Looking Ahead

As ugly as some moments have been for Ole Miss baseball this season, the same can likely be said for the entire Southeastern Conference Western Division.

The SEC West is a jumbled mess of mediocre teams, with Ole Miss, Arkansas, and Auburn all tied for first at 9-9.

There are only four teams ahead of these West leaders, and they are all from the SEC East.

Two teams at the bottom of the league are not surprising Kentucky and surprising LSU with 4-14 league marks. Most keep waiting for the Tigers to make a run and they might. They do host Kentucky this weekend, then travel to Alabama, host Tennessee, and end up the season at Mississippi State. A run is possible given those foes.

With LSU, Auburn, Georgia, and Florida remaining, Kentucky can pretty much rest assured its season is done before Hoover.

Tennessee is 5-13 and could play its way in yet. But the Volunteers have to start their run this weekend at Vanderbilt. Doubtful they'll come out of that situation with more than a win, if they get that. Then they host MSU, travel to LSU, and host Auburn.

Beyond the teams with five league wins or less, there are a bunch of them trying to hang on and slip into the seventh or eighth spot. Color Ole Miss one of those. With a trip to Florida up next, hosting South Carolina and Mississippi State the following two weeks, then wrapping up at Arkansas, the Rebels have a shot at being left out if they don't play better than they've been playing.

Of course, before Saturday's critical game-three 9-7 loss at Auburn, which Ole Miss led 5-1 early, the Rebels had won five of their last six conference games. But Saturday was such a bad loss for so many reasons. If they'd won it, they'd be all alone in first place in the SEC West and all alone in fifth place overall with four weekends – four difficult weekends – remaining.

Mathis' 23-game hit streak has ended
Bruce Newman
Three teams are 14-4 and have distanced themselves from the rest of the SEC. Florida, Vanderbilt, and South Carolina are all proving to be the class of the conference. Georgia is next at 11-7, and it's always tough to get a handle on which Georgia team will show up from weekend to weekend. For now, the Bulldogs are holding down solo fourth overall.

Then come the three SEC West leaders, followed by Alabama at 8-10 and MSU at 7-11. Alabama goes to Mississippi State this weekend, then hosts LSU, travels to Auburn, and hosts South Carolina.

Arkansas has a four-weekend slate comparable only to Ole Miss' next four weekends. The Razorbacks travel to Georgia, host Florida, head to South Carolina, then play Ole Miss in Fayetteville.

Mississippi State hosts Alabama, goes to Tennessee, plays at Ole Miss, and hosts LSU.

Clear? As mud, as the old saying goes, right?

All teams can say it and probably do. But Ole Miss has got to be kicking itself over at least a couple of conference games that got away along the way.

The latest loss is always the one you remember the most because it's so current. But a win in the finale at Auburn would have made a lot of difference heading into this tough stretch, and temporarily, at least, gotten them into first place in the West and fifth place in the overall – all alone.

But they lost it.

An SEC West crown is within reach. But the competition ahead means they'll have to play better than we've seen most of this season if they are to win their side of the league.

Tanner Mathis, the Rebels' sophomore center fielder who had his 23-game hit streak snapped in Saturday's series finale, said the team knows what's ahead and what it has to do.

"We possibly could have swept, and we definitely should have taken two out of three," he said of the weekend at Auburn just completed.

"And we end up losing two. We're 9-9 now, so we're still .500.

"Keep plugging away. Keep trying to go get ‘em," Mathis, his hit streak the third longest in Ole Miss baseball history, continued. "We haven't played great all year. We haven't played our best game yet.

"I feel we can beat Florida and South Carolina."

The chance to do so for the Rebels is just ahead.

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