The Bayou Bengal faithful will remind visitors of the plethora of national titles, but in 2007, the Rebels (24-11,7-5) are the ranked team that is looking to gain a foothold in the SEC West. Ole Miss is carrying the momentum of three straight series wins, while the Tigers are in fifth place and 2.5 games back of the Rebels.
LSU has struggled with offense and pitching throughout the conference campaign and has compiled a paltry .250 team batting average and mediocre team ERA of 4.82. The Tigers' Blake Dean is the only hitter over .300 at .346, and Charlie Furbush (3-4) is the only starter that is penciled in heading to the weekend. LSU is to be announced on Saturday and Sunday. Furbush is winless in three conference starts.
Tiger head coach Paul Mainieri realizes the stat discrepancy and sees the challenge of the weekend.
"We realize that we have to play as well as we possibly can to have a chance to compete with them this weekend," Mainieri said. "Quite frankly, they are probably a little bit better than we are right now. When you look at the talent and the statistics, the stats don't lie."
The respect from the Tigers skipper is a compliment to Ole Miss that shows just how far the program has elevated under head coach Mike Bianco. The same sentiments would not have been expressed at the turn of the century.
"I have really admired the job he (Bianco) has done at Ole Miss during the years I was at Notre Dame," Mainieri said. "I saw the way Ole Miss' program developed. It was really something to behold and I am anxious to get an up close and up front look at them. Everyone says they have a tremendous ballclub."
Even with the glowing praise, the Tigers are slightly better in head-to-head meetings in recent years. LSU has taken six of the last eight series and lead the Rebels 13-9 this decade. Bianco is 10-11 at Ole Miss versus the Tigers. LSU leads the overall total 154-133, but Ole Miss took all four last season including a run-rule victory during the SEC Tournament.
This season the two league rivals have played four common opponents in Southern Miss, New Orleans, Alabama and Auburn. Ole Miss is a combined 7-3 against those schools, and the Tigers are 6-4.
The Rebels cap a four-game road swing this weekend after dropping a midweek at Southern Miss on Wednesday. The team went straight from Hattiesburg to Baton Rouge and are in the midst of being on the road five straight days.
Ole Miss is a frustrating 6-8 in one-run affairs, but there is a silver lining. The Rebels have been in every game all season and are one of the few teams that consistently avoid a blowout. Ole Miss is 9-0 in games decided by five or more runs. They are also 4-1 in two-run decisions.
The Rebels currently tout a No. 13 RPI, and LSU comes in at No. 40. Ole Miss towers the Tigers' team stats with a .316 average and a 2.95 ERA. The average is seven points higher than the final one last season, and the Rebels have hit more home runs this year than through 35 games in 2006.
Consistency is a factor that both teams are struggling with, and Mainieri says that mindset is as important as anything else.
"I have to tell my team to respect everyone but be in awe of no one," Mainieri said. "Sometimes you hear about teams and then you read about them, you almost think they walk on water. That they are all going to come on the field at eight-feet tall and 330 lbs. Then, you get on the field with them and realize they are just kids. Consistency and performing in the clutch are what ends up separating teams."
As noted on Thursday, Ole Miss is traveling without freshman first baseman Andrew Clark. He has been suspended indefinitely for a violation of team rules and will have his situation re-evaluated on Monday. The Indiana native is hitting .311 but only .233 in conference play. C.J. Ketchum will most likely be the defensive replacement for the weekend at first, and Kyle Mills and Zach Miller are probably at DH and second base respectively on Friday. Cullan Kight took Clark's spot on the traveling roster.
OLE MISS (24-11, 7-5 SEC) at LSU (19-15-1, 4-7-1 SEC)
FRIDAY (7:00 p.m. CT)
SATURDAY (3:00 p.m. CT)
SUNDAY (1:00 p.m. CT)
Jr. RHP Will Kline (4-1, 2.98 ERA),
So. RHP Lance Lynn (3-2, 2.53 ERA),
Fr. LHP Nathan Baker (4-1, 2.90 ERA)
Jr. LHP Charlie Furbush (3-4, 4.29 ERA),
Georgia at Alabama,
Florida at Arkansas,
Auburn at South Carolina,
Vanderbilt at Kentucky,
Mississippi State at Tennessee
Rebels head to LSU for weekend affair
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