Working To Get It Right

Struggling Ole Miss hosts struggling Kentucky this weekend in Oxford. The three games, like they all are in Southeastern Conference action, are big and will go quite a ways in determing the direction for each team the last half of the league season.

Ole Miss enters 5-7 in conference play, while Kentucky is 2-10. The Wildcats at least have the most recent momentum for either team going into the weekend. UK beat rival Louisville 3-2 Tuesday night.

At the same time, Ole Miss was taking it on the chin 8-6 to Southern Mississippi in an evening of self-induced horrors. The Rebels walked 13, 11 of them unintentionally, and committed four errors.

Even though an above average USM ballclub also committed four errors itself, the Rebels couldn't get the hit late to drive in the winning run when it had opportunities.

Ole Miss Coach Mike Bianco often says baseball is a sport that you can get the bad taste out of your mouth quickly. That's accurate, especially on the weekends. But the Rebels have had a couple of days now to recall the mistakes they made in the 12-inning affair in Pearl.

"I don't know if it's been any tougher than the rest of them," said Bianco, his team with 14 losses overall in 34 games this season. "Yesterday we spent a lot of time inside talking, looking at stuff, statistics and a lot of other things. So I don't know if (the loss to USM) is harder or easier. We're out here today at practice, and we'll work and get ready for Friday."

UK, 17-17 overall, will turn to its weekend rotation of the past two weeks, starting junior right-hander Alex Meyer (3-4, 3.74 ERA) on Friday vs. Ole Miss left-hander Matt Crouse (6-2, 2.93 ERA). On Saturday, Kentucky sends freshman southpaw Corey Littrell (4-2, 5.56 ERA) to face off with Rebel righty David Goforth (1-5, 3.86 ERA). In the finale, the Wildcats will start sophomore left-hander Taylor Rogers (2-4, 4.91 ERA) opposite Ole Miss righty Austin Wright (4-3, 4.03 ERA).

Matt Crouse
Kentucky sends one of the country's best pitchers to the mound Friday night. A 6-foot-9, 220-pound native of Greensburg, Ind., Meyer has made eight weekend starts for UK this season, pacing the Wildcats in innings pitched (55.1) and strikeouts (64). With 64 strikeouts, Meyer ranks second in the SEC.

A preseason All-SEC selection by Baseball America, Meyer has hurled two complete games and owns a pair of 13-stirkeout performances in 2011. In his last start on Friday vs. Auburn, Meyer went six innings, allowing a career-high 11 hits, with six runs, three walks and two strikeouts. Meyer left the game after six complete innings, with the game tied at 6-6. In his three-year career, Meyer owns 207 career strikeouts, the eighth-best total in program history.

"Meyer can throw it a hundred miles an hour, literally," Bianco said. "He's going to be a first-rounder and probably pitch in the big leagues one day. So we've got to be ready to play."

Bianco said his team will continue to work to improve in all areas, and in most areas right now there has to be improvement.

"We play a little defensive scrimmage (today) and put some pressure on the defense to make plays," he said. "We walk people and we haven't done that in a while. We talked at the beginning of the season about throwing more strikes, and we've done that for a long period of time. But why that happened on Tuesday, I don't really know. It's certainly not characteristic of us. But I think it is characteristic of the play. The play's just been bad.

"There are enough fingers to point – pitching defense, hitting – and even in that game (Tuesday night). We swung it at times not bad, but again we couldn't get the big hit to win it. Several times we could have won the game, we could have run off the field and didn't. We got some big hits to get back into the game. But too many errors and gave them too many base runners. Again, we've got to be cleaner."

How is that accomplished? Some of it is confidence. Mentally this Rebel team appears it is not 100 percent because of all it's been through.

"I think it's more mental than anything," Bianco said. "That's why it's been in different areas. "It's weird things. Matt (Smith) has made three errors in two games, and two of them have just been throws to first base where he's missed the ball. And that's a guy who hasn't made an error all year. We wish we had Matt Smith at every position, but it's been like that. All of a sudden a guy who has been clean doesn't make a play. Because of the lack of success, it's put a lot of pressure on all the areas. At the end, you've got to play better than we've played in all areas."

A Kentucky team with a dismal league record is up next. Bianco is well aware, however, that every game is a challenge.

"We say the same thing every week, and I don't mean it as coach-speak. It's the SEC and if you don't play well, all the teams are good enough to win," he said. "It's a bigger concern on how we play. We've got to be ready to play."

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