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No. 16 Diamond Rebs look to carry confidence into midweek game against Jackson State

 

Before Southeastern Conference play began, head coach Mike Bianco and the Ole Miss Rebels baseball team, now ranked No. 16, had a world of confidence, but that confidence was quickly shaken. 

The Rebels dropped two of three games in their first Southeastern Conference series against Auburn in which Ole Miss scored a combined eight runs during the weekend. Then in-state foe Southern Miss came to Oxford and blanked Ole Miss 10-0. 

It was safe to say the confidence the Rebels had early on, especially at the plate, was gone to an extent. 

The Rebels then headed to Tuscaloosa in search of a much-needed series win against a conference opponent that had been struggling as well. Ole Miss won Friday’s contest before dropping Saturday’s game on a two-run, walk-off home run. The Rebels rallied from behind on Sunday to claim the series win. Now, Ole Miss (17-7, 3-3 SEC) will look to regain some more confidence in a battle tonight against in-state opponent Jackson State (16-7) at 6:30 p.m. from Oxford-University Stadium/Swayze Field before the top-ranked Florida Gators come to town this weekend.

Tonight’s meeting will be the second of the season between the Rebels and the Tigers as Ole Miss won 13-1 on Feb. 29 in Oxford.

Freshman right-hander Chris Ellis will get the start for Ole Miss tonight against a pitcher to be named later for Jackson State. It will be the first start for Ellis, who has made seven appearances on the year. Ellis holds a 1-0 record and a 3.86 earned run average with nine strikeouts and three walks in 11.2 innings of work this season.

Getting the bats going

After the four games of really struggling at the plate, the Rebels were able to score 21 runs in their series against Alabama this past weekend. In Friday and Sunday’s games, Ole Miss recorded 16 hits each. 

“We did struggle offensively there for a little bit,” said senior designated hitter Zach Kirksey. “We had a little lull. And that happens. It sucks when the pitchers pitch so well. Offensively, nobody’s worried about it. We’re going to hit the ball.”

Freshman center fielder Auston Bousfield agreed with his teammate.

“Coach (Cliff) Godwin and coach Bianco told us to keep sticking with our approach and things will start happening,” he said. “Eventually, we got a couple of hits together and the hits just started rolling. Being persistent, listening to what coach Godwin has to say, keeping up with our approach and making sure we stay consistent the whole game definitely helped.” 

Sacrifice fly scores two Sunday

In the midst of the Rebel rally on Sunday, a sacrifice fly to the wall in center field not only scored freshman right fielder Will Jamison from third base, but it also scored Bousfield, who was at second, to give Ole Miss the lead which it never relinquished.

“I thought I hit a home run,” said Kirksey, who threw his hands up in excitement after the hit. “I feel pretty stupid now looking back on it. It got the job done. Off the bat, I thought I hit a home run. He caught it right at the wall and his momentum was going back. Luckily, we had Boz on second. That was pretty cool having a two-RBI sac fly.”

Bousfield, who was instrumental in making the rare play happen, credited his instinct with giving him the chance to score. 

“Before that play, coach Godwin told me to go halfway on a ball in the air,” he said. “When I saw how hard it was hit and the center fielder going back, I figured I might as well tag. Then he kept going back, so I thought I may have a shot to score here. 

“So, I tag and look up, and coach Godwin is sending me. It was fun. It’s an exciting play.” 

SEC in the polls

After winning the series on the road at Alabama, Ole Miss moved up from a spot to No. 16 in this week’s Baseball America poll. In Collegiate Baseball’s rankings, the Rebels dropped a spot to No. 27. The USA Today/ESPN coaches’ poll also dropped Ole Miss a spot to No. 20. The Rebels jumped from No. 22 to 20 in the National Collegiate Baseball Writer’s Association poll.

Over the weekend, Arkansas took two of three on the road at Mississippi State and is ranked as high as No. 3 in the NCBWA and USA Today/ESPN Coaches’ poll. Auburn broke into the Collegiate Baseball rankings at No. 24 after winning the series at home against the LSU Tigers, who are still ranked as high as No. 12 in Collegiate Baseball’s poll.

Florida, whom Ole Miss hosts this weekend, remains atop every poll after taking two of three games against South Carolina on the road. The two-time defending National Champions continue to fall in the polls but are ranked ninth by NCBWA. Kentucky lost its first game of the season, but the Wildcats won the series over Tennessee and are ranked as high as No. 2 in the Collegiate Baseball poll. Vanderbilt won two of three at home against Georgia. The Bulldogs are ranked No. 18 by the NCBWA and the USA Today/ESPN coaches’ poll.