Ole Miss returns to Swayze riding a two-game winning streak

It’s good to be back home, according to the Ole Miss Rebels. It’s even better that they’ve returned on a two-game winning streak.

By: Jeff Roberson

After losing five straight contests – three to South Carolina and two to Mississippi State – the Rebels got back in the win column with an 8-5 win at MSU Sunday and followed that up with a 6-2 win over Southern Mississippi in Pearl Tuesday night.

Now Arkansas comes to Oxford for three games, beginning tonight, and J.B. Woodman, the veteran outfielder, said he and his teammates feel good about things again.

“The offense is starting to get back to where we were, competing a lot better in the box, winning pitches and having much better at-bats,” said Woodman, who is hitting .577 (15-for-26) with runners in scoring position and batting .320 overall with four home runs and 23 RBI.

“We had a rough patch there, and it happens. You have to bounce back from it, because there’s a lot of baseball left to play.”

The Rebels are now 22-7 overall and 3-6 in the Southeastern Conference. The win at MSU Sunday was critical to not fall further into an almost insurmountable hole. Arkansas comes in 20-9 and 4-5 after losing two of three games to Missouri in Fayetteville, Ark., last weekend and beating Memphis 12-4 this midweek.

Woodman said winning these last two games has been important for a lot of reasons, and Tuesday night helps with some momentum into the weekend.

“I don’t think I’ve beaten Southern Miss since I’ve been here,” he said. “We played well in all phases of the game, so that was good to get things going.”

The Rebels had started the season 20-2 overall and 2-1 in SEC play after going to Tennessee the first conference weekend and defeating Tennessee-Martin 8-2 in a non-conference game that midweek.

But the five straight setbacks came right after that, and Woodman admitted times weren’t altogether good.

“I think we lost a little confidence during that stretch. But it’s baseball and we knew we just had to get a little bit going and continue from there. So I think it was good to get off to a good start Sunday (at MSU) and go from there.”

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One of the notable aspects of the upcoming weekend is that Ole Miss head coach Mike Bianco decided to change up his weekend starters. So far Brady Bramlett has started all the first games of the weekends this season. That will remain the same.

But on Saturday, instead of the usual starter, Chad Smith, there will be a new SEC weekend starter for the Rebels. David Parkinson will get the second game nod. On Sunday, it’s still TBA.

“I think he’s the best guy to win the game,” Bianco said of Parkinson. “He’s the guy that gives us the best chance to win the game on Saturday. He’s a guy that was recruited to do this. He’s pitched really, really well just about all his games. And he can throw multiple innings. He’ll go as long as he can to win the game.”

All other pitchers will be available in all other roles. Likely candidates for the Sunday start include, in no certain order, Brady Feigl, Andy Pagnozzi, usual closer Wyatt Short, and even regular final game starter Sean Johnson.

“There’s a reason we’re TBA (for Sunday), and that’s because we really don’t know who that starter is going to be,” Bianco said. “So to start speculating on who that guy’s going to be, if I knew I’d tell you. Some of it depends on what happens in the first two games.”

Bianco said he believes his team is approaching the games against the Razorbacks with renewed confidence and looking forward to playing some home games for a change. The last two games, both wins, have been important.

“We played much better on Sunday after not playing well five games in a row,” he said. “And we came back Tuesday and played well. Hopefully we can take some momentum into this weekend.”

As for why a baseball team, specifically this one, struggles for a stretch, some of that is indeed “just baseball.”

“I wish I had the answer. It’s a tough game, and that’s why you play so many of them,” Bianco said. “Baseball’s a different game. Good teams lose to bad teams. Good teams sometimes don’t play well. Good hitters have a stretch where they don’t swing it as well. Good pitchers sometimes struggle a little bit.

“People often say ‘that’s just baseball’ because they really don’t have that answer. So ‘that’s baseball.’ I don’t have that answer. You can only control what you can control.”

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Here are a few tidbits and comments from hitting coach Mike Clement:

On the team offensively in recent games: “We couldn’t have possibly been as bad as we were the past five games (prior to the Sunday game at State), and our guys know that. Our guys are a representation of the first 22 games and these last two games. That’s more accurate of who we are as an offensive club.”

On Errol Robinson: “The last two games he’s had four hits, and that’s encouraging for us. I think he’s pressed a little bit. There were high expectations for him. He’s been a really good player for two straight years. He put some undo pressure on himself. You can’t do that in this sport and have success. He’s worked awfully hard to get back to his form. Hopefully these last two games are more of what we’ll see going forward from Errol.”

On Tate Blackman: “He has been a tremendous worker. Couldn’t be prouder of him and the work he’s put in. He’s shortened his swing. This year he is very confident in the box and probably our most consistent guy. I think it’s a product of his work ethic and shortening his swing. Going to Cape Cod helped him, and he came back on a mission.”

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