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No. 22 Diamond Rebs set for annual Governor's Cup

Courtesy Cody Schmelter/The Red & Black

 

The Ole Miss baseball team (24-12), now ranked No. 22 in the nation, will try to get back on track following a series loss at Georgia over the weekend when they take on in-state foe Mississippi State (21-15) in the annual Governor’s Cup tonight at Trustmark Park in Pearl at 6:30 p.m. 

“It’s terrific,” head coach Mike Bianco said. “We get to play down there in front of a lot of people that we don’t normally get to play in front of. We usually get great crowds. It’s at an outstanding ballpark, and I think it kind of breaks up the mid-week monotony.”

Tonight’s matchup is a non-conference game. The two teams will meet later in the year when Ole Miss travels to Starkville for a three-game series beginning April 27.

The Bulldogs defeated the Rebels last season in the Governor’s Cup 6-1 before taking two out of three games in Oxford, but junior left fielder Tanner Mathis said the Rebels are excited about the opportunity.

“I love playing them,” Mathis said. “It’s fun. It’s always a great game. It’s always close. Both teams are chirping the whole time. Your adrenaline is always running. The fans are always down there. Hopefully, they’ll get to see us beat State.”

Despite so many guys on the roster from all over the country, Mathis said everyone knows how much beating Mississippi State means for Ole Miss.

“We’ve talked to them a little bit,” Mathis said. “It’s a non-conference game, but it’s still Mississippi State. You have to approach it like it’s just another game, but you hate to lose to State. It means more to the fans if we beat them every chance we get.”

Entering tonight’s contest, Ole Miss boasts a .315 team batting average compared to a .270 team average for Mississippi State. The Rebels also put across 6.6 runs per game, while the Bulldogs are averaging 5.1 runs per game.

Ole Miss is led at the plate by junior second baseman Alex Yarbrough and senior first baseman Matt Snyder. Yarbrough has a .421 average, which is second in the Southeastern Conference, to go along with three home runs and 34 RBI. Snyder is hitting .363 and is tied for the lead in the SEC in RBI with 34 RBI to go along with his seven home runs on the season. For Mississippi State, sophomore infielder Daryl Norris is the leader at the plate with a .367 average and 17 RBI. 

Tonight’s contest will see two freshman right-handers go head to head as Sam Smith of Ole Miss will battle Brandon Woodruff of Mississippi State.

Smith, who holds a 2-2 record, boasts a 3.60 earned run average this season in 30.0 innings pitched. Woodruff, who is making just his second start of the year, is 0-0 with a 2.71 earned run average in 13.1 innings pitched.

Bianco searching for answers in the bullpen

The bullpen struggles, once again, reared its ugly head this past weekend, and Bianco knows that has to be fixed in a hurry.

“Obviously after the Thursday night game, it’s disappointing,” Bianco said. 

“We’ve been in position to win several conference games in the end. It’s not one particular guy. We’ve got to figure it out. We’ve got to figure out how to close the game out, and we’ve do it. We have some close game wins, but we have some close games where we’ve blown it. We’ve got to do a better job.”

Junior right-handed closer Brett Huber and junior left-hander Dylan Chavez have both had their struggles as of late, and Bianco pointed freshman right-hander Hawtin Buchanan as a guy who could see himself fulfill a bigger role.

“We’re kind of searching for a little consistency at the end of the game,” Bianco said. “Not necessarily Huber, but not not including him, all of them. In doing so, I think the freshmen that pitch the best will get more opportunities.” 

Gatlin filling a role

In the weekend’s series loss to Georgia, a new designated hitter came to fruition as junior John Gatlin filled the role against two left-handed pitchers the Bulldogs threw. The Tupelo native went 2-for-5 with two RBI and a run scored in his two starts.

“At the time, my adrenaline was flowing pretty good,” Gatlin said. 

“I saw it as an opportunity. There are so many roles on this team, and I saw it as my role for the day. That is what they needed me to do.”

SEC Roundup

After dropping this past weekend’s series at Georgia, Ole Miss fell in every major poll. The Rebels are now ranked No. 22 in both the Baseball America poll and the USA Today/ESPN coaches’ poll. In the National Collegiate Baseball Writer’s Association (NCBWA), Ole Miss is now No. 23, while falling to No. 24 in this week’s Collegiate Baseball Newspapers standings. 

LSU swept Alabama this past weekend, and the Tigers are now ranked as high as No. 1 according to Collegiate Baseball. Kentucky won two of three on the road at Arkansas, who travels to Oxford to face Ole Miss this weekend. The Wildcats are now as high as No. 2 in Collegiate Baseball’s rankings, while the Razorbacks are listed No. 15 in both the USA Today/ESPN coaches’ poll and the NCBWA poll.

South Carolina, ranked as high as No. 6 in NCBWA, swept Mississippi State over the weekend. Florida, which is now No. 1 in every poll aside from Collegiate Baseball, took a series win over Tennessee. Vanderbilt  got a series win over Auburn this weekend by taking two of three.