The 30-Game War

Ole Miss takes its nearly perfect record of 18 wins in 19 games to Arkansas today for a league-opening weekend of Southeastern Conference baseball. The "real season" as some say will begin.

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But I learned a long time ago not to do that. I got in trouble with a former Ole Miss baseball coach when I wrote just that. It was Kentucky who was in town, and I wrote that nothing really mattered prior to that series. Now is what counts.

Coach former said the Wildcat coach didn't think I was accurate either. They must have discussed it. I was glad they were reading me.

As it stands, Ole Miss' 18-1 mark surely does mean something. It means the Rebels have found a way every time, except that one game against Memphis when six errors and eight stranded runners led to a 4-3 loss. So anything in the other direction and the Rebels might be 19-0.

The Tigers stranded 12, so there's that. A case can be made they also could have won by more, all things considered. They were errorless that night after all.

But baseball has a way of evening out, even for the truly elite teams. The Rebels most likely won't go 18-1 over their next 19. The competition does increase, given that most will be SEC games.

As a matter of fact in an unlikely scheduling quirk for March, there are no non-conference games for a couple of weeks. The next six games – at Arkansas and in Oxford against Texas A&M – are all SEC affairs.

It's hard to gauge where all teams are in the SEC at this point. Ole Miss has the league's best mark so far. Arkansas is 13-5, and if not for a four-loss weekend in the desert at a place called Surprise, Ariz., the Razorbacks would be up there record-wise with their current weekend guests.

Arizona State twice, Gonzaga, and Pacific all got hold of the Hogs and didn't turn loose that weekend. Since then, the Razorbacks have recovered nicely with six straight wins.

Arkansas was ranked by at least one preseason poll as the nation's best team. Now they're ranked 11th. But baseball polls can be all over the map. Vanderbilt was also the country's No. 1 preseason team in one poll. The Rebels currently are sixth nationally in Baseball America.

The Razorbacks will roll out some impressive arms, at least statistically. Tonight it's freshman right-hander Trey Killian (2-1, 0.86 ERA), while Saturday it's senior left-hander Randall Fant (0-0, 0.90 ERA). The supposed ace of the staff, junior righty Ryne Stanek, will go Sunday. He's 1-1 with a 3.71 ERA.

Ole Miss counters with the usual – junior RHP Bobby Wahl (4-0, 1.99 ERA), junior RHP Mike Mayers (2-0, 1.52 ERA), and sophomore RHP Sam Smith (2-0, 2.70 ERA).

Tanner Mathis
Bruce Newman

Sophomore right-hander Chris Ellis continues to be on the mend with his abdominal muscle pull, which is taking longer to get over than he or anyone else had hoped. There's a chance he will pitch a couple of innings at some point this weekend, we've been told. So we'll see.

Once again the opposition for conference teams varies the first month, so keep that in mind. But the Rebels roll into Fayetteville as the league's third-best hitting team, average-wise, at .310, while Arkansas is eighth at .297.

On the mound the Rebels have the fourth-best ERA at 2.21, while the Razorbacks lead the league to date with a 1.60.

Fielding percentages find the Rebels 10th at .970 and the Hogs 13th at .966.

Statistics aside, there's a lot to be determined between now and Sunday night. And a lot more over the next ten weeks as SEC play runs through late May and into Hoover, Ala., for the week and weekend of Memorial Day at the SEC tourney.

Both Ole Miss and Arkansas join at least half the league's 14 as potential NCAA Regional host teams. The conference is stacked again, especially the SEC West, with the Rebels and Razorbacks joining LSU and Mississippi State as the early Western division leaders. But Texas A&M, and the two Alabama entrants, the Crimson Tide and Auburn Tigers, will likely be in the mix to make some noise.

The surprise record in the other direction so far has to be Florida. The normally powerful Gators are just 8-10 in the early going.

But baseball has that way of evening out over time. The Rebels are hoping not so much so this time, however.

First pitch today for Ole Miss and Arkansas is 6:35 p.m.

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