Back At It

Ole Miss meets the No. 1 team in the nation for the third time this season. Or the ninth time, if you want to look at it that way. The Vanderbilt series in Nashville begins tonight.

There are multiple polls in college baseball, and often the No. 1 team is different from one poll to another. When the Rebels played at LSU, winning one game, the Tigers were No. 1 in the country – in at least one poll.

The following week when the Rebels hosted Florida, winning two from the Gators, the visitors from Gainesville were No. 1 in the country – in at least one poll.

Now Ole Miss heads to Music City to face the defending national champion which this week, in at least one poll, is No. 1 in the country.

These three teams and others, like Louisville and Central Florida, are some of the reasons the Ole Miss Rebels are also No. 1 in the country – in strength of schedule, according to at least one source.

In the other SOS poll, the Rebels’ slate of foes makes them No. 3 nationally. On Thursday, Ole Miss’ RPI is 38 in one poll and 39 in the other.

If Ole Miss wins one game this weekend, that would make the Rebels 6-9 in the Southeastern Conference and give them a better shot to move on from here, the halfway point of the 2015 Southeastern Conference season coming this Sunday when the weekend’s slate of games is done.

If Ole Miss wins two at Vanderbilt, the Rebels would stand 7-8, and you can get there from there, so to speak. Some teams have done so - the 2005 and 2006 Super Regional Rebel teams come to mind. Both were also 7-8 after 15 games of league play.

Sean Johnson, out with Tommy John surgery and a weekend starter, would have helped this team. A healthy and more effective Sam Smith, a weekend starter, would have helped and still can. But he hasn’t been nearly as effective as his first three college seasons so far.

Those two, both projected for weekends, would have been big factors had Johnson not been lost for the season and had Smith been close to his prior effectiveness.

It’s been a mixed bag as far as a number of positions and players this season. Some have stepped up and played better. Others not so much.

For this team to make it through the second half of the conference season, they’ll collectively have to play better and a few more players will have to step up.

No SEC team has less than four league wins to date – there are four of them that have four. And only four teams have more than six SEC wins. That's a bunch of teams - eight to be exact - right there together.

The Rebels, at 5-7, are in the thick of the mix to finish anywhere from out of the SEC Tournament field as one of the bottom two teams who do not make it, all the way up to somewhere from No. 5 on down. It’s unlikely they could move into the top four spots, mainly because of how they perform game in and game out.

Some comments from this week:

* Colby Bortles:

* On his hitting, currently third on the team in batting average .273: “I feel really good right now (at the plate). I think it was a confidence thing. I had to get my confidence is back up. Our coaching staff really got my confidence back up. Friends, players, family all helped me get my confidence back up so I could start swinging it again."

* On his effective defense at third base: “We work on that in practice (charging the ball, throwing to first base). Every day we do slow rollers at every position. So I’m really used to throwing on the run. I think that’s one of my good things defensively, coming to get the ball and throwing the ball on the run.”

* On heading to Nashville for the series: “Going to Vandy, I think we can do something pretty cool this weekend. So we’re not hanging our heads, and we’re looking forward to going to Vandy.”

* Mike Bianco:

* On the season to date: “Obviously we’re disappointed with the record and where we are. But it was a better night for us (after USM loss in Pearl). Connor (Cloyd) continues to swing it and give us a lot of life throughout the lineup. We stick him in the leadoff spot, and he was spectacular tonight, I thought. Even though he didn’t have a lot to show for it, I thought Will Golsan continues to swing it. I thought J.B. (Woodman) had a great night. I thought (Colby) Bortles had a good night. Sikes (Orvis) gets a huge double for us to get us the lead at that point. I’m proud of the way we swung it.”

* On going to Vandy at 16-17: “You can’t feel sorry for yourself. You have to get back in the fight. If we continue to play like this (vs. USM), good things will happen.”

* Probable Pitching Matchups

* THURSDAY, 6:30 P.M.

Vanderbilt - Carson Fulmer, Jr., RHP, 5-1, 2.25 ERA

Ole Miss - Christian Trent, Jr., LHP, 5-2, 3.83 ERA

* More on Trent:

- Earned the win against Tennessee, lasting six innings and striking out five

- Pitched 6.1 innings and allowed one run on three hits to defeat No. 1 Florida, going 4.1 innings without giving up a hit

- Has made 25 career starts, recording 121 strikeouts over 159.1 innings for a record of 14-2

- Won his first 12 games as a Rebel, the best start to a career by any pitcher in Ole Miss baseball history

- Named to the 50-player preseason Golden Spikes Award watch list

* FRIDAY, 6:30 P.M.

Vanderbilt - Walker Buehler, Jr., RHP, 3-0, 2.76 ERA

Ole Miss - Brady Bramlett, So., RHP, 4-2, 2.17 ERA

* More on Bramlett:

- Ranks fifth in the SEC with a 2.17 ERA and sixth in the conference with 53 strikeouts

- Pitched a career-high seven innings, without allowing an earned run, at No. 1 LSU

- Went six scoreless innings against the Hatters, giving up just three hits and one walk to go along with his 12 strikeouts

- Only Rebel to record 12 strikeouts in one game as well as double digit strikeouts in two or more starts since Drew Pomeranz in 2010

- Returned to the mound this season after missing the end of the 2013 season and the entire 2014 season due to injury

* SATURDAY, 2:00 P.M.

Vanderbilt - Jordan Sheffield, R-Fr., RHP, 3-0, 2.66 ERA

Ole Miss - Will Stokes, Fr., RHP, 0-3, 5.40 ERA

* More on Stokes:

- Has made his first three career three starts over the last three SEC series finales

- Appeared out of the bullpen eight times before filling in as the third starter in the rotation

- Pitched a career-high 5.2 innings in his last start versus Tennessee, allowing just two runs on four hits

- Second on the team with three saves this season, including two against a pair of top-10 teams

- Got the Rebels out of a jam and saved the 14-inning game against No. 1 LSU

* More on Vandy:

Vanderbilt is off to a 27-7 start as the reigning national champions, including 10-2 in SEC play. The Commodores saw their six-game winning streak come to an end on Tuesday in a 3-1 non-conference loss to Lipscomb. Three different national polls have Vanderbilt ranked as the top team in the country behind a pitching staff that holds opposing hitters to a .215 average, a mark that leads the SEC. The weekend rotation of right-handers Carson Fulmer, Walker Buehler and Jordan Sheffield boast a combined record of 11-1. At the plate, four Commodores are hitting over a .340 clip with junior Dansby Swanson's .368 average pacing the VU bats. Swanson also has a team-high 12 steals as Vanderbilt leads the conference with a total of 56. Zander Wiel and Rhett Wiseman have both hit six home runs this season and nine doubles this season.

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