Mike Bianco (Associated Press)

Ole Miss to Play Two Friday in Fayetteville

Ole Miss throttled 14th-ranked Arkansas 9-1 on Thursday, and aims for the series in a doubleheader on Friday.

Here are five things to look for today.

1.  Arkansas starting pitching - The Razorbacks are going with righty Trevor Stephan in the first of the two games today. He's 4-2 with a 3.42 ERA. He was bounced after just an inning in his last start at Auburn, a game that Arkansas won thanks to its bullpen. What will be interesting is who starts in the finale for the Hogs. Dave Van Horn elected to use senior righty Josh Alberius in relief of Blaine Knight last night, and the Rebels peppered him for four runs. Alberius has been the team's game three starter, but likely will not fulfill that role this weekend. Van Horn will likely throw sophomore lefty Kacey Murphy. He's 4-0 this season with a 2.70 ERA. He's logged 30 innings this season in seven relief appearances and six starts, and given up nine runs while walking 11. Opponents are hitting .261 off Murphy. Keep an eye on who Van Horn elects to throw in game three, and how long he sticks with each starter in each game because the Hogs' starting pitching has struggled of late.

2.  Ole Miss with the upper hand on the mound?-  David Parkinson's illness last week, coupled with a short turnaround this week has inverted the Rebels' rotation a bit. But with James McArthur tossing a one-hit gem last night, it at least seems on the surface that Ole Miss has the advantage on the mound in the last two games. Ryan Rolison is budding into a young star for this team, and has matured in every start. He's coming off of what was probably his best outing of the season last weekend against Missouri, a game in which he bested veteran ace Tanner Houck. The Rebels will then have the most experienced starter on the team starting in game three in Parkinson, who's been steady all year minus a sickness-induced hiccup last weekend. Arkansas has scored 313 runs this season, which is second most in the SEC behind Kentucky. The Razorbacks have hit 55 home runs, which leads the conference by a long shot. If a pitcher makes a mistake, they'll make it hurt. How long will the Ole Miss staff keep this offense dormant? That remains to be seen. 

First pitch is slated for noon.

3. Mike Bianco has settled on a lineup- It's hard to overstate how big Nick Fortes' seamless transition to first base has been for this team. Think about it: The guy had played catcher his entire life, and Bianco approached him last week to simply ask if he could play first base, and in about ten day's time one could make the argument he's not only transitioned well, but made Ole Miss better defensively there. It's allowed Cooper Johnson's defense to be inserted back behind the plate, and Johnson has hit too. He's got five hits in his last six games after having just seven for the entire season before being plugged in again. This lineup appears to be the one that has meshed, and what happens in this series today could prove to be further evidence of that.

4. How does Bianco manage the bullpen?-  Ole Miss has yet to play a doubleheader this season, and thanks to a heap of insurance runs in the late innings last night, Bianco was able to save his bullpen, and more specifically, Dallas Woolfolk. Two games in one day often make managing a pen tricky, and who Bianco uses and when will be fascinating to watch. One thing he does have working for him is that he's got all of his guns loaded and available. 

5. Does this team take a step forward?- Last night's win got the Rebels above .500 in SEC play for the first time since March 25. Ole Miss is in the beginning stages of a daunting stretch of games that will ultimately determine its NCAA tournament fate. Can the Rebels take a game today, add a signature road series win to their resumé and gain some momentum as they barrel towards the home stretch? Bianco said he felt like last night was one of their more complete games of the season last night. Today is a big day for a team looking to polish up its NCAA tournament resumé. Ole Miss' RPI improved to 37 after the win yesterday, and would do well to get one more today. 


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