USM first, then May

Before thinking about Arkansas, there is the matter of the Rebels and Golden Eagles Wednesday night.


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Ole Miss has squared everything up so far with the "local" rivals. That's 1-1 with Memphis. And 2-2 with Mississippi State. Of course, the ones that matter most – the SEC games – went the Rebels' way two games to one in Starkville a couple of weeks ago.

Looking back at the Kentucky series, it was complete domination by Ole Miss. I'd have to search for a while to recall a three-game Southeastern Conference road series for Ole Miss that was more one-sided than that one was.

And Kentucky isn't a bad team. The Wildcats will most likely be in the NCAA Tournament, barring three other weekends like this past one. One RPI poll still has UK projected No. 10 at season's end.

The USM game Wednesday wraps up April. Arkansas in town for three games opens May play. Things have set up nicely for an interesting first three weekends of the month before heading to Hoover.

Looking at the schedule before this month, there was little doubt in my mind that the past three weekends would be the toughest so far, and that included trips to South Carolina and Alabama. Just because of who the opponents were and where the games were played.

But the Rebels played well at Starkville, won two, and could have won three. They didn't play as well against LSU and got just one. Then went to Lexington and rolled.

I thought if they went 4-5 those nine games, which would make them 11-10 in league play, they'd be in pretty good shape but would have to have a great May to host. So the Rebels went 6-3 and played their best baseball in the bluegrass state, and they're 13-8.

The Rebels have only been a top eight national seed once in this era. That was the memorable 2005 season when Texas, which wasn't a national seed (yeah, right), came to Oxford.

Because of the RPI situation, Ole Miss has a shot at being a national seed again - but only if it continues to win games.

USM, three games against Arkansas, three games against Georgia, a road trip to Arkansas State, and a three-game series at Texas A&M. That's what stands between Ole Miss and its goal of basically staying right where it has positioned itself – among the top eight in the RPI.

Getting Aaron Greenwood back this weekend was big. The Rebels need all arms to be healthy for the run through May and whatever happens beyond that. Greenwood was set to be the main reliever for this coaching staff as they headed into the season. I heard them say it, that they'd like for him to be that first guy in, relieve the starter, and finish the game.


Auston Bousfield
Bruce Newman

It didn't work out that way sometimes early, then Greenwood started to come through. Then he had the abdominal strain, and now pitched for the first time in a couple of weeks at Kentucky. Good news for this team.

Jeremy Massie can now slide into a weekend relief role, since there are only the two remaining non-conference games, if that's how the coaches want to use him from this point on.

Chris Ellis has been what this team needed so far on opening nights each weekend. Christian Trent has been a new face that gives Ole Miss a chance every game two. Sam Smith, even with a not-so-stellar outing at UK, has been as consistent as arguably any third-game starter in the Mike Bianco era.

You always need a new someone or a couple new someones to step up and be good from the get-go. Freshman LHP Wyatt Short fits that bill on the mound. Tough all year.

Braxton Lee is another. A juco transfer who has been all he was advertised to be in the outfield and on offense. And Errol Robinson as the starter at shortstop and his improvement at the plate and in the field this season. J.B. Woodman, Brantley Bell, Dalton Dulin.

Offense. In the new bats era, there hasn't been a better Ole Miss "O" than this year's. At Kentucky 49 hits, 39 runs, and three lopsided scores. Unless you consider 9-6 in the finale to be that close. The Rebels got an opening late in that one and finally took the lead they didn't relinquish.

Is it the third-year Cliff Godwin factor? Is it first-year S&C coach Ben Fleming? Is it the fact that while some young players help this team out alot, it also is loaded with vets. Guys like the captains – Will Allen and Austin Anderson. Guys like Sikes Orvis, Will Jamison, and Preston Overbey.

And Auston Bousfield. What a weekend. He hit .714 and had four doubles and a home run. If the junior center fielder from West Orange High in Florida isn't the SEC's Offensive Player of the Week, they ought to quit giving one.

I told Bousfield's folks at the LSU series I couldn't remember a better center fielder in my two decades of covering the program. Then I remembered Alex Presley, who is still having a lengthy stint in the major leagues. Good company, huh.

Bianco stood at the podium at his preseason press conference nearly three months ago and said he'd had a hard time describing this team, a difficult time explaining what this team could be all about.

He said one thing he knew was that it was a team without a lot of stars, like some of the teams have had in the past.

Maybe because they are more of a "team" has been one of the keys to what has gotten them to 33-12 overall and 13-8 in the SEC and with a fighting chance at more headlines moving forward.

There's really no getting ahead of yourself here by checking out the landscape and seeing what's left the rest of the way. The Rebels have set themselves up, and all they have to do is what they've already been doing a lot of – winning games.

Next up, USM Wednesday night in Oxford.


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