Getting Ready For SEC Play

Ole Miss, now 13-4, swept Lipscomb three games, snapping a three-game losing streak. So what did we learn about the Rebels?

Some obvious things. That Friday night starter Matt Crouse continues to dominate four weeks in. That Austin Wright seems to be a solid Sunday starter. That David Goforth on Saturdays seems to be better than last year and a lot better than his winless record appears so far this season.

Crouse has a lot of confidence entering Southeastern Conference play Friday night when Alabama gets to Oxford.

"I didn't feel too much different from last week," said the left-handed junior who went nine innings against Lipscomb and allowed no runs on four hits with just one walk and nine big strikeouts. "Last week I felt good (a 5-1 win against Tulane) in a game that was shortened by rain. Everything was working and I was able to throw everything into the zone."

The series opener against Tulane was actually not shortened by rain; only Crouse's appearance. He went five innings before a nearly hour-long delay, and Jake Morgan came in to finish things up the last four innings.

SEC play will mean a step up in competition and intensity for Crouse and his teammates. He says he's ready.

"That starts (today). We start thinking about (SEC play)," Crouse said. "It's been a good start to build off of going into the SEC."

It has for the entire starting rotation. The three weekend starters have ERAs that are significant through four weekends. Wright is 2-1 at 2.66. Goforth is 0-2 at 2.43. Crouse is 4-0 at a stellar 1.67. If those type numbers persist, the Rebels will be in position to win a lot of games this season.

Goforth said his approach this season, after an offseason of work on all his pitches, including a new cutter, is simple.

"Honestly I just come out and try to give our team a chance to win and keep having quality starts," he said.

Matt Crouse
Courtesy: Bruce Newman
That he has.

Ole Miss' chances this season improve greatly if he continues to do that.

Wright, a junior college transfer who will make his first start in the SEC this Sunday, said he believes he's ready for league play.

"I definitely feel great, and we feel great as a team going in," said the Chipola College product. "We've worked all year for this, and it's time for (SEC play) to start. I think we're ready."

Jake Morgan continued to be dominant out of the bullpen, picking up a win and a save in relief over the weekend. He had 3.1 hitless innings of work in two outings, working the final 2.1 on Saturday and the final inning on Sunday.

Ole Miss head coach Mike Bianco, who has often changed a starter or two throughout a season and could this year depending on how things progress, has been pleased with his weekend guys.

"We've pitched pretty well every weekend, and this was the best weekend so far," Bianco said after the sweep of Lipscomb. "Our strikeouts went up. Our walks went down. Our hits (allowed) went down. Statistically for the pitchers, everything was better this weekend."

Offensively, Ole Miss had been struggling the past few games. Bianco said there was some sign of improvement from a weekend of 24 hits and 16 runs.

"Certainly we're not hitting on all cylinders, but there were some positives," Bianco said. "We didn't swing and miss as much. We didn't strike out as much. We didn't look as off balance as maybe we have. So a little bit better, and we realize there is still more in us."

On Sunday, Bianco had freshman Austin Anderson start at third base. He played in three of the Rebels' four games last week. Anderson hit .444 with a run scored, a sac fly and was hit by a pitch to post a .500 on base percentage.

Ole Miss hosts Jackson State Tuesday at 6:30 p.m., the only midweek action before the series with Alabama.

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