No. 18 Ole Miss (32-18,13-11) hosts the Wildcats (31-16-1, 10-13-1) in a three-game set beginning at 6:30 p.m. Friday. The SEC stretch run is underway, and both teams are searching for wins to fulfill different goals. The Rebels are currently in fourth place in the overall conference standings but need to finish strong so that a regional host site is a guarantee. Kentucky, on the other hand, sits in tenth place and is scrambling to reach the NCAA's bubble.
"It is a big weekend and especially since we are at home," head coach Mike Bianco said. "Nothing is for certain. You always want to lock up a Hoover berth as soon as possible, and the only way to do that is to win games. We need to play well."
The Rebels lead the overall series with Kentucky 30-21, but the Wildcats took all three games inside Cliff Hagan Stadium last season. Kentucky tied Alabama for the regular season championship and hosted a regional in 2006.
Ole Miss is 4-0 in SEC home series but hasn't recorded a sweep this season. The Rebels are 8-5 during their last 13 games but have lost three of the last four inside the league, largely in part to giving away leads during the late innings.
Of their 18 losses, 11 are by one run including the Friday and Saturday setbacks last weekend at Tennessee. Increasing leads and putting games away will be key for the Rebels versus the Wildcats.
"It's another important series," Reb catcher Brett Basham said. "At home, it is a big opportunity, and we need a series win. If you don't play you best baseball in the SEC, you'll get beat. If we want to accomplish what we want to accomplish, this is a big series."
Kentucky is ahead of Ole Miss and third in the SEC with a .323 batting average, but the Wildcats pitching and fielding statistics are eighth and ninth in the conference respectively.
Two senior starters are relied on to make the Kentucky offense go. Mike Brown leads the team in batting average (.386) and the SEC in runs scored (63), while Sean Coughlin tops the league with 65 RBI.
Meanwhile, the Rebels are fourth in hitting at .316, although they continue to lead the league in both pitching and fielding. Ole Miss boasts a 3.31 ERA and fields at a .977 clip that is one-one hundredths of a point ahead of South Carolina.
In what has become a constant theme, the Henry brothers are the key to the Ole Miss attack. Freshman Jordan and junior Justin are third and fourth in the SEC in batting average respectively and are tied at the top of the conference in hits. Justin Henry and Kentucky's Jason Kipnis are tied atop the league with five triples apiece.
"What the Henrys do for our team is so important," Bianco said. "They find a way to get on base, and are then very dangerous on the bases. With them up front in the order, RBI chances increase dramatically for the middle guys."
The 13-11 league record for Ole Miss is disappointing, but it isn't something the team isn't used to. That identical mark was present in both 2005 and 2006. That is encouraging for the Rebels since both those squads hosted super regionals.
"Definitely that's something in our minds," Basham said. "We know where we are right now, we can even eclipse that. One of our goals has always been to get to Omaha. Like the last two teams, we're where we need to be, I guess you could say. Last year we caught fire about this time, and we were almost unbeatable. This is the time we need to strap it on and get ready to go."
Through 50 games last season:
Through 50 games a year ago, the Rebels had posted a 31-19 record, a game behind this year's pace. Ole Miss was batting .306 as a team, while the pitching staff was holding to a 4.52 ERA through 440.1 innings pitched. The Rebels were 69-of-85 in steal attempts on the year. Ole Miss had hit 42 home runs on the year, even with this year's pace.
FRIDAY, 6:30 P.M.
UK - Chris Rusin (So., LHP, 4-3, 73.1 IP, 4.79 ERA)
OM - Will Kline (Jr., RHP, 5-1, 88.2 IP, 3.45 ERA)
About Kline: Kline took no decision for the seventh time this season as he left the last game with the Rebels holding a 3-1 lead over Tennessee. Kline has struck out 96 and walked 34 this year. Kline has made 13 starts this season, tied for the most on the team with Saturday starter Lance Lynn.
SATURDAY, 4 P.M.
UK - Andrew Albers (Jr., LHP, 6-3, 65.0 IP, 4.71 ERA)?
OM - Lance Lynn (So., RHP, 5-4, 86.0 IP, 2.83 ERA)?
About Lynn: A two-time SEC Pitcher of the Week, Lynn suffered his fourth loss of the season at Tennessee last week. His 106 strikeouts this year lead the team and moved him into fifth on the single season strikeout list. He has only walked 27 on the year while leading all starters in ERA this season.
SUNDAY, 1:30 P.M.
UK - Greg Dombrowski (Jr., RHP, 4-2, 58.2 IP, 5.34 ERA)
OM - Nathan Baker (Fr., LHP, 6-1, 59.0 IP, 3.66 ERA)
About Baker: Baker makes his sixth SEC start against the Wildcats after posting a 3-0 record in five starts in SEC play. Baker has picked up wins against Georgia, LSU and Tennessee since moving into the starting rotation with no decision recorded against No. 4 South Carolina and No.17 Mississippi State.
Other SEC match-ups
ARKANSAS (36-14, 16-8 SEC) at ALABAMA (27-22, 11-13 SEC)
VANDERBILT (41-9, 17-7 SEC) at AUBURN (28-22, 7-17 SEC)
FLORIDA (25-25, 12-12 SEC) at LSU (28-21-1, 11-12-1 SEC)
MISSISSIPPI STATE (31-14, 13-9 SEC) at GEORGIA (20-30, 8-16 SEC)
SOUTH CAROLINA (36-14, 13-11 SEC) at TENNESSEE (29-20, 10-12 SEC)
Ole Miss looks for payback against UK
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