Back on the SEC Road

It only took a quick glance down Ole Miss' 2011 schedule months ago to know there was a day when things would get a little tougher for the Diamond Rebels. The last four series are Florida, South Carolina, Mississippi State, and Arkansas.

That day is here.

Today at 6 p.m. (CT), the Gators, ranked among the nation's top five all season, host Ole Miss, unranked all season, in game one. Saturday's start is also 6 p.m. and Sunday's game is at noon.

The headline on Florida's official sports website puts this weekend's series this way, and it is correct. But it's almost a stretch.

"Division Leaders Collide"

It is true. Ole Miss at 9-9 leads the Southeastern Conference Western Division race, along with Auburn and Arkansas, also 9-9. Florida, meanwhile, rolls into the series at 14-4, also in a three-way tie for first place, in the SEC East, with South Carolina and Vanderbilt.

Overall Ole Miss is 24-17 and hasn't played a game in nearly a week, losing a Saturday finale at Auburn 9-7. A Wednesday home game against Arkansas-Pine Bluff was called due to weather.

Maybe the six-day layoff from competition, not necessarily a common thing in baseball, will benefit an Ole Miss team that's been inconsistent all season. However, at Florida and with the defending national champions in Oxford after that, finding that consistency and winning formula won't be easy.

That's not to say it won't happen. It is baseball and it often does.

Florida, 31-10 overall, is 22-4 at home this season The Rebels won two of three games against the Gators in Gainesville two seasons ago. Ole Miss also won two of three in Oxford against Florida last season.

Florida has also had a layoff from games this week due to exams Graduation is this weekend in Gainesville. The Gators swept Alabama at home last weekend with the finale on Sunday a 2-1 UF victory. So there's has been a five-day break from competition.

Friday's opener will pit sophomore right-hander Hudson Randall (7-1, 1 53) against UM junior southpaw Matt Crouse (6-2, 2 81) Randall scattered four hits over 6 1 innings in last week's 7-0, series-opening triumph over Alabama. Five of his seven victories this season have come in SEC play and the righty has 33 strikeouts and four walks in 64 2 innings this spring.

Sophomore lefty Brian Johnson (6-1, 2 53) will meet Rebel junior righty David Goforth (3-5, 4 60) in game two Johnson notched the series-clinching win over the Crimson Tide last weekend by allowing two runs on seven hits with five strikeouts over five innings. He has totaled 48 strikeouts and permitted 10 walks in 57 innings, while limiting opponents to a 225 batting average.

The finale will feature freshman RHP Karsten Whitson (5-0, 2 25) against Ole Miss junior left-hander Austin Wright (4-3, 4 36). Chosen as the SEC's Co-Freshman of the Week following his career-high 6 2-inning stint (3 H, 1 R, 7 K, 0 BB) that completed the sweep of Alabama, Whitson leads the Gators with 52 strikeouts in 52 innings and is 2-0 with a 2 27 ERA in league activity.

As a team, the Gators are batting at a 315 clip with Josh Adams leading the way with a 369 batting average. Preston Tucker leads the power output with nine home runs and 39 RBI to date On the mound, the Gators pitching staff holds a 2 64 ERA with 309 strikeouts and 77 walks this season.

The best news for Ole Miss entering the series is the potential return of Jake Morgan to the bullpen. He has worked his way back, along with doctors and trainers, from a shoulder injury he suffered the first Sunday of the SEC season He pitched two bullpens this week and could see some mound time in relief this weekend.

"Everything looked good in the pen," Morgan said earlier this week. "I threw all three of my pitches, and all three felt good I hope to be back out there."

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