Rebels attempt to rebound against Belmont

Ole Miss was upbeat during its afternoon practice on Monday and kept referring to keeping "confidence" as the team attempts to shake off an early-season hitting funk with the next opportunity being Tuesday against Belmont at 3 p.m. in Oxford.

Team captain Justin Henry appears to have removed the rust from his hitting stroke over the past week by raising his average to .368, which leads the Rebels in that category thanks to the freefall by the rest of the lineup.

"I just had one good game and got things started," Henry said. "It's frustrating, but you put a couple good swings together, and it gets going. I was able to get some momentum and the confidence clearly goes up."

As easy as it was to pinpoint how he raised his own average, Henry said there was no definite answer as to what plagues the team.

"I don't know exactly," Henry said. "I know we are a good hitting team. We have to remain confident and work through it. We are capable of doing big things, and there is no doubt that we are a lot better than we are showing."

Ole Miss is currently hitting an above average .305 as a team, but the situational hitting and power numbers are hampering the run production. Taking away the Memphis win, the Rebels have connected for only one home run and 11 total extra-base hits through eight games. Also, Ole Miss is hitting at a .222 clip with the bases loaded, while at a .329 average when no one is on.

"We obviously haven't played up to our capability offensively," head coach Mike Bianco said. "But, the good thing is that the team is ready to work. We have a little ways to go, and they aren't feeling sorry for themselves. They know they can and will turn it around. Rather than wait and blame it on the weather and the baseball gods, we are going to make strides, practice, improve and get better on Tuesday. The attitude is right to get better."

The Rebel coaching staff mixed up the routine on Monday by providing the players with more live at-bats by way of a situational intrasquad. The drills and reps allowed batters to practice their approach with runners in scoring position and hopefully better their production of moving runners with quality at-bats.

"It helps us get better at-bats," Bianco said. "We are switching so to improve on things we aren't doing well."

One thing the Rebels are doing well is pitch. Weekend starters Will Kline, Brett Bukvich and Lance Lynn are shutting down foes with miniscule opposing batting averages of .176, .218 and .217 respectively.

Kline is averaging right at 10 Ks per outing, and Lynn touts a 1.67 era despite the 1-2 record. The closer situation appears to be in good hands with Scott Bittle, who has yet to allow a run through six innings pitched.

"The guys are doing a fabulous job of keeping us in games," Zack Cozart said. "Once we start helping out, this team will be on track and dangerous."

Freshman Nathan Baker (1-0) will make his second career start against Belmont after picking up a win over Memphis a week earlier. The outing was rocky, but the lefty battled through five innings and benefited from Ole Miss' one offensive explosion of the year.

Bianco also hopes to get some other players mound time against the Bruins.

"I would like to throw several guys," Bianco said. "Satterwhite needs to get back out there as well as (Jesse) Simpson. There are also some guys that haven't seen the field yet. Maybe the chance for the them to throw will appear, but the game will dictate that."

Belmont is 5-0 on the young season and took three games last weekend after beating Boston College, Pittsburgh and Ball State. Besides for the mid-week contest against Ole Miss, the Bruins take the field twice against Vanderbilt during the season. The Rebels know they have to improve their play soon no matter who steps onto Swayze Field.

"I looked over their games last weekend, and they are off to one of the best starts in their school's history," Bianco said. "The way we are playing, we have to step it up no matter who comes in here."

Ole Miss was 6-3 at the same juncture last season but past experience isn't necessarily something the Rebels are keying on.

"We can't fall back on last year's record," Henry said. "It's a new year, and last year's team is completely different. It's in the back of your mind that it can happen, but at the same time, we don't want to dig as big of a hole as last year at 13-11. You can't always pull yourself out of it so we have to start playing better right now."

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