Firsts have fallen throughout Mike Bianco's tenure as head coach, but there is still one thing that he has yet to accomplish: win a series during the first weekend of May.
Ole Miss (31-16, 12-9) will have another opportunity to snap the strange statistic by traveling to Tennessee (25-19, 8-11) for a three-game set beginning Friday at 6 p.m. Since 2001, the Rebels have dropped six straight series and are a combined 4-14 during this portion of the calendar year including two sweeps. Those being last year at Kentucky and in 2001 in Knoxville.
Even on the road, Ole Miss should be heavily favored and riding momentum following consecutive series wins over South Carolina and Mississippi State. The Volunteers took a series at LSU last weekend, but they are a less than stellar 8-11 in conference play.
The Rebels lead the overall series between the two teams 33-29 and swept the Vols last season at Oxford. Ole Miss has won five straight and 10 of 11 in the series.
Ole Miss tops the SEC in team defense and team ERA while being fourth in batting average. Tennessee is nine out of 12 in all three categories.
Injuries have taken a toll on Tennessee, but the team features individual talent and can be dangerous.
"Early in the season their All-America catcher, Arencibia, was hurt," Zack Cozart said. "And Julio (Borbon) broke his foot. So, they have only been together for about a month as a team. They are starting to get it together, and we expect to have a tough weekend."
The toughest part of the weekend may be on the hitters as each staff brings power pitching to the table. Volunteer ace James Adkins is the reigning National Pitcher of the Week and is top-five in the SEC for strikeouts. Ole Miss boasts a pair of pitchers as well in that top five with Lance Lynn and Will Kline. Lynn has also been honored this season as National Pitcher of the Week.
"Our guy (Adkins) was really good last week," Vols coach Rod Delmonico said. "He keeps getting better and better. Ole Miss might have the best pitching staff in the conference. We're interested to see how we can compete against them."
Rebel outfielder Jordan Henry gathered in an award of his own Monday with SEC Freshman of the Week accolades. The speedy newcomer has flourished in the leadoff spot and trails only brother Justin for the SEC hits lead. Justin has 76 to Jordan's 74. Vanderbilt's Pedro Alvarez is third with 73.
"He has been terrific," Bianco said. "Here recently he has started swinging the way that I thought he is capable. I told him to stay aggressive and treat it just like you would batting at another part of the lineup. He is really starting to drive the ball."
Tennessee hits .288 as a team and is led by rightfielder Andy Simunic with a .348 average. Simunic is also difficult to contain on the bases with 22 successfully stolen. He will be a familiar face to at least one Rebel this weekend.
"My best friend from high school is Andy Simunic," Cozart said.
While Ole Miss hasn't been involved in a sweep this season, Tennessee has suffered winless weekends at the hands of Florida State, Vanderbilt and Arkansas. The Vols also swept Georgia and Sienna.
Tennessee currently sits in fifth place in the SEC East and 10th in the overall standings but are only half a game and percentage points out of the final spot for a Hoover invite. The Volunteers will only play a maximum of 28 conference games thanks to two rainouts against Mississippi State.
The Rebels occupy third place in the overall standing and second place in the Western division. Vanderbilt and Arkansas are tied at the top, while Ole Miss is three games back.
"It is an important weekend just because all the teams are so tightly bunched in the standings," Justin Henry said. "One bad stretch and you can miss Hoover. In this league, every game counts."
All three games will be available on the Ole Miss radio network. No Sirius radio will be available.
Probable pitching match-ups
FRIDAY, 6 P.M. (CSS)
UT - James Adkins (Jr., LHP, 5-1, 41.2 IP, 2.83 ERA)
OM - Will Kline (Jr., RHP, 5-1, 82.2 IP, 3.70 ERA)
About Kline: Kline took no decision for the sixth time this season as he left the game with the Rebels holding a 14-6 lead on Mississippi State but only worked 4.2 innings. Kline has struck out 91 and walked 30 this year. Kline has made 13 starts this season, tied for the most on the team with Saturday starter Lance Lynn.
SATURDAY, 5 P.M.
UT - Nick Hernandez (Fr., LHP, 3-2, 36.1 IP, 5.94 ERA)
OM - Lance Lynn (So., RHP, 5-3, 79.2 IP, 2.49 ERA)
About Lynn: A two-time SEC Pitcher of the Week, Lynn picked up his fifth win with 8.0 innings of work and nine strikeouts against Mississippi State. His 99 strikeouts this year lead the team and moved him into ninth on the single season strikeout list. He has only walked 25 on the year to go along with the 99 strikeouts.
UT - TBA
OM - Nathan Baker (Fr., LHP, 5-1, 53.2 IP, 3.52 ERA)
About Baker: Baker makes his fifth SEC start against the Vols after posting a 2-0 record in four starts in SEC play. Baker pitched 7.0 innings, allowing only one run against Mississippi State on Sunday in a 17-inning game. He has struck out 36 and walked 13 on the year.
Other SEC series
Alabama (26-20, 10-11 SEC) at Florida (23-23, 10-11 SEC)
LSU (26-20-1, 9-11-1 SEC) at Arkansas (35-12, 15-6 SEC)
Auburn (28-19, 7-14 SEC) at MSU (28-12, 10-9 SEC)
Vanderbilt (39-8, 15-6 SEC) at Georgia (18-28, 7-14 SEC)
Kentucky (30-13-1, 9-11-1 SEC) at South Carolina (33-13, 11-10 SEC)
Rebels trip to Rocky Top
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