Last week, our own Zach Berry wrote about the paradox of the 2016 Ole Miss baseball season: that a team that jumped out to 20 wins faster than any in program history could be blighted by such major question marks in its lineup and starting pitching rotation. Try as we might to temper expectations by pointing out the holes, the Rebs kept piling up wins.
This South Carolina series brought resolution to the paradox. Ole Miss wasn't just swept at home for the first time since April 2013, but was thoroughly dominated along the way. The Rebs, who were outscored 18-6 over the three games, trailed in 25 of the weekend's 27 innings. The starting pitching was sloppy. The bats were ice cold and oftentimes frozen to shoulders.
"I wish I had the answer and say, ‘Hey, this is what we need to correct,'" Mike Bianco told the Clarion-Ledger. "We did not pitch it very well, certainly the starting pitching. We didn't field it very well, put more strain on the pitchers. We didn't hit very well. And so everybody's to blame, including the coaches."
The hope, of course, is that South Carolina is to blame; that the Gamecocks are just that damn good. They're now 6-0 in the SEC and 23-2 overall, with the pair of losses coming to a ranked Clemson team in a whacky, traveling rivalry series. The Rebs can take some solace in the fact that Arkansas, which was ranked in the top 15 before getting swept by the Gamecocks last weekend, bounced back to sweep Auburn in turn.
But if Ole Miss is going to bounce back, it'll have to do so against stiffer competition. The Rebs head to Memphis for a midweek game before tripping to Starkville to take on No. 13 State, which sits at 4-2 in conference after series wins over Vandy and Georgia.
Friday: South Carolina 5, Ole Miss 1 (box score)
Saturday: South Carolina 9, Ole Miss 5 (box score)
Sunday: South Carolina 4, Ole Miss 0 (box score)
3 big takeaways
1. The offense is slumping.
I'm not entirely sure what happened to the aggressive approach the Rebs had earlier this season. Ole Miss struck out 23 times in the first two games (14 of the Ks coming off the hand of Braden Webb on Friday) and a lot of them were looking. Where they previously attacked fastballs early in the count, this team is now leaving the bat on their shoulder and getting behind in the count.
Not that this offense has been overwhelming at any point this season, but it was at least efficient with RISP. Not on Thursday, when the Rebs put up 11 hits but managed just one run. At least they were getting on base in the first game—they hit just .190 over the final two, bringing the team's season average down to .278, 11th in the SEC.
It doesn't get any easier this weekend in Starkville against the two-headed bulldog of Dakota Hudson and Austin Sexton.
2. Starting pitching looks like it's going to be a problem.
Brady Bramlett, who at one point threw nine straight balls in the first inning on Thursday, had shaky command and allowed four earned runs and only lasted 4.1 innings. Friday was more of the same as Chad Smith allowed eight hits and five earned runs, getting chased after 4.2.
Then there was freshman Andy Pagnozzi, who took the mound in Game 3 in place of usual starter Sean Johnson, who hasn't come back from his offseason Tommy John surgery as quickly as hoped. Nozzi, who has been lights out as reliever for most of the season, barely made it into the fourth inning, giving up six hits and two earned runs.
The lone pitching bright spot was Wyatt Short, who relieved Pagnozzi on Saturday and ended up throwing 5.2 innings without an earned run. That brings his season ERA down to an absurd 0.56.
In fairness, South Carolina's lineup is freaking loaded. They're hitting .321 as a team and have a unique mix of JUCO guys, phenom freshmen and experienced upperclassmen. But Ole Miss is going to have to contend with these types of lineups to succeed in the SEC.
3. There's a new cup in town.
Yellow Cup, inches from the finish line, collapses after an apparent "lightening strike". Cause of the strike is pic.twitter.com/sY6mJv4Mq7— Ole Miss Solo Cups (@OMSoloCups) March 26, 2016
Around the SEC
- Kentucky took two of three from No. 1 Florida
- No. 2 Texas A&M took two of three from No. 10 LSU
- No. 7 Vandy swept Mizzou
- No. 13 State took two of three from Georgia
- No. 21 Arkansas swept Auburn
- Bama took two of three from Tennessee
Tuesday: at Memphis
Thursday-Saturday: at No. 13 Mississippi State