Rocky Top Invaders

Ole Miss defeated Samford 3-0 Tuesday night in Oxford. Nothing special at first glance about that non-conference, midweek game.

Unless your name is either R.J. Hively or Bobby Wahl, that is.

Both Rebel rookies – Hively the junior college transfer and Wahl the true freshman – hadn't pitched since opening week, and then for only one stint each. They were sideline by some arm soreness. Precautionary measures were taken. They rehabbed to get back.

On Wednesday against Samford, Hively relieved starter Matt Tracy to start the sixth inning and sent the Bulldogs back to the dugout three up, three down. To start the seventh, Wahl did the same thing.

"Being able to go out there and get an inning to help the team get a 'W' is exciting," said Hively, whose only prior appearance as a Rebel came on opening weekend Sunday against Wright State. "It's fun to finally be out there in front of the fans and not just sitting around cheering on your team; you're actually a part of it."

Hively and Wahl were already supposed to be a big part of a Rebel pitching staff with a lot of depth. And it is deep, but there were the injuries.

Both Hively and Wahl were more than in the mix for a weekend rotation spot through the fall. As opening weekend neared, it was apparent Matt Crouse had solidified the first-game start.

It was clear the coaches felt veteran David Goforth had made enough of a case in the fall and preseason to be a weekend starter. Then Austin Wright, a new Rebel from the junior college ranks, pulled ahead of the rest for the Sunday start.

Then came the first month of the season. Some arms were being called on often due to some injury situations. Guys like Matt Tracy were seeing the mound frequently, and true freshman Mike Mayers was warming up almost every game and getting to pitch in many – back to back last weekend against Alabama in relief, for example.

Trent Rothlin had struggled. Brett Huber had been up and down allowing too many walks. Jake Morgan had been effective but scared everybody, including himself, when he had a shoulder situation arise on the mound Sunday. He could be available this weekend since he is on the trip. But we shall see.

So having Hively and Wahl back is a huge boost for this pitching staff and this team.

Wahl pitched against ASU
Bruce Newman
"It felt great (to get back out there)," said Wahl, who had started the Rebels' game against Arkansas State in week one and pitched four innings. "I've never felt better. All the rehab I've been doing has got my shoulder strength up. My arm feels better than ever right now."

Wahl echoed Hively's statements concerning sitting and watching. That, too, is a painful part of an injury situation.

"It was tough to be out for that long a time. I wanted to be out on the mound," Wahl said. "You have to live with setbacks sometimes and come back stronger than ever. We'll take it from there and see what happens."

Crouse, Goforth, and Wright are still listed as the Rebels' weekend starters for the Tennessee weekend. Certainly Crouse, at 5-0 with a 1.34 ERA, has solidified the ace role for the SEC weekends.

For some inexplicable reasons, the team has proven to have trouble getting wins with Goforth on the mound. Last season the Rebels were 1-6 when he started and got a decision. This season 0-3. His numbers aren't off the charts bad. Not even close to it. In fact, his ERA is 2.87, and he has held batters in his five starts to a .262 average.

And those aren't the only numbers. The Rebels have won two games this year when Goforth starts, but he wasn't involved in the decision. He threw 7.0 scoreless innings against Lipscomb in the Saturday game, a 3-0 Ole Miss win, but took no decision. On opening weekend, Ole Miss beat Wright State on Saturday 5-4 in 10 innings. Jake Morgan, who closed, got the win that day.

Sunday has been Wright's day to start. The Chipola College product has 2-2 record this season with a 3.95 ERA.

Tennessee counters with left-hander Steven Gruver (3-1, 2.08) tonight. On Saturday the Volunteers will pitch LHP Rob Catapano (2-0, 3.27), while on Sunday it's RHP Levi Dean (4-0, 1.35) going for UT.

The Volunteers enter the weekend series coming off a midweek win at Lipscomb on Wednesday night after dropping a weekend series at Kentucky two games to one.

As a team, Tennessee is batting .337 and has stolen 53 bases on the year. Khayyan Norfork leads the team with a .500 batting average, while Matt Duffy is hitting .403 with a team-leading four home runs and 26 RBI. The pitching staff holds a 3.36 ERA and has struck out 159 batters while walking 71. Teams are hitting .251 against the Vols this season.

Ole Miss leads the series with Tennessee 36-33-1.

Game times are today at 5 p.m., Saturday at 2 p.m, and Sunday at 1 p.m. Times listed are Central.

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