Ole Miss hosts Austin Peay for two-game set

Back home from the frigid North and amid pleasant weather, Ole Miss will tackle a two-game set with Austin Peay on Tuesday and Wednesday. Both games will begin at 6:30 p.m.

The bats came alive during the Rebels' win over Minnesota Saturday, but pitching remains the dominant constant for 9-4 Ole Miss. Rebel arms have only allowed more than five runs on one occasion and that day resulted in a 12-9 victory against Memphis.

Pitching coach Kyle Bunn thinks the talent has always been there and that consistency is what is setting this staff apart.

"They've been consistent more than anything else," Bunn said. "They've gone out and done what we have asked them to do. Nothing has been done that much differently than they've always done. They have just been very consistent."

The weekend combination of Will Kline, Lance Lynn and Brett Bukvich has been as solid as any rotation in the country. However, the three sport only a 5-3 combined record with no decisions and a general lack of run production crippling the win-loss ledgers.

Lynn is the main victim with a 1-2 record through four starts and with the only win coming on the second day of the season in a combined shutout of New Orleans.

The sophomore from Indiana has been superb as he touts a miniscule 1.23 ERA and has struck out 23 hitters, while only walking eight in 22 innings of work. In his two defeats, Lynn has allowed a total of three runs.

Lynn had another frustrating outing on Saturday against Minnesota when six shutout innings of work turned into a no decision after three unearned runs keyed a one-run comeback win for the Golden Gophers.

Head coach Mike Bianco expressed his disappointment but understands that this happens.

"Lance has just been awesome," Bianco said. "It is very disappointing to have a starter pitch like that and not win the game. We're not getting it done offensively. Even when you pitch great and play stellar defense you are going to lose some close games. That is what happened."

Rebel ace Kline (2-0) and Sunday starter Bukvich (2-1) are not far behind Lynn as they also covet extraordinary earned run averages for college baseball at 2.33 and 2.38 respectively.

Kline is coming off a no decision but albeit successful appearance against then No. 5 Arkansas, while Bukvich allowed one run in seven-plus innings against Minnesota.

True freshman Nathan Baker (1-0) looks to follow the three weekend hurlers' lead as he has been the preferred mid-week starter for Bianco. That continues tonight when he takes the mound against Austin Peay. Red-shirt freshman Phillip Irwin will make his first collegiate start on Wednesday against the Governors.

Baker is making his third consecutive Tuesday start, and Ole Miss is 2-0 previously when he takes the hill to open a game. The Cordova, Tenn., native has surrendered nine extra base hits in 13 innings and constantly reminds himself to stay focused. The self-help has apparently worked with Bianco impressed with Baker's mental ability to work out of jams.

"One thing we have seen is how well he (Baker) has handled certain situations," Bianco said. "That is so great to see. The more he does that, the more he will be out there."

Baker himself said that he was told how to keep focus, but he has to even break that down.

"Coach Bunn said to go from inning to inning, I have to go pitch to pitch and refocus after each," the Southpaw said laughing. "You can't worry about anything in the past. That is when you lose focus."

Focus is something the offense will need to soon do in order for success to occur against nationally-ranked UCLA this weekend and during conference play starting next week.

Although the early season has been unkind to Rebel batters, the team is still hitting .306 and has talent at every position. Preseason All-America nominee Zack Cozart is hitting a paltry .220, but two year's worth of track record is there to believe that the junior will regain form.

First baseman Andrew Clark has found a hot streak over the past week, and Bianco is beginning to utilize the team's speed, as well as discover role players to get the offense moving and increase production from playing small ball.

The offense will not feature the home run power of last season, but it could frustrate teams the same way that Texas did the Rebels two years ago. Ole Miss has offensive ability and all those double play balls will average out and find holes in the near future.

That bit of baseball good fortune and the collection of suffocating starting pitching that is already in place should provide Ole Miss another opportunity at Omaha. There is time for the kinks to be worked out. And better yet, some are already wrinkle free.

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