Righting The Ship

It's the halfway point of the regular season, plus a game. Ole Miss finds itself 23-6 after 29 games of a 56-game regular season schedule.

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The Rebels' RPI is 13 nationally in BoydsWorld.com and is 14 in WarrenNolan.com. The opposition coming into Oxford this weekend, Vanderbilt, gives Ole Miss an opportunity to move up. The Commodores are second in RPI in both services.

That makes it a headlining weekend of Southeastern Conference baseball at Oxford-University Stadium/Swayze Field.

Vanderbilt's record is 26-4 overall, but in the SEC it's a sparkling 8-1, tied with LSU for the overall conference lead at this point.

Ole Miss comes in on a two-game, shutout losing skid, both at the hands of Florida and since a midweek game at Memphis was postponed to a later date. The Rebels are just 4-5 in the SEC.

Tightening Up The Mask

Saturday starter Mike Mayers is trying to regain his form from last season. The junior right-hander said he hasn't been good enough recently.

"It's got to get better from pitch one," said Mayers, who is 2-3 in seven starts with 40.1 innings and a 3.35 ERA. "Obviously the past couple of outings I've struggled from the beginning. I sat down with Coach (Carl) Lafferty (Monday), and we watched a start from last year."

What did they notice?

"One thing I'm working on this week is tempo," said Mayers, who was the second game weekend starter last season and wound up 6-3 with 15 starts and a 3.50 ERA in 92.2 innings of work. "Pick up my tempo and keep the defense in the game a little better."

Mayers said he believes he can get things back in order and in fairly short order.

"It's just getting back to the basics and attacking the zone," Mayers said. "It sounds like something simple, and if you're ahead in the count, it's obviously a lot tougher (for the batter) to hit. I believe in this game you make your own breaks. So I could sit here and make excuses. But I just have to make better pitches."

But it remains all about tempo as far as Mayers is concerned.

"Honestly I haven't had the same tempo all year," he said. "Whether it's between pitches and getting back on the rubber, I've always been a quick worker. My tempo and my windup have been a little slower. It's not something you really notice when you're pitching, but it can make a huge difference."

Mayers said Lafferty and head coach Mike Bianco actually caught the tempo problem from watching video of him. He also said he wants to get back out there this weekend and see if things are improved since he has been working through that particular situation.

"I've been here long enough, so I know I can do it," Mayers said.

Mentally Speaking

Will Allen went home to Gainesville, Fla., and managed two hits in the first game of the weekend. After that, he only had one hit in the last two games as the entire Rebel offense struggled. Those were two shutouts at the hands of the Gators.

Will Allen
Bruce Newman

But on Friday night, Allen delivered the big hit in the top of the 11th with a leadoff double to set up the go-ahead score. Following the double to left center, Lance Wilson entered the game to run for Allen.

Will Jamison put down a sac bunt to move Wilson to third, but the Florida relief pitcher scooped and misplaced the throw, allowing Wilson to slide in safely and then come home as the ball got away from the Gators' third baseman. Ole Miss took a 4-3 lead.

Brett Huber then picked up his seventh save of the season, closing out the game for the Rebels in the 11th inning as Ole Miss picked up the win in the series opener. After that, however, it was a 7-0 loss and a 4-0 setback.

"It was a rough weekend for us. We know we're better than that," said Allen, the lone Rebel regular who is hitting above .300 in SEC play – batting .313 through the nine conference contests.

Allen said the Rebels know what they're capable of, and many of the players have been around a while and through times such as this.

"We have a mature team," Allen said. "We've got a lot of guys who have played here and know how this goes. It's a long year, but the sooner we can get out of it, the better we'll be. We're confident in our abilities, and we believe we'll be fine."

As for his own hitting, Allen said he has felt better as the season has moved along.

"I'm definitely feeling a little bit more comfortable," he said. "Just got to track the ball, see it, and not try to do too much. Early in the season I think I was pressing a little bit. I'm more relaxed and calm at the plate. It's something Coach (Cliff) Godwin's talked to me about. Just see the ball and make sure you make good contact."

Godwin, the hitting coach, said it's the mental approach more than anything right now for the hitters.

"We've got to get better, and when I say get better, it's not anything with our swings. It's a mentality," he said. "I think sometimes our guys at some points have gotten too comfortable. When we've played well, they thought we could just roll the balls out there and win. In this league you can't do that and win against anybody. It's more of a mentality than anything."

Godwin said the coaches have challenged the players even more this week.

"It's what I call being in the honesty box," he said. "We had a little heart to heart (Monday), and I think you'll see (improvement)."

Mayers, the veteran righty, said the players know what to do to get back to winning more games.

"I think the biggest thing is stick to the process and what's got us here," he said. "We've had two rough weekends. The SEC's a grind. If you don't bring your best game, your ‘A' game every weekend, it will eat you up."

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