Tate Blackman (Associated Press)

Tate Blackman is Swinging it Well as Rebels Enter Second Half of SEC Slate

Tate Blackman has punished opposing pitchers' fastballs in his recent offensive surge, and Ole Miss will need every bit of that as it enters a challenging second half of SEC play.

Blackman hit four home runs through the first 129 games of his Ole Miss career, and currently has four long balls in his last seven games. He's doubled his career home run total in under two weeks. 

The junior captain is hitting .277 and is second in the team in hits (36), and RBIs (19). Four of his five home runs have come off SEC pitching. Blackman is staying behind the baseball more so than in the past, and as a result is putting more backspin on the ball and it has generated a little more pop in the second baseman's bat..

"I guess being on time would be the good word for it, and staying through it," Blackman said. "I'm just going to keep working with that and be more consistent with it, not miss the pitches that I am supposed to drive or barrel up. It's just not missing those pitches and not getting ahead of myself, because when I do that my swing connects. It is a good feeling at the plate and in practice off of the tee. I'm just going to keep on sticking with what I've been doing."

He's had a clear approach against every pitcher he's faced during this offensive tear. He cracked LSU's Jared Poche' and launched two towering home runs off of him in the Rebels' lone win in Baton Rouge. Blackman said he disregarded Poche's sharp breaking ball because he knew he would get a fastball at some point in the count. He locked in on that, and it worked. The second fastball Poche' served him, he sent it a cool 402 feet and out of Alex Box Stadium entirely. 

Blackman was moved to the leadoff spot a couple of weeks ago. A number have guys have manned that slot this year, most recently before Blackman was Ryan Olenek, who now leads the team in hits and has found a niche as a clean up hitter. Since Blackman has been moved to the top of the lineup, he's seen more fastballs, and has done well to devour them.

"For me, I try to be ready for that first pitch because 95 percent of the time I am going to get a fastball somewhere in the zone, and if I can put a good swing on it, then I can make something happen, get people on base and score early," Blackman said. "That's been my goal since I started hitting leadoff. Be ready for that first pitch even if it is a foot out of the zone, just be ready for it. If you miss it, you miss it, whatever. Just compete until you get two strikes."

Ole Miss is a team that's struggled to manufacture runs at times this season. The Rebel are 6-13 when scoring four runs or fewer in a game, and 17-1 when plating at leas five runs. This team will need as much Blackman production as it can get heading down the stretch.

"I think he got some good swings off in Baton Rouge," head coach Mike Bianco said. "It's a little different park than he's use to playing in every day in that it is a hitter's park. But I thought he got some good swings off. That is good news.

There is no let up in the second half of the SEC season for Ole Miss. It has trips to Gainesville and Fayetteville ahead of it, where it will face the likes of Alex Faedo and Blaine Knight. Brigham Hill and Texas A&M come to Oxford in May, and solving Missouri's Tanner Houck Friday night will be a challenge as well, and Ole Miss has to go face Casey Mize and Auburn in the final weekend of the regular seaso.

"That's life in the  Southeastern Conference," Bianco said. "It's been mentioned before, the Friday night talent and the high end pitching prospects in our league. We know what this league is all about and what it brings.

Blackman relishes the opportunity to face the sport's best pitching. It's why he came to play baseball in the SEC.

"We chose to come play in the best league for baseball, and that is what we get," Blackman said. "Future first rounders, if not top ten picks. It is fun to go compete against those guys and is fun to go head-to-head against them, because at the end of the day it is a one-on-one battle against them at the plate."

Ole Miss sits at 7-8 in SEC play, just where it was last year, before it raced to an 11-4 finish. It will need production from Blackman as it pushes for a strong finish and a bid to the NCAA tournament.

"Pitching is there, defense is there, hitting is always going to be up-and-down. We are going to get that rolling I promise you," Blackman said. "We are going to work day in and day out, and just compete harder and do things we are good at. Pitching and defense, as long as we keeps those things the same, hitting is always a roller coaster whether you lead the SEC or not. It is always going to have its ups and downs. We've been playing hard and playing good baseball. We are going to keep at it and keep moving forward."

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