Offensively Speaking

Sometimes a little success can go a long way. Sunday at Alabama, Ole Miss hitters seemed to get that contagious feeling.

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In an important contest with a series outcome hanging in the balance, the Rebels got to Crimson Tide pitching and appeared to look more comfortable at the plate than they had in recent games. Coach Mike Bianco agreed.

"I was proud of the way we swung it, especially at the end," Bianco said. "It's no secret we haven't swung well. We'd swung it pretty good on Friday (at Alabama). But we really haven't been ourselves now for about 10 days. Not the hits, but the swings. You could tell once we tied it (4-4 in the eighth inning, and ultimately took the lead 6-4 by the end of that inning), the swings were totally different. We haven't seen those swings, even on Friday night. Confident swings. It's been nice to score some runs, but we didn't swing it like that."

But it wasn't like they hadn't been hitting. There were some impressive hitting performances, like 22 hits and 18 runs in game two at Louisville and 16 hits and 11 runs in game one at Alabama. But Sunday, as the game unfolded, things appeared different. The Rebels, who won 8-4, were more confident at the plate.

Bianco said best case-worst case scenario is to stay somewhere in the middle, to have that consistency, which can be challenging.

Tanner Mathis is the Rebels' on-base percentage leader at .482
Bruce Newman

"You aren't going to get 16 hits a game," he said, knowing full well the Rebels had done that twice last weekend. "In the Southeastern Conference consistently, you just can't do that. You can't hit at that pace. There are games you're really good, and there are games where you aren't as good (offensively) or the pitcher is really good. For whatever reason, and I know people scratch their heads, why do you get 16 hits one day and four hits the next day. There is no one answer for that. Each case is different."

Hitting coach Cliff Godwin agreed one goal is simply to be more consistent.

"I would say that's the case," Godwin said. "We pride ourselves on making adjustments and not letting a (pitcher) beat us the same way twice. We've got to continue to get better every day at that."

Godwin said the overall numbers are basically OK.

"We've struck out the least amount of times as any team in the SEC," he said. "Almost 60 less times than the (Ole Miss) team last year. Not that we're a batting average team, but we're hitting above .300. We worry about having quality at-bats. I think we're in good shape right now."

Bianco said it always helps when guys feel like others around them are beginning to get better swings and better results.

"We talk about hitting being contagious. That's not because one guy gets a hit and the next guy gets a hit," Bianco said. "One guy gets a hit and then there's not as much pressure on the next guy. He relaxes and plays more up to his capabilities and then he gets a better swing. I think we went through a span there where a lot of guys weren't swinging well."

There are goals, but they always come with a dose of reality.

"You want to average eight runs a game," Bianco said. "The same with pitching. If we could hold them to three runs or less every game, we'd probably take that. But there will be some games you shut ‘em out, and some games you give up six. Just like any sport. I thought on Sunday it wasn't the amount of hits. I thought our bats and swings were more confident and we got better swings off. We swung at good pitches."

One player whose numbers are solid this season is senior Zach Kirksey. He leads the team in home runs with eight and RBI with 33. Left-handed pitching is still his biggest challenge.

"I have struggled against left-handed pitchers," he said. "It hasn't really shaken my confidence. It's just a matter of seeing it. I feel like every time I face left-handers, I'm getting better and better. I'm really grateful Coach has stuck with me, because I haven't done well with left-handed pitchers the past couple of weeks.

Kirksey said Saturday's game, with Ole Miss leading 2-1 in what was ultimately a 3-2 loss, was an opportunity for him to help his team, but he couldn't.

Alex Yarbrough leads the team in batting average at .407
Bruce Newman

"In the eighth, I had a chance to break the game open," he said. "Bases were loaded and they brought in a lefty. And I didn't get a hit. That could really have busted the game open and given Brett (Huber) a good cushion to come out there and close it. And I didn't get it done."

But, as a baseball season can provide, he got another chance the next day and in the same way.

"Sunday they actually brought the same pitcher in, similar situation with bases loaded," Kirksey said. "and I was able to get a big hit. That's something that really helped the team and gave me a lot of confidence."

Bianco said hitting is the one aspect of a team's three parts that can really be up and down the charts.

"We've always said hitting is more inconsistent than defense and pitching. Usually those things stay more the same, but that doesn't mean you don't have days when you make errors and you'll never give up runs. But game to game, pitching and defense are normally more consistent.

"That's one thing that's been kind of confusing about this team defensively," Bianco continued. "I think we can defend, and we've shown that we can defend. Then we have a bad game, and the bad game isn't two errors, it's like five errors. If you watch us day in and day out, you'd say we're a much better fielding team than .967, unless you caught one of those games – five errors or four errors. We had three errors at shortstop in one game. Then you may watch us one weekend and say, they're really good. They really catch it and throw it."

As far as offensively, Godwin said the hope is the affects of the late innings Sunday will lift the team into an important week, as Jackson State is up tonight and No. 1 ranked Florida is in Oxford for three games this weekend. The Rebels are now 17-7 overall and 3-3 in Southeastern Conference play.

"I think that type of win is going to propel us into playing a lot better baseball down the stretch," he said of the comeback victory.

Kirksey said sometimes it's just a baseball thing.

"It's weird how that happens sometimes," he said of ups and downs for the team and for him personally. "I look back at some of my at-bats, and I had a lot of good at-bats but I didn't get hits. Sometimes it just happens. We'll try to get better every day, starting against Jackson State."

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