Another Opportunity

The Ole Miss baseball team needs a few things – efficient hitting and more runs, for starters. What it needs most are three wins over Lipscomb University this weekend.

The Nashville-based school brings a 7-6 record to Oxford. What the Bison bring most is another opportunity for the Rebels to turn things around. Ole Miss needs victories and should be focused to get them.

The Rebels are coming off three straight losses, and they were offensively inept in all three. Two losses to Tulane by 4-1 and 3-1 counts and a 7-3 setback to Western Kentucky exposed some deficiencies, especially offensively, for Ole Miss.

The question through 14 games for the Rebels has been this. Slump, or just not a very good hitting team?

Ole Miss wasn't an offensive juggernaut through a 10-1 start to this season. But they were efficient. You don't win 10 of 11 games and not be decent.

Since an early explosion against Tulane in a 5-1 win last Friday night when they led 3-0 after an inning, the Rebel bats have been eerily silent. In that game, what has been needed more of actually happened. The big bats, or the thunder of the lineup, as Alex Yarbrough calls them, came out firing.

A Matt Smith single, a Matt Snyder double, and a Matt Tracy home run put the Rebels up by three runs, and starter Matt Crouse was able to cruise. Jake Morgan came in after a 50-minute rain delay and went the final four innings.

David Goforth gave up a three-run homer on Saturday again Tulane, and that was all the Green Wave would need given the anemic Rebel offense that day. Sunday with an Austin Wright start was the same type story.

Then after a Tuesday night rainout, Ole Miss struggled against Western Kentucky pitching in a losing cause.

There's been a lot of focus on hitting all week as the Rebels try to improve. They know they have to.

They also know they are a better hitting team throughout the lineup. The numbers aren't that bad. Some are actually good.

The team batting average is .294 for the season. Matt Tracy, who also pitches, has been impressive at the plate in the 10 games he's batted with a .412 average to lead the squad. He's got two home runs, the team-high in that department along with Zach Kirksey.

Versatile Tracy pitches and leads the team in hitting
Courtesy: Bruce Newman
Four other Rebels bat over .300 currently. Snyder is at .333, Tanner Mathis at .327, Blake Newalu at .324, and Preston Overbey at .315.

A couple of veterans the Rebels could use some more offensive output from are Smith (.239) and Miles Hamblin (.256). Smith had a forearm injury part of this season, but Hamblin hasn't been as effective as he was last season, at least not yet.

At some points during most seasons, there'll be an offensive problem where a team can't get runners that are in scoring position home. That happens. What has happened mostly to Ole Miss lately is the Rebels haven't even been able to get people on base.

In the Sunday finale against Tulane, Ole Miss was three up, three down in six of nine innings. Wednesday night more of the same; this time only four innings of no activity, however. But still a lack of effectiveness and efficiency.

There are some hitters who are on a bit of a streak of their own. Tracy has a five-game hit streak going. Yarbrough is right behind him with a four-game hit streak, while Overbey has notched a hit in three consecutive games.

Yarbrough said he perceives some of the overall offensive woes as a mindset situation. The Rebels need to be more effective earlier in the games. Against Western Kentucky, two of their three up, three down innings were in their first two at-bats.

"I don't know if it's a lack of confidence," said the sophomore second baseman. "We need to just pick up our sense of urgency. It seems like the past few weeks even in the games we've won, we're still falling behind. Early in the game it's tough for us to get started. Just a higher sense of urgency for the whole offense to attack, especially early in the at-bats."

Lipscomb provides another opportunity for the Rebels to break out of the potential hitting slump or at least correct some situations they've been working on in practice this week. And there was an emphasis.

Lipscomb is coming off a midweek win over Morehead State on Wednesday night. The Bison were swept over the previous weekend by Purdue in Nashville.

As a team, Lipscomb is batting .264 on the season and is led at the plate by Richie Goodenow with a .412 average, two home runs, and 11 RBI. Goodenow, a left-hander, is also the Friday night starter for the Bison as part of a pitching staff that holds a 3.42 ERA. As a staff, Lipscomb has struck out 115 batters and walked 62 this season. Saturday starter RHP Connor Sinclair leads the staff with a 1-1 record and a 1.50 ERA with 20 strikeouts and six walks. The scheduled Sunday starter is RHP Dannie Strable.

The Rebels are set to go with their usual starters from the past three weekends - LHP Matt Crouse, RHP David Goforth, and LHP Austin Wright.

Two Rebel pitchers remain on the shelf as far as arm injuries. R.J. Hively and Bobby Wahl continue to work to get back to game-readiness. Neither is expected to pitch this weekend, however.

Eric Sauls, the junior who was injured last week with a fall and head injury, got in the game Wednesday night and had a late at-bat. Freshmen Gabe Woods and Jordan Poole also batted in the final inning against WKU.

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