Neighborhood Showdown

At the halfway mark of the Southeastern Conference season, more meaningful baseball has returned to Ole Miss than in recent years.

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Ole Miss second-game weekend starter junior Christian Trent of Delgado CC in New Orleans.

The Rebels are 29-9 overall and 9-6 in SEC play following their series victory – two of three wins – at Mississippi State last weekend.

Not since the Super Regional season of 2009 have the Rebels set themselves up as nicely at this point in a season. As a matter of fact, of the four Super Regional teams under head coach Mike Bianco, only that 2009 team that hosted Virginia had as good a midway record in league play as this one.

The 2005 team that hosted Texas and the 2006 team that hosted Miami were both 7-8 at this juncture. The 2007 team that played at Arizona State was 8-7 after 15 conference games.

There's obviously no way to predict that this team will make it that far or further. But those records are good indicators of teams past and present and where they went from this point on.

The Rebels host another SEC Western Division rival – the LSU Tigers – for three games this weekend. Thursday night at 6:30 (ESPNU), Friday night at 6:30, and Saturday afternoon at 1 p.m. (FSN) in what could be another weekend to lift the Rebels further up in the standings. But as is always the case against LSU, it won't be easy.

The Tigers are 28-9-1 overall and 8-6-1 in the SEC. LSU and the Georgia Bulldogs tied because of a travel schedule for Georgia when it played in Baton Rouge, La., earlier in the league season.

LSU brings in the ninth most productive offense in the SEC with a .273 team batting average. The Tigers have 18 homers and have 28 stolen bases in 42 attempts. The LSU pitching staff's ERA is 2.44, which puts them as sixth best in the league.

So why are the Rebels better? Statistically speaking here's some reasons why.

Ole Miss is No. 1 in the SEC with a .310 team batting average. The Rebels have 25 home runs (only 23 all last season in all games) and 66 stolen bases in 81 attempts. The pitching staff's 2.19 ERA is second-best in the conference.

Chris Ellis
Bruce Newman

And then there is the ongoing fact that the older players have done what older players are supposed to do. Guys like Will Allen, Austin Anderson, the two team captains, as well as Sikes Orvis, Auston Bousfield, Preston Overbey, and Will Jamison, as far as position players, have all stepped up.

And pitchers like veterans Chris Ellis and Sam Smith, and even a junior newcomer in Christian Trent, have all performed so that the Rebels have a chance every time out. Scott Weathersby and Jeremy Massie have both been improved and effective in their pitching roles.

One potential missing piece of the pitching puzzle again this weekend could be senior right-hander Aaron Greenwood. The bottom line is the Rebels are not as good or as deep without him.

Prior to the Mississippi State series, which he missed, Greenwood had pitched 19 scoreless innings leading up to the team's road trip to Starkville.

Greenwood has an abdominal pull and it is taking some time to heal. Hopefully he can return before much longer, but at this point he is considered day to day.

As for newcomers, freshman Errol Robinson appears to be getting more and more comfortable as a starter at shortstop. At Mississippi State he likely had his best three-game weekend to date. He has matured by playing in so many games this season and has gained more confidence than just a few weekends ago.

Junior transfer Braxton Lee, back in the leadoff role since the Alabama series where he began this season, appears to have found his groove at this level and is more effective at the plate. On the bases and in the outfield he's been solid all season.

Freshman infielder Brantley Bell has produced this season. An excellent hitter, he should continue to give the Rebels a spark whether as a position starter or a designated hitter.

Freshman infielder Dalton Dulin has often made things happen when he's been in, either with a clutch hit or a stolen base.

Outfielder J.B. Woodman is another freshman who continues to show progress, especially at the plate. On the mound, this team wouldn't be where it is without freshman left-hander Wyatt Short. He's been a bright spot for his team and a tough guy to face for the opposition.

Freshman infielder Colby Bortles hasn't seen extensive playing time but will be a solid player in due time for the program. Right now there are simply some guys ahead of him at his positions.

The Rebels would like to continue to play well and host a NCAA Regional. No player on the current team has ever played in the postseason at home.

"We talk about that every year. It's always one of our main goals - host a Regional and a Super Regional," Anderson, a four-year senior infielder, said. "We're happy where we are right now. But, like we saw last Saturday, the SEC's kind of crazy. We definitely have to keep working hard and make sure we don't hit a low patch."

Anderson said he and most of the other players don't concern themselves with standings, only playing the next game.

"As long as we keep playing our game, working hard, and doing the little things right that got us here, the game's should take care of themselves," he said.

Anderson said winning two of three at Mississippi State last weekend was big for this ballclub.

"It definitely feels a lot better taking the series, especially against our rival," he said. "Overall the team is playing with a lot of confidence. We've won a lot of games lately. In all three phases of the game, we're playing well. We just want to do our thing and stick to what we do."

Both teams enter Thursday night's contest having won eight of their last nine games. The Rebels will have an advantage playing at home. It's been three decades since Ole Miss claimed a series – even two wins – in Baton Rouge.

Ole Miss lost two of three games to LSU in Oxford two years ago but had a lot of success in the three series at Swayze Field prior. In 2010 and before that in 2006, the Rebels swept the Tigers. In 2008, Ole Miss claimed two of three games.

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