The Ole Miss Rebel baseball team had been looking for a guy to step up and pitch well in those all-important Friday night baseball games. Tommy Baumgardner got a few shots; then Cody Satterwhite.
Last Friday night at Georgia, junior left-hander Craig Rodriguez put together a solid outing. Although junior left-handed reliever Garrett White got the win, it was Rodriguez who had set things up from the mound for the Rebs to get an important victory.
In a strange twist, Rodriguez came out of the game in the bottom of the sixth inning immediately after giving up a three-run home run. White then allowed a solo shot out of the park to the very next Bulldog batter. It would be the only runs of the night for host Georgia.
Rodriguez went five and a third, allowing three runs, two of them earned, on five hits with four strikeouts and no walks. Another start like that will give the Rebels a good shot against Auburn in game one this weekend.
"I feel pretty good, pretty relaxed going into this weekend," said the Sugarland, Texas, native and Pearl River (Mississippi) Community College product with a 0-0 record in 10 appearances, an ERA of 4.68 with his only start the one at Georgia. "But I felt that way last weekend, too. Hopefully I can go out there and basically do the same thing."
Rodriguez's first pitch against Georgia wasn't close - not even close to the plate. He slipped a bit and the ball landed way short. He laughed it off, pointed to himself, and came right back to strike the Bulldog batter out. He was on his way.
"That's how I am," he said of totally forgetting about that bad first pitch even before his second pitch. "I'm kind of a calm adrenaline guy. Sometimes between innings I'll actually sing out there. I just usually try to stay calm and not let anything bother me, just forget about what just happened and keep pitching."
Coach Mike Bianco said it was good to see Rodriguez come through for the team last weekend.
"He was really good last Friday," said Bianco, whose Rebels are now 17-12 overall and 4-5 in SEC play. "He was probably even better than the stats showed. We're looking for some consistency (from the Friday night starter). Another outing like he had last Friday will give us a chance to win again."
Another key to the Rebel season has been freshman left-hander Brett Bukvich, who pitched midweek until this week when he will start in game two against the Tigers.
"I'm not going to change anything. I'm going to take the same mentality into the game," said Bukvich, with a 3-2 record and an ERA of 2.60 in eight appearances with six starts. "Stay ahead of hitters, hit my spots, get pitches over the plate and I believe I'll be fine."
Auburn comes to Oxford 14-18 overall and 3-6 in conference play.
Bukvich says as far as he's concerned, midweek games are basically as important as weekend games for certain reasons - including wins.
"SEC wins are bigger, but Tuesday wins are also big if you get them because they count too and can give you momentum going into the weekend," he said. "We'll have to bounce back from losing (to Southern Miss 13-6 Tuesday night), but we're looking forward to playing Auburn this weekend. One of the big things about pitching is confidence, and I feel we are getting that back now. We just need to keep pitching and working and hopefully winning."
Coach Billy Chadwick will be honored before today's match against Tennessee for winning 500-plus matches as head coach at Ole Miss. Chadwick said beating Tennessee today and then Georgia Sunday are much more important to him, however.
"Mainly what that means is I've been here a long time," quipped Chadwick, who started with the program as Lady Rebel head coach in 1979 and took over the men's program not too many years after that. "It means I've lived through a lot of matches. What it really is, however, is a tribute to the tennis program here at Ole Miss. We've made great strides along the way. I've been very fortunate to be involved with such good student-athletes and great tennis players."
But his mind this weekend will be on Tennessee and Georgia.
"Right now we're tied for the lead in the SEC West (with LSU) and tied for second place in the SEC (behind Georgia)," he said. "We're battling for those titles, for NCAA selection and hosting possibilities. So this is a very important weekend for us."
And he knows the crowds will be big and supportive for today's match against the Volunteers and also Sunday afternoon against the Bulldogs.
"Every single match is so important, so we need our fans to help pull us through," he said. "To beat these two teams, we need them. They can help us again, as they always do."
Rodriguez ready for another weekend start
OM Spirit Top Stories
Ole Miss Searching for Defensive LeadersWhen asked if he felt his team was pulling apart, Ole Miss head coach Hugh Freeze said he would never let himself believe that at his weekly press conference on Monday.
OM Spirit4:40 PM
Playing On An EdgeOle Miss entered the 2016 season with high expectations. Entering the season the Rebels were ranked #12 in the AP Top 25 and were favored by many to compete with Alabama for the…
OM Spirit4:01 PM
Freeze Pleased With Strong, HibblerDespite struggles at the linebacker position this season, Ole Miss head coach Hugh Freeze has seen some positives from two backups.
OM Spirit3:27 PM
Monday Ole Miss Recruiting RoundupOle Miss is set to host a pair of key official visitors this weekend. Who are they? We discuss that and much moire inside.
OM Spirit12:36 PM
Freeze Frames: ‘We’ve got to fight’Ole Miss head coach Hugh Freeze met the media Monday afternoon for his weekly press conference.
OM Spirit9:48 AM