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No. 24 Diamond Rebs look to make most of opportunity against No. 4 LSU

Will Strouth/The Daily Mississippian

 

No. 24 Ole Miss has dropped three of its last four Southeastern Conference series, all on the road, but that lone series win came at home where the Rebels are 21-6 this season. This weekend, Ole Miss (30-16, 10-11 SEC) will host No. 4 LSU (36-10, 14-7 SEC) from Oxford-University Field/Swayze Field to try improve its NCAA Regional hosting resume.

“Certainly, it’s great to be at home,” head coach Mike Bianco said. “When you’ve got LSU, a team that’s leading the West and leading the (SEC) overall, it’s a huge opportunity for us to get back into it if we can play well. We need three great crowds. We’re going to get great weather. 

“This is your chance. You’ve got nine games left in conference play and one non-conference game. So, 10 games left, and we’ve got a great opportunity on Friday night to get it started.” 

This weekend will match two good pitching staffs and offenses going toe to toe. The Tigers are hitting .301 as a team and score an average of 6.7 runs per game. Ole Miss has a .307 team batting average and is averaging just over six runs per game. On the mound, LSU has a slight advantage with a 3.20 team earned run average compared to a 3.32 earned average for the Rebels. 

The team matchups are good, but no matchup will be greater than LSU’s senior left fielder Raph Rhymes versus Ole Miss’ junior second baseman Alex Yarbrough.

They are the top two hitters in the conference, and Rhymes leads the nation with a .503 batting average, along with three home runs and 46 RBI. Yarbrough, on the other hand, is hitting .417 with three home runs and 39 RBI. 

“That’s unbelievable,” Bianco said of Rhymes’ average. “We’ve all watched Yarbs, and he’s hitting like 100 points higher. I can’t even fathom.”

In tonight’s series opener, Ole Miss will send sophomore right-hander Bobby Wahl to the hill to face sophomore right-hander Kevin Gausman of LSU. Wahl is 5-1 on the year with a 2.09 earned run average in 60.1 innings this season, while Gausman is 7-1 with a 3.12 earned run average in 75.0 innings to go along with a league-leading 97 strikeouts.

Last season, the Rebels’ only win against the Tigers came against Gausman. Ole Miss scored six runs against him in just 2.1 innings, but Bianco knows what the talented righty is capable of.

“He’s a tremendous talent,” Bianco said. “He’s one of those great SEC Friday-night guys. He’s got a tremendous fastball with really good stuff. He’s got a great breaking ball, and he’s a guy that had a great year last year that really primed him for this year.” 

Sophomore right-hander Mike Mayers will get the nod on Saturday for Ole Miss. Mayers is 4-2 with a 3.69 earned run average in 63.1 innings this season. His counterpart will be sophomore right-hander Ryan Eades, who is 5-2 with a 3.29 earned run average in 65.2 innings pitched. 

LSU’s Sunday starter will be freshman right-hander Aaron Nola, who is also 5-2 with a 3.90 earned run average in 55.1 innings pitched. Just like the past couple of weeks, the Ole Miss starter for Sunday has yet to be announced.

Tonight’s contest will begin at 6:30 p.m., with Saturday’s start time scheduled for 2 p.m. on SportSouth and Sunday’s series finale set to begin at 1:30 p.m.

Newalu day-to-day 

Senior shortstop Blake Newalu is day to day, according to Bianco, with shin splints. 

Huber filling different role

Junior right-hander Brett Huber pitched last Sunday against Mississippi State for the first time since the Georgia Series. 

Huber was out for a while with a tender elbow, and during that time, senior right-hander R.J. Hively moved to the back end of the Ole Miss bullpen. With Hively’s success in recent weeks, Huber said he (Huber) probably won’t be the one closing out games. 

“I’m pretty sure R.J. is going to be the closer from now on,” Huber said. 

“I’m sure that if he goes a few innings, it will be me. We’ve already had that discussion, so I’m OK with that. If I have to go out in the sixth or seventh inning or if I have to go out there in a tie game or whatever it is, I just want to win and get as far as we can this year.”