The first 29 games of the SEC schedule have yet to settle the conference tournament race, and the reeling Rebels have their destiny in their own hands. If that fails, then Ole Miss' in-state rival can punch the Rebels' ticket as well.
The situation entering Saturday is extremely simple: win and you are in. Due to Mississippi State taking the first two contests over Arkansas, Ole Miss' inability to overcome Kentucky hasn't ended the Rebels' tournament hopes. On the final day of the regular season, Ole Miss winning or Arkansas losing will clinch a Hoover, Ala., berth.
While either scenario will have Ole Miss playing across the state line next week, avoiding the sweep Saturday is crucial for NCAA Tournament hopes. The SEC is the fourth-best league according to conference RPI, so finishing below .500 will be a negative mark.
The Rebels have dropped three of their last four SEC outings, and the strain of an inconsistent season appears to be taking its toll with Ole Miss having been outscored 21-4 during the first two games in Lexington.
"The entire second half of the season has been draining," Mike Bianco said Friday night. "It is like we are struggling in the deep end and can't seem to get to the side of the pool."
The 56-game overall schedule and 30-contest SEC gauntlet is grinding for every team, but Friday night and Saturday will be a true mental test for the Rebels. Ole Miss is currently sitting in eighth place, a half-game ahead of Arkansas with one to play.
Putting together nine solid innings and earning a win over the Wildcats will cure the current skid and in part stabilize the Rebels for a possible postseason run. However if Saturday goes the way the first 18 innings have, then Ole Miss needs to keep both eyes on the scoreboard. Maybe Ron Polk will deliver the Rebels a present in his final game as Bulldog head coach.
"Tomorrow is a must win," Logan Power said. "We know what we have to do, and it is just a matter of going out and doing it."
The following is Friday night's recap courtesy of Bill Bunting, Associate Media Relations Director for Ole Miss.
The Wildcats scored early, using a Rebel miscues to get on the board early before breaking the game
open with a five run fourth inning as Ole Miss (33-22, 14-15
SEC) fell to No. 20 Kentucky (41-14, 16-13 SEC) by a score
of 9-0 on Friday.
The loss gave the Wildcats the weekend series as Kentucky
also claimed the first game of the series, 12-4, Thursday.
Drew Pomeranz (4-3) suffered the loss for the Rebels as he
allowed six runs on seven hits with two walks and five
strikeouts in 3.1 innings of work. Only five of the six runs
James Paxton (4-2) picked up the win for the Wildcats as he
turned in a complete game shutout, allowing only seven hits
and struck out six. Paxton did not walk a batter.
"It wasn't one hit or one pitch or one play," said Ole
Miss head coach Mike Bianco. "Collectively, we didn't
give ourselves a chance. Kentucky is playing well and with
confidence. We opened the door for them and they were able
to put the innings together. Paxton just blew the ball by
Kentucky struck first, pushing a run across in the second
inning as the Wildcats capitalized on Rebel miscues to take
the early lead. Chris McClendon singled through the right
side before moving to third on a sac bunt attempt from Chris Wade that saw a throwing error from Basham allow Wade to
reach safely and McClendon to move from first to third.
McClendon then scored on a groundout to first from Tyler
Howe that moved Wade to second. Pomeranz bore down, notching
a strikeout and a flyout from there to get the Rebels out of
the inning with no further damage.
Sawyer Carroll opened the third inning with a solo shot to
left field the pushed Kentucky out to a 2-0 lead.
The Wildcat lead moved out to a 3-0 in the fourth when
Keenan Wiley singled to the wall in right field with two men
on. Troy Frazier moved to second on the play while Howe
scored from second as he slid under the play at the plate
off the relay throw. A walk of the next batter loaded the
bases with one out for Sawyer Carroll as the Rebels went to
the bullpen for Jake Morgan.
Morgan then walked Carroll before a sac fly to center field
from Cowgill pushed the lead out to 5-0. Brian Spear then
came up with a two-RBI single to right center to move the
Wildcats out to a 7-0 lead on the Rebels. Morgan then struck
out McClendon to get the Rebels out of the inning.
Kentucky added to the lead in the eighth capitalizing on a
pair of walks, a throwing error and a double to push two
more runs across and give the Wildcats a 9-0 lead.
Ole Miss and Kentucky will conclude the series on Saturday
as the Rebels and Wildcats will take the field for a 12
p.m. CDT first pitch at Cliff Hagan Stadium.
With One to Play...
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