COMMENTARY: Fighting the Funk

When Ole Miss takes the field tonight versus Western Kentucky at 6:30 p.m., it will almost assuredly be looking for renewed confidence for the first time this season. That's what happens after a weekend total of eight runs and two losses.

The Rebels roared out to a 9-0 start but sputtered this past week with three defeats in four games. The offense failed time after time, while the defense was shoddy at best. TCU and Arkansas State both looked like they wanted it more. They looked more motivated.

Ole Miss will be the more talented team nearly every time it steps on the field this season, but it will also have a boulder-sized bulls eye on its back as well. That is a given for any SEC power, nevertheless one as highly regarded by the pollsters. Taking the field at a high, consistent level is necessary. It is imperative if all regular season goals are to be reached.

The Rebels are 10-3, and no, the sky is not falling. However, the current week is a pivotal one in my opinion. Adversity doesn't appear in 22-5 landslides, but it shows up in bulk after a team struggles repeatedly for the first time in a season. Losing a few games in baseball isn't a concern, but it is important to snap out of the funk as quickly as possible.

Western Kentucky is 6-4 on the season and enters Oxford having lost three of its last four contests. The Rebels know the Hilltoppers can't match their talent, but Western Kentucky will show up to play with the same force as the last two Ole Miss opponents. It is a statement game for the mid-level Sunbelt club.

Meanwhile, Ole Miss has to avoid seeing the midweek tilt as a Mississippi State tune-up. A team can't be overly juiced every time out over a 56-game schedule, but it can play focused, fundamental baseball on a daily basis for nine innings. Four errors in any game are unacceptable for this group, even once. The mental lapses during the past four games are the disturbing signs. Pitching and hitting will struggle at times. That is the nature of the game. But playing with composure and a sense of calm needs to improve.

Getting knocked to the ground can be a positive happening, but Ole Miss needs to get up immediately. A 4-1 or better week would cure the Rebel ailments, while anything less than 3-2 with a pair of weekend victories will keep the slide from ceasing.

Expectations and predictions are nasty things during times of difficulty. Finding problems with a top-five national team is a good dilemma to have, but Ole Miss needs to right the ship quickly and having to enter conference play on the field of the in-state rival is a tough task no matter what the records are.

To gain a national seed, the Rebels need to run their record up against the nonconference foes. That's what makes the Western Kentucky games important. Also, a couple solid wins will have spirits back high entering Starkville for the weekend. The importance of the series with the Bulldogs doesn't need to be discussed. It's a given.

Fast SEC starts make situations less stressful later on. The three against State count just as much as the three will in Lexington to end the regular season. The current woes don't mean much in the big picture, but having them snowball into a skid spanning more than one week can causer larger problems.

The Rebels have to avoid the 2006 team's fate of looking up and seeing an SEC record of 1-5 after two series. That group dug out of the hole, but it is asking a lot to do that regularly. Conference play isn't the time to fight lengthy slumps.

Instead, Ole Miss can top the Hilltoppers once today, once tomorrow and be geared for the SEC's opening weekend against a vulnerable Bulldog club that was just swept by Baylor in Starkville. Putting past losses behind and forgotten is an overused cliché, but the Rebels need a clear head right now. A hot start and a few crooked scoreboard numbers would accomplish that.

Nothing is lost, and fundamental baseball will smooth out the current situation. Playing with intensity and focus is the Rebels' ticket.

After that, the abundance of talent can take over.

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