Not Enough 'O'

HOOVER, Ala. – In so many ways it was just like all their recent games. Ole Miss lost to Kentucky 2-0 Tuesday morning to open the Southeastern Conference Tournament and had the hardest time scoring. As the score indicates, the Rebels didn't.

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If winning, like hitting, is contagious, losing can be as well. The Rebels have now lost five games in a row, appear to have lost a ton of confidence, and will lose a chance to play on here if they fall in the 9:30 a.m. Wednesday game against Arkansas.

The Rebels are 34-23 overall after standing 34-18 following a sweep of Tennessee at home two weeks ago.

There's a chance to turn it around. But those opportunities are becoming less and less, not because they aren't out there but because the Rebels can't cash in on them when they're presented.

"The biggest thing we have to do is when we get the opportunities we do get, we have to capitalize on them," said Matt Snyder, 4-for-4 in the game, one of the few on offense giving his team a chance to win. "We've been getting bunts down, but once we do that, we've got to make sure we get a guy to hit it through the hole. Or make sure we get the guy over again; just keep the inning going. Getting guys in scoring position, then we'll have two pop ups or a ground out and a pop up. We have to make sure we grind down and dig your feet and basically get a base hit when you have guys in scoring position."

It all sounds do-able. And it is. But this team has struggled to get anything done offensively, and it has to be taking its toll on their belief.

Blake Newalu
Bruce Newman
"This is a really, really really tough thing for a baseball team," Snyder said. "To know we have the offense that we do and are not scoring runs, it's really, really tough. The pressure and the tightness is coming from not getting the job done. It's knowing you're up there for a reason, you've got to relax and see the ball and hit the ball."

And then score some runs. The lack of offensive productivity is preventing this Ole Miss team from fulfilling its potential. The pitching has given them a chance. Defensively they've been fine.

Even reaching base hasn't been all that difficult at times. But moving around the bases and putting even a run or two on the scoreboard has been their biggest challenge.

Ole Miss head coach Mike Bianco tipped his cap to starter Bobby Wahl, coming off only four days' rest after he started and Ole Miss lost 3-0 at Vanderbilt last Thursday night.

"It's obviously disappointing," Bianco said. "We got a great effort from Bobby (Wahl) today, and I'm really proud of the way he competed out there."

And Tanner Bailey, who relieved Wahl after six innings. Wahl's line was two runs on six hits with two walks. Bailey went two innings with no runs on just a hit with a strikeout.

"I thought Tanner Bailey at the end did a tremendous job," he said. "Defensively I thought we were solid. I thought we just lacked a few runs.

"The story of the game obviously is our inability to score," Bianco concluded.

Most "experts" feel the Rebels are still in the NCAA Tournament even if they lose Wednesday. But, then again, some say maybe not.

Andrew Mistone
Bruce Newman
Ole Miss and Kentucky had seven hits apiece. The Wildcats committed an error; Ole Miss did not. Four of the Rebels' seven hits were from Snyder. Four of UK's seven were from starting pitcher A.J. Reed, whose solo home run in the fourth inning was all the Wildcats would ultimately need.

It can only add to the misery of the Rebels' recent outcomes that a pitcher who has started only four games with a 4-2 record and a ERA of 3.00, which is good for a non-weekend starter, is the guy who beat you on both sides of the ball.

In addition to his perfect day at the plate, Reed went 5.2 innings and allowed no runs on five hits with a walk and three strikeouts.

"A.J.'s first start against an SEC team. Obviously an outstanding performance by him on the mound and at the plate," UK head coach Gary Henderson said. "Good players show up late in the season and they show up when it's important. That's what he did today."

And then there was reliever Taylor Rogers for Kentucky, who isn't a reliever at all. He's a weekend starter, and Henderson brought him in to take over for Reed in the sixth.

"It might be his first relief appearance in three years," he said. "I looked at it for a couple of days solid to determine what would give us the best chance to win. I really wanted him on the mound if we had a lead in terms of the ballpark and the opposition. It matched up well for him."

Henderson's team, which had lost four straight games as the Rebels had, improved to 42-15 this season.

"I'm really proud of our kids," he said. "We come into this thing after a disappointing weekend in Starkville. They could have gone a couple of different ways, but they showed up. We had a couple of days of practice that were as good as we've had all year."

Bianco said the Rebels have to somehow take advantage of opportunities when they come their way. This team hasn't done that lately.

"Once again it's happened to us the past few weeks where we've had the same amount of hits or more (than the other team), and we've struggled to get the timely hit," Bianco said.

That's as much why Ole Miss is not completely sure of its future this season past Wednesday's game. It probably should be. The Rebels should be playing next week. Most "expert" signs point to that.

But a loss Wednesday morning would mean it will be a long wait until Monday's NCAA Tournament field announcement for Ole Miss baseball.

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