The Ole Miss Diamondbearz defeated Southern Miss 6-2 on Wednesday night in the first game of its College Series at Trustmark Park.
The Rebs had a hot start in the first inning. They got three straight hits to start the game, with Tate Blackman bringing in J.B. Woodman for the first run. The Rebs were primed to break out an even bigger inning until the next three batters (Bortles, Lartigue and Fitz) all went down to Chinatown, relieving USM of the threat. The bats kept the fire burning for the next three innings, scoring five more runs to reach their eventual total of six.
Welcome back, bats
There was a bit of a lineup shakeup for the Rebs, with Michael Fitzsimmons (aka Kung Fitz Panda) playing first in place of Will Golsan.
But there was another move that could have been made: with Errol Robinson stumbling a bit at the plate, it might have made sense to slot Olenek at shortstop (his natural position) instead of right field. That would have allowed Cameron Dishon and Connor Cloyd to both stay in the lineup as outfielders. At the end of the day, though, neither Cloyd nor Dishon are seeing the ball all that much better than Errol, so maybe keeping your preseason All-American in for the sake of confidence building was the right move after all. Indeed, Errol went 2-for-3 with a run scored and a walk.
Olenek, hitting in the two-hole, was 3-for-4 with one walk, one stolen base, two RBI and one run, providing further proof that he needs to stay in the lineup. Holy moly what a stat line. Can we make anything of this even though it was against USM's midweek pitching?
The starting pitching was great
McArthur had a nice outing, allowing just four hits, striking out five and showing some great control of his slider. He lasted a career long six innings, all scoreless.The bullpen showed some surprising struggles as Andy Pagnozzi, Dallas Woolfolk and Brady Feigl combined to give up four hits, two walks and two runs in the seventh and eighth. But Will Stokes shut USM down in order in the ninth to improve the Rebs' midweek record to 8-0.
So where do we go from here?
The team is still fairly dominant in it's out of conference performances while showing plenty of flaws against the higher levels of competition in the SEC. I tweeted last weekend that at this point of the season, this team doesn't seemingly have much of an identity. At the start of the season, if someone asked me to describe our team in a sentence, I'd say, "Above average starters, productive first half of the lineup, lights out bullpen." Now it's more like "Four-inning starters, The CarpenTater, erratic Bortles SMASH, Wyatt Short."
Despite the lack of identity, this squad is now 8-0 in midweek games when most Bianco teams struggle MIGHTILY in this category. For some perspective, the 2014 squad that made it to that beloved place in the Cornhusker State and finished No. 3 in the country went a decent 10-4 in the midweek. Now, obviously I am not comparing the 2016 squad to one of the best ever in the history of the program, but the mental toughness this year's team has shown in the midweek is encouraging as we move forward into the heart of conference play.
Now I'm more of a silver lining kinda guy, so I'm willing to accept that fact that both USC and MSU had a dominant Fri-Sat combo with bats that our pitching hadn't battled against yet. It also looks like both of them are top-tier conference foes while our next three conference foes (Arky, Bama, Auburn) are more middle of the road ball clubs. Hell even after Auburn, LSU looks down this season as well. I know it's frustrating to drop those big SEC series, but at the end of the season, the final conference record is just important. There are 21 conference games left. Can the Rebs win 15+ to secure an 18-12 record? It's a tall order that would need some sweeps somewhere in there but I think it's possible.
Grillin' and Chillin' will return (finally!) next week as the Rebs host the back end of this Mustard Buzzard bread and Arkansas pulled pork sandwich (wow that sounds awful) when USM will roll into Oxford next Wednesday at 6:30 p.m. Before that, the Rebs host the Razorbacks this weekend. See y'all at Swayze!