The Volunteers came into Oxford-University Stadium/Swayze Field a struggling unit looking to get wins, and they left with a series win against the Rebels, taking games two and three.
The Rebels find themselves back among those trying to figure out where they’re headed after four Southeastern Conference series.
Ole Miss is now 16-16 overall and 5-7 in SEC play, while Tennessee improved to 14-14 and 4-8. There are six SEC weekends left. Both will have to pick up the pace or they could be fighting to make the 12-team field in Hoover, Ala., in late May.
Up next for Ole Miss is a non-conference game Tuesday night at Pearl against Southern Mississippi. Then comes a Thursday through Saturday SEC series at Vanderbilt.
Ole Miss played well in game one against Tennessee, got good enough pitching from Christian Trent, Drake Robison, Jacob Waguespack, and Wyatt Short. And played an errorless defensive game.
But Saturday and Sunday, the Rebels were not good enough in any phase of the game to claim a victory.
“One of the messages before the game (Sunday) was that we’ve got to do something to win the baseball game in one of the categories,” Ole Miss head coach Mike Bianco said. “Pitching. Defense. Hitting. If you’re not going to hit, then the other two categories you’d better be really good at. And we weren’t. That’s where we kind of find ourselves.”
The Rebels only got four hits Sunday and had two errors. They had three errors Saturday with seven hits. In the last two games, they've batted .171 as a team.
Ole Miss fell behind 3-0 in every game this week. Against Memphis the Rebels won 7-5. Friday night against Tennessee they came out on top 10-7.
But the past two losses, those 3-0 starts were too much to overcome in 6-3 and 4-2 setbacks against the Volunteers. And now they are doing some more soul-searching, trying to figure out ways to get wins.
“We look more like the team we did a week ago,” Bianco said after the series finale against UT. “And that’s just disappointing.”
One of the problems Ole Miss has had this season stem from the loss of projected weekend starter Sean Johnson, who had Tommy John surgery a few weeks ago, and also the fact that veteran Sam Smith struggled in his starts on the weekend.
Smith doesn’t seem to be back fully recovered from hernia surgery last fall, and that could potentially be his problem. He certainly hasn't been the same Sam Smith this season. Against Tennessee, he didn’t see the mound.
Will Stokes has currently taken the role of third-game starter and has improved.
“He gave us some good innings,” Bianco said after Stokes went 5.2 innings against the Vols on Sunday. “He extended his outing and was able to settle in.”
“At first it was pretty rough, trying to find my pitches. Then about the third inning I had a better feel for all of them,” Stokes said after the Sunday game. “Overall not the best but it got better. I’ve just got to find it earlier and be confident. I’ve got to locate better.”
“Today he got to near 80 pitches,” Bianco said. “At Arkansas it seemed he hit a wall at about 50 pitches. We just need to help him with more run support and catch some balls for him.”
So the Rebels pack up and head to Pearl in what will be another important game. They lost to the Golden Eagles earlier this season 5-1 in Hattiesburg in another of those games that the offense didn’t really show up.
If that continues to be the case, they’ll continue to struggle this season.
It looked like after a combined 26 hits and 17 runs in the Memphis game and first Tennessee game they were coming into their own offensively. But two games later, and now who really knows?
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