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No. 22 Diamond Rebels host No. 15 Arkansas to open second half of SEC play

Quentin Winstine/The Daily Mississippian


No. 22 Ole Miss (25-12, 7-8 SEC) will host the No. 15 Arkansas Razorbacks (27-10, 8-7 SEC) this weekend in a huge series to begin the second half of the Southeastern Conference schedule at Oxford-University Stadium/Swayze Field. First pitch tonight is set for 6:30 p.m.

The Rebels are looking to keep momentum going after defeating Mississippi State 6-3 in the Governor’s Cup Tuesday night in Pearl. Arkansas swept a double-header against Stephen F. Austin Tuesday. This past weekend, Arkansas dropped two of three at home to Kentucky.

This weekend’s pitching rotation is different from usual. Senior right-hander R.J. Hively is not set to start any games this weekend. However, Sunday’s pitcher has not been named, and he could start then.

“We’re going to put R.J. in the bullpen the first two days,” head coach Mike Bianco said. “If we need him, he’ll be available. If not, he’ll start on Sunday.”

Bianco said he is unsure who will start on Sunday if not Hively. 

But what is sure is who will start tonight and Saturday for the Rebels. Sophomore right-hander Bobby Wahl will get the nod tonight against sophomore right-hander Brandon Moore. Wahl is 5-0 on the year with a 2.13 earned run average and 56 strikeouts in 50.2 innings pitched.

“I’m feeling good now,” Wahl said of his recent arm soreness. “I’m doing some extra work with our trainer Tony (Barnett). I’m working hard to get my arm in shape for the second half of the year. I’m feeling great right now.”

Moore is 3-0 with an SEC-leading 0.95 earned run average in 38.0 innings pitched this season. 

Saturday’s matchup will also see two right-handed sophomores, with Mike Mayers for Ole Miss and Ryne Stanek for Arkansas. Mayers is 3-2 on the year with a 4.15 earned run average in 52.0 innings pitched, while Stanek, the Razorbacks’ regular Friday night starter, is 6-1 with a 2.41 earned run average in 52.1 innings pitched.

Arkansas will throw junior right-hander D.J. Baxendale on Sunday. Baxendale is 6-2 with a 3.88 earned run average in 48.2 innings pitched. Last season, Baxendale held Ole Miss to just two runs on six hits in 8.1 innings pitched in the first game of the series.

It is obvious that Arkansas has a deep pitching staff, and they have certainly drawn Bianco’s attention.

“Outstanding,” Bianco said of the Arkansas pitching staff. “Probably the best pitching staff that we’ve faced all year. We talked a lot about Florida’s arms, and I think these guys are similar. But I think they’re better ‘in the front line’ guys. When you talk about their starters and their closer, they’re as good as anybody in the country.”

At the plate, Ole Miss holds the advantage with a .315 team average that pushes across 6.5 runs per game. Junior second baseman Alex Yarbrough leads the Rebels with a .417 average to go along with three home runs and 34 RBI. Yarbrough knows this is a big series, especially looking back at the past few seasons. After dropping the first game last season, Arkansas swept a two-game double-header against Ole Miss and kept the Rebels out of the SEC Tournament and likely the NCAA Tournament.

“It’s been some crucial series, and it’s always fun to play them,” Yarbrough said. “We try to take every SEC game the same way. We know they have a great team, and we’re going to have to come out and play our best baseball to come out with a win.”

For the Razorbacks, sophomore first baseman Dominic Ficociello leads an offense that is hitting .280 on the year and averaging 5.9 runs per game. Ficociello is hitting .343 with four home runs and 25 RBI. Senior shortstop Tim Carver is second on the team with a .336 batting average to go along with 19 RBI.

Saturday’s contest is set for a 4 p.m. start time with Sunday’s at 1:30 p.m.

Huber named to midseason closer of the year watch list

Ole Miss junior right-hander Brett Huber has been named to the 2012 Stopper of the Year midseason watch list for the nation’s top closer by the National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association (NCBWA), the organization announced on Thursday.

Huber is one of 45 players named to the list at the halfway point of the season and one of eight pitchers from the vaunted Southeastern Conference. The SEC leads the way with more players named to the watch list than any other conference.

Ole Miss Sports Information contributed to this report.