a .342 average and is slugging at a preposterous .603 with 21 RBI and four dingers. He, Tate Blackman, Colby Bortles, Henri Lartigue, Holt Perdzock and Ryan Olenek are all hitting over .300, so if guys like Errol Robinson and Connor Cloyd can find their groove from last year, this lineup could make a big jump in production.
Anyway, let's run through the weekend that was.
Friday: Tennessee 3, Ole Miss 2 (box score)
Saturday: Ole Miss 6, Tennessee 4 (box score)
Sunday: Ole Miss 10, Tennessee 7 (box score)
3 big takeaways
1. Friday was a heartbreaker.
Even with the bats silenced, Ole Miss was in complete control of the game for most of the way. Through 5.2 innings, Brady Bramlett had allowed just one hit and struck out nine. But three straight two-out hits and a botched play in right field by Cameron Dishon suddenly had the Vols up 2-1.
After J.B. Woodman tied it up two innings later with his fourth dinger of the season, you felt like the Rebs were back in control.
March 19, 2016
Wyatt Short, who's been Mr. Automatic all season, was on the mound in the bottom of the ninth to send it into extras. But again Tennessee came up with clutch two-out hitting, knocking a double before Derek Lance ended it with this single.
Don't worry about Wyatt's confidence, though—Too Short bounced back for a three-out save on Saturday.
2. Tennessee ran out of pitching on Sunday.
Any Ole Miss fan that sat through Sunday games over the last few years felt for the Vols in Game 3. The starter couldn't even make it out of the first inning and the ensuing parade of warm bodies got hammered by a Rebel lineup ready to uncork the building frustration from the first couple games. Ole Miss racked up 15 hits and reached based on 44 percent of its trips to the plate.
Not that Mike Bianco has his Sunday situation ironed out. Sean Johnson struggled with control, giving up two runs on four hits and four walks before he got yanked without recording an out in the fourth. Brady Bramlett and Chad Smith struck out a combined 16 undisciplined Vols batters in the first two games, but Johnson didn't notch a single K.
3. Mike Bianco almost had to whip Dave Serrano's ass.
So this shit show happened in the ninth inning on Saturday:
Why did Tennessee's pitcher decide to be a dick and talk shit to Errol? It may have had something to do with Robinson having words with a Vols runner who took a hard slide into him earlier in the game. Either that or someone had just told the Tennessee pitcher he shouldn't have parked his new Benz in the outfield parking lot.
.@OleMissBSB's Michael Fitzsimmons owes someone a new windshield. https://t.co/jLFLbPhzqz pic.twitter.com/wuTO4aOMzV— SEC Network (@SECNetwork) March 20, 2016
Ole Miss jumped up to as high as No. 7 at Baseball America.
We've averaged all of the major polls into a composite top 25, which you can check out here.
Around the SEC
- No. 1 Florida swept Mizzou
- No. 15 Mississippi State took two of three from No. 2 Vandy
- No. 3 Texas A&M took two of three from Auburn
- Bama took two of three from No. 7 LSU
- No. 16 South Carolina swept No. 14 Arkansas
- Kentucky took two of three from Georgia
Tuesday: vs. UT Martin at Swayze
Thursday-Saturday: vs. No. 16 South Carolina at Swayze