• TheDMonline.com Staff Member?
  • Log In
Share |

No. 10 Diamond Rebels carry momentum into road showdown at top-ranked Kentucky

Addison Dent/The Daily Mississippian

Usually when you talk about facing a top-ranked Kentucky team, you’re talking about a basketball game. However, this weekend the 10th-ranked Ole Miss baseball team, which just took two of three games from the top-ranked Florida Gators, will head to Lexington to take on the Kentucky Wildcats, who are ranked as high as No. 1 in Collegiate Baseball, for a three-game series.

“It’s stressful, but it’s fun,” junior left fielder Tanner Mathis said of playing back-to-back weekends against top-ranked teams. “It’s like coach Bianco always says: it’s why we came here. You know everyone is trying to beat you.”

Mathis acknowledged some friends from around the Southeastern Conference saying that Ole Miss now had a target on their backs after knocking off Florida this past weekend, but he said he embraces this role.

“That’s good,” Mathis said. “Bring it on. I think it’s good. It makes for good baseball games. It makes when you get the big hit that much more enjoyable and that much more fun.”

The Rebels (20-8, 5-4 SEC) had their Tuesday game against Southern Miss postponed while the Wildcats improved to 27-2, 7-2 SEC with a series win against Georgia this past week. Kentucky returned to action last night against Dayton.

Last season, Ole Miss swept Kentucky in Oxford, but all three games were decided by two runs or less.

“It really has been a surprising story in college baseball,” Baseball America’s national writer for college baseball Aaron Fitt said of Kentucky. “We had Kentucky pegged as a regional team heading into the season, but we had them as the last team out of the SEC. And now, we’ve got them as a No. 7 national seed. That’s a pretty incredible jump. 

“It would’ve been pretty easy to shrug off Kentucky when they were starting off the year 19-0 against a really tough non-conference schedule, but you sweep South Carolina, that opens up a lot eyes. I was really impressed they were able to win that series at Georgia last weekend. Kentucky, they really don’t have any glaring weaknesses when you look at their club, and I think they’re for real.”

Kentucky is certainly the surprise team in the SEC so far this season, and the Wildcats have posted a perfect 20-0 mark at home this season. Cliff Hagan Stadium includes a short right-field porch, where it’s just 310 feet compared to 340 feet in left field, which favors the team’s three left-handed weekend starters and two leading hitters who are both left-handed.

“That just says how much their older guys that they’ve had the past couple of years have worked and of how much their coaches have stuck behind them and just kept pushing forward,” Mathis said of Kentucky’s success this season. “It’s good for them. It’ll be a great weekend over there. They’re obviously really good.”

Ole Miss and Kentucky are the top two teams in the Southeastern Conference in hitting. Not including Wednesday night’s game, Kentucky leads the league with a .325 team batting average while Ole Miss is hitting .311 as a team. The two teams are also first and second in runs scored. The Wildcats average 7.9 runs per game, followed by the Rebels, who average 7.2 runs per game.

Additionally, Ole Miss and Kentucky are both in the top four in hits, RBI, doubles, home runs and total bases.

The Wildcats are led at the plate by freshman first baseman A.J. Reed and freshman outfielder Austin Cousino. Reed is hitting .359 with 30 RBI and two home runs while Cousino is hitting .358 with 24 RBI and five home runs. They are among eight Kentucky hitters who are hitting over .300 with more than 50 at-bats this season.

Ole Miss junior second baseman Alex Yarbrough, a Baseball America midseason All-American selection, continues to lead Ole Miss in hitting. His .426 batting average and 46 hits both rank second in the SEC, along with 33 RBI and three home runs this season. Senior designated hitter Zach Kirksey leads the league with 10 home runs and 37 RBI to go along with a .324 batting average, while six other hitters with at least 50 at-bats are also hitting over .300 this season.

“Obviously, you’ve got one of the best pure hitters in college baseball with Alex Yarbrough,” Fitt said of Ole Miss. “Matt Snyder and Zach Kirksey have had huge years as seniors. Kirksey is one of those guys that I don’t want to say came out of nowhere because again, he was a player they were excited about when he came in there in a really athletic kind of a player. He just needed some time to use those tools on the Division I level. The fact that he’s been able to put it all together this year has been a huge difference for them.”

On the mound, Ole Miss is expected to send its usual three right-handers against three left-handers from Kentucky.

“I’m impressed with what Ole Miss has done on the mound,” Fitt said. “That was one of their biggest question marks coming into the season, and I think they answered it.” 

The first pitch Friday night is set for 5:30 p.m. Saturday’s game will begin at 1 p.m. and Sunday’s contest is set for a 12 p.m. start time.

Rebels, Southern Miss Rescheduled; Murray State Game Moved

The Ole Miss baseball team has made two alterations to its schedule following the rainout of Tuesday night’s game between the 10th-ranked Rebels and Southern Miss at Trustmark Park.

Ole Miss and Southern Miss have rescheduled the neutral site contest for Tuesday, May 1, at 6:30 p.m. at Trustmark Park.

Because of the shift in the game between Southern Miss and Ole Miss, the Rebels will move their game against Murray State to Wednesday, May 2, at 6:30 p.m. at Oxford-University Stadium/Swayze Field. The game was originally slated for May 1, but was moved to accommodate the game between Southern Miss and Ole Miss.