Hoping To Build

Ole Miss has a little momentum going into this weekend's series with Arkansas. The question now is can they build on it.

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The Rebels won the series finale at Georgia and followed that up with a 6-3 win against Mississippi State in the Governor's Cup game Tuesday night in Pearl.

They sit now at 25-12 overall and just about .500 in Southeastern conference play at 7-8. Now things get even more interesting with three of their next four series at home and the lone road weekend affair in that span nearby at Mississippi State a week from now.

LSU comes to Oxford the first weekend in May, followed by a visit from the Tennessee Vols. Ole Miss closes the regular season with a Thursday through Saturday series at Vanderbilt.

"At some point you've got to make your move," said Ole Miss head coach Mike Bianco, who's had several teams make their move right about now, the midway point of league play. "You have to put some games together. The good news for us is, I think it's fair to say, we haven't played our best baseball. We haven't been on that hot streak. We haven't been on a roll."

In the heart of SEC play and with additional challenging non-league games like Memphis and Southern Mississippi, and even Murray State and Arkansas State still ahead, Bianco knows there are plenty of pitfalls if the Rebels don't play well.

"It's tough to do," he said of putting a lot of wins in a row together, especially in conference play. "Everybody's so good. You're talking about a team coming in this weekend that just a couple of weeks ago was like second or third in the country. I do believe we've played better (lately), but we need to do that over a stretch."

Arkansas, this weekend's opponent, is strong on the mound.

"Outstanding. Probably the best pitching staff we've faced all year," Bianco said. "We talked a lot about Florida arms, and I think these guys are similar, maybe better in the front-line guys. Their three starters and their closer are as good as anybody in the country."

The Razorbacks are 27-10 and are coming off a doubleheader sweep of Stephen F. Austin Tuesday. They dropped the weekend series to Kentucky at home last weekend to fall to 8-7 in league play.

Mike Mayers
Bruce Newman

As a team, Arkansas is batting at a .280 clip and is led by Dominic Ficociello with a .343 average, four home runs and 25 RBI. Matt Reynolds is matching his production with four home runs and 26 RBI while hitting at a .323 clip. The Razorback pitching staff holds a 2.71 ERA and has posted 315 strikeouts to 111 walks this season.

Friday night starter Brandon Moore is 3-0 with a 0.95 ERA through two starts and 13 appearances this season. In his 38.0 innings of work he has struck out 18 and walked one while hitters are batting at a .190 clip against him. He has also posted two saves and combined for one shutout.

Additionally for Arkansas, sophomore right-hander Ryne Stanek is set for Saturday, and junior right-hander D.J. Baxendale is scheduled for Sunday.

Bianco has changed up the Rebel rotation. Bobby Wahl will go tonight as usual, but Mike Mayers will move up to Saturday. Sunday's starter has yet to be determined.

"We're going to put R.J. (Hively) in the bullpen the first two days, and if we need him, he'll be available," Bianco said. "If not, then he'll start on Sunday. He's pitching. No doubt about it."

The Sunday starter could be Hively, the senior righty.

"We're going to see who we use the first two days and decide that," Bianco said. "Obviously if he doesn't pitch (the first two days), he'll start on Sunday."

Perhaps it's for some additional help late in games where the Rebels have not always finished things well.

"We've been OK at times at the back end, but there have been times where we've been six outs away. R.J. (relieved) in junior college and is a guy that can give us a little boost at the end," Bianco said. "And not just a one-inning guy, but a guy who could come in and throw three innings and really command the strike zone with a tremendous out pitch. A guy that sets up well for that spot."

Ole Miss and Arkansas have played some significant series in recent years. Many times the three games have been at the close of regular season play, especially when the game has been in Fayetteville. Ole Miss won the SEC overall crown at Arkansas with a sweep of the Razorbacks in 2009.

In 2005, the Rebels won the SEC Western Division crown by taking three games from the Hogs the last weekend of the campaign also in Fayetteville.

"I think it's because both of us are in position at the end," Bianco said of the significance of the matchups. "They're a terrific program that's had a lot of success."

Much like the Rebels have been the past decade or more. And now a big weekend, at the mid-point of league play this time around, awaits both teams.

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