Survive and Advance

BATON ROUGE – As it turned out, they had a shot to win two, no chance to win three, and won one.



Disaster avoided.

We learned more about this year’s Ole Miss baseball team in its three-game series with top-ranked LSU.

“We are who we are – now,” said Ole Miss head coach Mike Bianco after LSU’s 18-6 Sunday romp over the Rebels.

This coming on the heels of a dramatic 5-3 win over the homestanding Tigers on Saturday night.

Keep that last word Bianco said in mind.

Now. It means, most likely, the veteran coach believes his 2015 team will continue to get better.

They have three days until their next game, hosting Arkansas-Pine Bluff Wednesday night in Oxford. It’s been a difficult week against quality teams and with a heavy travel schedule.

After last weekend’s homestand against Stetson, the Rebels left by bus for Top Ten foe Louisville on Monday. After two games there and a split, they flew to Baton Rouge for three games against No. 1 LSU.

Two wins and three losses, while not making anybody in the Rebel camp happy, is perhaps as good as this team can do.

Right now.

Still, the first game at Louisville was winnable as was the first game here. But the Rebels didn’t play well enough in all phases.

It’s unfortunate Christian Trent picked up his first loss as a Rebel period. But that it came at LSU, where he was once a part of the program and in his home state, arguably made it worse, at least for him personally. But the locale really didn’t seem to bother him. He only wanted another team win.

And the Rebels had a chance, too, except for a couple of defensive plays that they might have made Friday night. And also a couple of hits they didn’t get. Like at the end of the game.

Joe Wainhouse went to the plate with a runner on first base and struck out to end it. The 6-foot-6, 255-pound Wainhouse can hit them out. That would have made LSU at least have to bat in the bottom of the ninth.

But the Tigers managed to get the win on Friday night 6-4, and the Rebels had to wait until Saturday night to try again.

The 5-3 win over the Tigers in 14 innings was reminiscent of last season’s Ole Mimss team. Tough. Grind it out. Pitch well. Play good defense. Find a way.

Brady Bramlett, Scott Weathersby, and Wyatt Short showed once again they can be counted on. Will Stokes, in his real debut to Rebel Nation and the college baseball world, served notice he is not a typical freshman pitcher.

So the best baseball weather of the season greeted Ole Miss on Sunday, and Sam Smith had his third start in eight days. Yes, you read that right.

But the guy who started against Stetson last Sunday and at Louisville Wednesday couldn’t find his way through the first inning and was credited with allowing five earned runs.

The Rebel coaches leave here perhaps with their biggest decision being who to start next Sunday against Florida in Oxford. Sam Smith or someone else? Smith is a four-year veteran of many SEC wars. Nobody wants to succeed and win more than he does.

After Smith, Jacob Waguespack lasted three innings but gave up three more runs. Will Stokes, one of the heroes from Saturday night’s win, came in and gave up a couple of runs in 1.2 innings.

It continued to get no better from then on and the Tigers finished with a 12-run victory.

Sikes Orvis’ three-run home run in the top of the ninth on Sunday at least gave the Rebels a lift heading home. His towering shot went over the right field bleachers, estimated at 431 feet.

There might have been some frustration in that swing. Orvis had been one of the heroes of the Saturday night game.

“Just trying to keep going with my at-bats," Orvis said of his homer. "I was trying to put off a good swing early in the count, and I got a good fast ball and got a good swing off."

The obvious aspects are there for the Rebels. Too many strikeouts. Some quality arms but some others have to step up. Trent and Bramlett are dependable weekend starters. Will the Sunday role remain the same? Will the offense continue to improve? Time will tell.

Bianco said pitching is a bright spot, despite the struggles of Sunday.

“We can pitch in certain spots. We just need a few guys to give us a few more outs,” he said.

Bianco said some of the credit for the way things turned out over the weekend has to go to LSU.

“This was one of those days and that’s unfortunate,” Bianco said Sunday. “(LSU) is real good. They look at lot like we did last year. Today was one of those days where everybody had trouble getting them out.”

Now they head back to Oxford, 10-9 on the season, 1-2 in the Southeastern Conference. There’s a lot of baseball left to play, and lot of room for improvement. There are older guys who will have to continue to step up for this team to make a run. And younger players who will have to keep getting better and growing up for them to do so as well.

Maybe the most positive stat for this Ole Miss team and for the program moving forward came from Saturday night’s 14-inning affair that took every ounce of focus and effort they had to pull off the win in front of 12,000 mostly hostile fans.

Of the nine defensive starters, seven of them, including Bramlett, are freshmen and sophomores.

Watching this team continue to grow and mature will be part of the remainder of this season, for sure.

Because after the first weekend of conference play, they are who they are – now. How much better they continue to become will ultimately determine how things turn out in the end.


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