Road Wrapup

Ole Miss and Arkansas begin an important series tonight at 6:30 in Fayetteville. It seems it always comes down to the last weekend for something.

Coach Mike Bianco has always said when he was playing and coaching at LSU and they were winning national championships, the SEC race was never decided until the last weekend of the regular season. In other words, teams rarely pull away from the pack.

LSU is leading again this time around, but it's lead is ever so thin. A half game, as a matter of fact, and Alabama is nipping at the Tigers' heels. LSU is 18-9 in conference play and Alabama, with a rainout, is 17-9.

LSU is at Mississippi State this weekend, while Alabama is at Auburn.

Ole Miss and Florida are tied at 17-10. The Gators host Kentucky this weekend.

The Rebels can still reach all their goals, although their destiny isn't only in their hands. They can win all three and still not be champions. Mississippi State, Auburn and Kentucky need to pitch in to help the cause.

Arkansas is 32-17 overall and 14-12 in SEC play, currently in sixth place. Georgia at 15-12 in the league is just ahead of the Hogs.

Arkansas enters the weekend coming off a Tuesday night win over Oral Roberts 3-2 in a ninth-inning rally which followed a sweep at the hands of Alabama the previous weekend. Hitting .270 as a squad, Arkansas is led by Chase Leavitt at the plate with a .314 average, while Andy Wilkins holds a team-high 15 home runs and 37 RBI. As a pitching staff, Arkansas holds a 4.36 ERA and are led by Dallas Kuechel with a 7-2 record and a 3.99 ERA. He has 51 strikeouts and 16 walks.

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Rebel senior pitcher Scott Bittle not making the trip to Arkansas is certainly a disappointment for the Rebels and for Bittle himself. He hasn't thrown since the last Sunday in April when collectively Georgia hitters said he was the best they'd faced.

Then came Auburn the first Sunday in May, and Bittle experienced some soreness in his arm warming up. He didn't pitch then nor against Mississippi State. After experiencing some stiffness in a bullpen session Tuesday, it was decided he would not travel to Fayetteville.

PROBABLE PITCHING MATCH-UPS:

THURSDAY, 6:35 P.M.

ARK - Dallas Kuechel, Jr., LHP (3.99, 7-2)

OM - Drew Pomeranz, Soph., LHP (3.58, 5-3)

NOTING POMERANZ: Sophomore southpaw Drew Pomeranz makes his first trip to Fayetteville with the Rebels and will take the mound for the opening game. Pomeranz leads the Rebels in strikeouts with 72 on the year and has walked only 26 batters on the year. Opponents are hitting .247 against Pomeranz in 2009 as he has been the Rebels' Friday night starter this season. Pomeranz drew the start against the Razorbacks last season in the first game of a doubleheader as he worked 5.0 innings but took the loss.

FRIDAY, 6:35 P.M.

ARK - Brett Eibner, Soph., RHP (4.25, 4-4)

OM - Brett Bukvich, Sr., LHP (4.31, 8-2)

NOTING BUKVICH: Bukvich will make his third SEC start and a weekend start for the second straight week when he takes the mound on Friday. In his last start in Fayetteville in 2007, Bukvich handcuffed the Razorbacks as he worked 7.0 innings and held Arkansas scoreless on two hits with five strikeouts in the regular season finale. This season, Bukvich has struck out 54 and walked only 13 and has combined for two shutouts in starts in 2009. He also leads the team in wins with an 8-2 record on the year.

SATURDAY, 2:05 P.M.

ARK - Justin Wells, Sr., RHP (3.43, 2-0)

OM - Phillip Irwin, Jr., RHP (3.76, 6-3)

NOTING IRWIN: Irwin takes the mound against Arkansas in the regular season finale coming off a strong outing against Mississippi State last weekend. The junior struck out a career-high 10 batters and pitched 6.1 scoreless innings and held the Bulldogs to four hits while only walking two. Irwin has pitched a team-leading 67.0 innings this season and has struck out 54 and walked only 16 on the season while posting a 6-3 record.

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Rebel leadoff batter Jordan Henry is currently tied for the single season base stealing mark at 31. He shares that record with David Dellucci (1995) and Charlie Williams (1966).

Henry is likely to break the tie tonight.

"It just kinda happened. I didn't even know it," Henry said of the record as he approached it. "Before the season I wanted to steal more and be more aggressive. Even Coach (Bianco) told me to do that.

Dellucci had 62 games in 1995 to steal 31 bases. Williams had only 31 games in 1966 to steal 31. Henry, with 31 in 52 games so far, said he and Dellucci had a few more contests to get there.

"In 31 games? That's impressive," Henry said of Williams' mark. "It's pretty awesome to have the chance to break it."

Henry said being aggressive on the base paths has been a part of the Rebels' plan all season.

"Not just stealing but even things like going first to third," he said. "It's big for us to make some things happen on the bases. As a team we don't have a ton of home runs. We're not the most powerful team. But we try to run the bases well, hit doubles, and take the extra base when possible. I think that's helped us a lot this year."

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UM first baseman Matt Smith said he believes the team will be loose and ready to play this weekend. He admits they might not have totally been that way last weekend.

"I felt we weren't ourselves," he said of the MSU series that was costly to the Rebels' cause. "I couldn't put a finger on what it was. I talked to a couple of guys in the dugout and I told them something doesn't feel right. This is not us. We just couldn't figure it out."

For some reason, or reasons, the Rebels got away from what had gotten them to a national ranking of seventh and into a first-place tie in the league standings. State took two of three and Ole Miss was left to ask what happened.

"We tried hard but didn't do what we had done, taking it pitch by pitch, relaxing and just playing baseball," Smith said. "We just got away from things a little bit."

But tonight continues the opportunity to make something special of this season. This time of year, with no school going on, it's all baseball all the time for college players.

"It's a different routine," Smith said. "You can get more sleep. The practice schedule is at different times. There is nothing weighing on you. You just play baseball."

*** Ole Miss and Arkansas athletics media relations contributed to this story.


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