Monday was a practice day for Ole Miss, which came only a couple of days after completing a sweep of Mississippi State. Then came a Tuesday trip, over and back, to Arkansas State and a 17-3 Rebel victory.
Wednesday was more practice on Swayze Field in preparation of the regular season’s final three games against highly-ranked Texas A&M.
There are no classes. Only fun and games. And practice, for college baseball players everywhere.
Ole Miss, with its nation’s best strength of schedule and a current RPI of 28, hosts Texas A&M for three games, beginning today at 6:30 p.m. Game two is Friday at 6:30 p.m., and Saturday’s finale is at 1:30 p.m.
The Aggies are 42-9 on the season and were supposed to play a non-conference game Tuesday night at Sam Houston State. But that game was rained out, and Texas A&M enters tonight’s contest with a RPI currently of 8 in the country.
Make no mistake about it. The Aggies, 17-9 in Southeastern Conference play with a rainout, are fighting for a national top 8 seed and they know it. They’ve faltered some coming down the stretch with only a sweep of Tennessee the last month being a series victory. Against LSU, Arkansas, and South Carolina, A&M lost two of three games.
Their record and their RPI are still stellar. But to get that coveted top 8 national seed in a couple of weeks, they most likely have to win this series.
The Rebels, now at 29-24 overall after an impressive seven-inning victory at Arkansas State 17-3 Tuesday night, are easing their way into position to make a run at something. They will make it easier on themselves if they can win the series against the Aggies.
Ole Miss has won five games in a row heading into tonight’s contest, four of those five being SEC victories. The Rebels took the finale at Missouri and followed that up with a sweep of Mississippi State.
Both Ole Miss and Texas A&M are already qualified for the SEC Tournament next week in Hoover, Ala. So there is no concern there for either team.
It’s now all about positioning themselves for the best possible spot in the NCAA Tournament field. The Aggies are well in already. Ole Miss would like to at least get a few more wins before selection Monday on Memorial Day.
Ole Miss head coach Mike Bianco has said there is always something to play for the last weekend of the regular season for every team in the SEC. This year, from top to bottom, is no exception to that.
Texas A&M started off the season as the nation's hottest team, winning their first 24 games and earning the nation's No. 1 ranking. Since then, Texas A&M has dropped from the No. 1 spot but still has remained in the top-10 in multiple national polls, currently seventh in the country.
The combination of solid pitching and a potent offense has been the key to the success of Texas A&M. Junior Grayson Long has been as efficient as the Aggies could have asked for; the right-hander is 8-0 in 13 starts while posting a 2.84 ERA.
Six Aggies had batting averages over the .300 clip. Blake Allemand, Nick Banks, Logan Taylor and Mitchell Nau eclipse the .350 plateau as Texas A&M hits .317 as a team. Head coach for the Aggies is Rob Childress, who is in his 10th season at the helm.
* Senior catcher Austin Knight –
On having assured themselves of a winning season: “Getting that 29th win was just the bare minimum. We want to build on that because we have bigger goals than just making a regional and just hoping to get in. It does feel good to have given ourselves a chance, but we want to keep winning and building on what we’ve done. We are a much better team in April and May than in February and March. Just more consistent and have shown we can play with anybody and beat anybody.”
On having played such a big role as fulltime catcher following Stuart Turner and Will Allen the past two seasons: “I was definitely excited. But I think earlyon I put a little bit too much pressure on myself to succeed when I wasn’t playing as well as I could. Just relaxing and controlling what you can control has helped more than anything. And with the expectations we have as catchers in this program, it probably had a little bit to do with it.”
On senior weekend at Swayze for him and the others: “It’s going to be emotional. More than likely this will be the last time us seniors get to play here in front of our awesome fans. I’m really looking forward to it. I think it’s going to be a really fun weekend.”
* Senior first baseman Sikes Orvis -
On his recent success, which includes going batting .600 with 12 hits, seven home runs, two doubles, 16 RBI, and 11 runs scored in the last five games: “I feel good right now. I’m seeing the ball really well. I just want to win and play as many games as we can right now. Having that confidence 1-9 in the lineup also gives you confidence. We’re playing good baseball right now.”
On having a winning season and now being able to build on that at this point: “We can just go out and win more ballgames to help our cause. We’re not satisfied at 29. We obviously want to come out and win some ballgames this weekend and make a run at it in the SEC Tournament. We’re playing our best baseball at the end of the season, which is perfect timing.”
On the team sticking together and improving as the season moved along: “The coaches kept staying ‘stick together.’ There were a lot of tough times early. A lot of growing pains with so many young guys on the team. But they’re veterans now and you know that when you watch them out there. They have a lot of confidence. No one abandoned ship, we kept plugging away, and now it’s paying off.”
* Ole Miss head coach Mike Bianco -
On Sikes Orvis: “This is his time. For so long we’ve been talking about him not having the year. Now he’s got an average of over .270. He’s second in the league in RBI, second in the league in home runs. It’s turning out to be a pretty good year.”
More on Sikes: “Everybody knows Sikes. Everybody likes Sikes. Just a fan favorite and that’s neat when you have a kid that comes into your program that’s that recognizable in a good way. People just love him. He’s one of those very lovable guys.”
On the team playing its best baseball now and being happy with them ‘staying the course’ this season: “I’m proud of them. They’ve hung in there. But one of the things we’re really guarded about is we want to go to Omaha. We want to win a national championship. So to just make it to the tournament or just make it to postseason is not what we’re about. But that’s the first step. You can’t get to Omaha without getting to the (SEC) Tournament and the NCAA Tournament and so on. A lot of times we’re guarded about things like that. But at times it didn’t look good for us this year. We’ve got a team coming in here (Texas A&M) playing for a national seed that’s one of the best teams in the country. Then we get to go play in the toughest tournament (SEC tourney) outside the College World Series the next weekend, tougher than any (NCAA) Regional you could be in.”
On Texas A&M: “Like the teams that usually have great years in our league, they do a lot of things well. You look at them offensively. I think they’re hitting .317 with 50-plus home runs. A veteran offensive club. They really pitch it as well. They’ve had a tremendous year and do the things you need to do to win and have that type year in our league. You don’t get where they are by accident. You get there by because you played really good baseball. They can catch it, pitch it, and hit it.
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