The Second Half Begins

Two teams meet in Gainesville this weekend to break their current tie in the SEC standings as the second half of the league season begins.

Ole Miss and Florida, each with 9-6 conference marks, play three games beginning at 5:30 p.m. CT today, followed by a 3 p.m. CT contest Saturday and an 11:30 a.m. CT game Sunday,

Ole Miss is ranked 16th this week, while Florida is ranked 20th.

The Gators enter the weekend series with an overall record of 25-12 and are coming off a pair of mid-week wins over Florida State (10-2) and a win over Stetson (15-4). They are batting .306 as a team and are led at the plate by Preston Tucker with a .357 average, a team-leading eight home runs and 49 RBI. The Gators are 37-for-62 in steals this season.

As a pitching staff, Florida holds a team ERA of 3.66 and has struck out 233 batters while walking 105 on the year. Friday night starter Jeff Barfield holds a 2-0 record on the season and a 2.78 ERA. The junior right-hander has struck out 30 batters this season and walked only eight batters while allowing 11 earned runs on 34 hits. In his last outing, Barfield retired the first 10 Auburn hitters he faced before a tornado warning interrupted his start and the game was suspended. He is tied for the team lead with 30 strikeouts in 35.2 innings and has limited foes to a .248 batting average.

Drew Pomeranz will take the mound tonight in his eighth appearance of the season - all of them starts - as he has anchored the weekend rotation this season. In games started by Pomeranz, the Rebels have posted a 6-1 mark despite the sophomore holding a 3-1 record himself. To date, Pomeranz has struck out 34 and walked 17 while allowing 15 earned runs on 34 hits. Opponents are hitting at a .260 clip against the left-hander.

Saturday's contest will feature Gator senior lefty Stephen Locke (Tampa, Fla.) (1-0, 2.60) versus UM right-hander Phillip Irwin (5-2, 3.44). Locke notched his first victory of the campaign last Saturday with a gutsy eight-inning effort that evened the series on the Plains. Over 17.1 innings, the lefty has 14 strikeouts and permitted three walks.

Irwin is coming off only his second loss of the season and will take the mound for Ole Miss on Saturday. The junior leads the team in innings pitched with 49.2 innings of work and has struck out 34 and allowed only eight walks in that time. He is holding foes to a .266 batting average against and yielded only 19 earned runs in his time on the mound.

Scott Bittle makes his fourth start of the season against the Gators Sunday after posting back-to-back wins the last two outings. Bittle pitched a complete-game shutout of Kentucky two weeks ago before picking up the win against South Carolina on Sunday. In that game, Bittle pitched 5.0 scoreless before giving up a solo home run to DeAngelo Mack that snapped a scoreless streak of 21.1 IP for Bittle. The senior is holding hitters to a .159 batting average and leads the team with 49 strikeouts in 32.2 innings of work.

The Gators' current 14-game home winning streak is their longest since taking 14 straight decisions from Feb. 21-March 14, 2004. UF claimed its first five outings at McKethan Stadium this season before being swept by No. 10 Miami (Fla.) between Feb. 27-March 1 and falling short in a mid-week matchup with Florida Atlantic on March 4. The Orange and Blue is 19-4 (.826) at home and 6-8 (.429) on the road.

The Gators and Rebels have not met in Gainesville since Ole Miss posted a weekend sweep from May 14-16, 2004 (4-2, 3-1, 10-9).

Ole Miss holds the lead in the all-time series against the Gators by two games 39-37. The two teams first played in 1948 with the Rebels claiming the three-game series 2-1 in Oxford.

The Rebels have experienced success against the Gators under head coach Mike Bianco as Ole Miss leads the series 15-7 in the Bianco era. Of the six series the two teams have played in the last eight seasons, Ole Miss has claimed four of them - posting sweeps in 2001, 2003 and 2004. Ole Miss won the 2005 series 2-1. Florida swept the 2002 series and claimed the 2008 series 2-1 in Oxford.

*** UM and UF athletics media relations contributed to this story.


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