On To Auburn

The question has been the same a few other times this season, like after beating Florida two of three and later winning at Memphis and beating Tennessee three nights later.

After both those moments, the Ole Miss baseball team settled back into some form of mediocrity, as evidenced by its current 19-18 record. But it’s taken three wins in a row – two at Vanderbilt and one this midweek vs. Tennessee-Martin - to inch back over the .500 threshold.

Make no mistake, however, it is an Ole Miss team that believes it can continue to build on its latest great achievement, that of winning a series on the road at defending national champion Vandy, who at the time last weekend was No. 1 in several polls.

“It’s all about confidence, and I actually think we showed that going into Vandy,” said Colby Bortles, with one of the hottest bats currently for the Rebels, having hit a grand slam against Vanderbilt and another against Tennessee-Martin, plus a solo homer against the Skyhawks. “We’re getting a little bit of swagger back.”

That would be some of the hope for a program that finished third in the College World Series a year ago, lost as many as eight key players from that team, and floundered from time to time the first two months of this season. Even Mike Bianco, the 15-year head coach, has said on several occasions that his team has never experienced a season that it wasn’t well above .500 by this time.

But they find themselves 19-18. The better news, however, is that Ole Miss is 7-8 in Southeastern Conference play. And while that, too, is nothing to write home about, as the saying goes, some of the Rebels’ best teams this century have been 7-8 on their way to Super Regionals – like the 2005, 2006, and 2007 teams. All were at 7-8 midway through regular season conference play.

That’s why the Auburn series is a big one. The Tigers aren’t bad. Their record just isn’t that good either. At 23-15 overall and 5-10 in SEC play, no doubt they are looking for that series to turn things in the right direction, just like the Rebels are.

Maybe it was Vandy that did that for Ole Miss. Beginning today at 6 p.m. and with games scheduled for 3 p.m. Saturday and 1 p.m. Sunday, perhaps that momentum Bortles refers to will continue for the Rebels.

“We’ve got to be consistent,” said senior Sikes Orvis, with a home run and a stolen base against UT-Martin. “We’ve shown we can play with anybody. We’ve beat some of the top teams in the country.”

Indeed the Rebels are 5-4 against teams that were, at the time they played them, ranked No. 1 in at least one baseball poll. That’s one win at LSU, two vs. Florida, and two at Vandy. If Texas A&M can maintain its No. 1 ranking this week through the end of the regular season, the Aggies would be the fourth top-ranked team in the nation that the Rebels will have faced this regular season.

Those reasons and more are why Ole Miss has the No. 2 strength of schedule position this week (it has been No. 1 at times this season), along with a RPI of 34, down a bit from five days ago when it was in the 20s.

But the SEC is the No. 1 RPI conference in the country, so the Rebels’ RPI should continue to be in the 30s or 20s – if they keep winning games.

Orvis said the Rebels know what’s at stake, that they haven’t played their best baseball game in and game out, and that this weekend is another opportunity to move forward.

“We’ll come out here sometimes and get beat by teams we shouldn’t lose to,” he said. “But after (the Vandy series), we had a lot of confidence, came out here (against the Skyhawks) and took care of business again. We’ve just got to keep doing that.”

The Rebels won’t have to wait very long to know if they have turned the corner or found that consistency. The games come quickly and often the next 12 days.

In that stretch, beginning tonight through April 28, the Rebels play Auburn three times, Central Arkansas and Memphis in Oxford, Alabama three times at home, and Mississippi State in Pearl.

*** Quick Hitters From Ole Miss Athletics:

* Auburn enters the weekend after a doubleheader sweep over Alabama A&M Wednesday. In their last SEC weekend series, the Tigers dropped two-of-three at LSU. A bright spot out of the weekend was a complete-game by starting pitcher Keegan Thompson, who limited LSU to one run on six hits to earn a share of SEC Pitcher of the Week honors with Ole Miss senior reliever Scott Weathersby. In 2015, Thompson is a team-best 7-2 with a 2.84 ERA as a leader in the AU pitching staff. At the plate, sophomore Anfernee Grier is hitting at a .397 clip to rank second in the SEC. He also leads the conference with 62 hits and 19 doubles. Like the Rebels, Auburn has played a brutal schedule that currently ranks as the toughest in the nation; Auburn and Ole Miss have had the toughest schedules out of SEC teams as the Rebels' strength of schedule currently sits in sixth.

* Friday, 6:00 P.M.

Auburn - Cole Lipscomb, R-So., RHP, 4-1, 2.44 ERA

Ole Miss - Christian Trent, Jr., LHP, 5-3, 4.20 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

* Saturday, 3:00 P.M.

Auburn - Keegan Thompson, So., RHP, 7-2, 2.84 ERA

Ole Miss - Brady Bramlett, So., RHP, 4-2, 2.49 ERA

More on BRAMLETT:

- Holding opponents to just a .225 average at the plate

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

- Went six scoreless innings against Stetson, 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

* Sunday, 1:00 P.M.

Auburn - TBA

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

More on STOKES:

- Earned his first career win, lasting six innings against No. 1 Vanderbilt

- 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

- 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


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