Baseball In The Bluegrass

How good are the Rebels? That might be the most asked question of all as Ole Miss starts defense of its Southeastern Conference baseball title in Lexington, Ky. this weekend. The Rebels and Kentucky play three games.

Ole Miss, last year sharing the SEC title with national champion LSU at 20-10 in league play, and Kentucky are both ranked among the nation's top 20 currently, with the Wildcats coming in at the 20th spot this weekend and the Rebels 19th.

Ole Miss moved to 13-4 on the season with a midweek win, a 17-1 romp of Arkansas-Pine Bluff. But how good is Ole Miss?

The Rebels' Drew Pomeranz is arguably as good a Friday night starter as there is in the country. Aaron Barrett, the Saturday starter, has proven to be the pitcher many thought he could be last season.

The Sunday starter will again be Matt Tracy, who got his first weekend start as a Rebel in a 10-8 UM loss to Louisville five days ago. Prior to that he had two solid midweek starts, and Ole Miss won both games.

Kentucky is 14-3 this year and beat Wright State, 11-1, Wednesday night in its most recent outing. Ole Miss appears to have already answered some questions for UK head coach Gary Henderson.

"Ole Miss is going to have one of the best starting pitchers in the country (Drew Pomeranz), and one of the best pitching staffs in the conference," Henderson said. "They will be extremely tough. They are going to bring a lot of returning position players to Lexington, a group with experience. They are going to have tremendous depth in the pitching staff and they have high-end pitching."

Gametimes for the series are 5:30 P.M. CDT for game one, while the Saturday and Sunday games are at Noon CDT.

Friday's contest will showcase one of the marquee pitching matchups in college baseball.

UK will send junior LHP Logan Darnell (3-0, 2.17 ERA) to the mound to face off with Pomeranz (2-0, 1.54 ERA). Darnell leads the SEC with 29 innings pitched, striking out 23 and allowing 27 hits and a .248 opponent average. Pomeranz, an All-American lefty, has struck out 40 in 23.1 innings, allowing only 17 hits and a .198 opponent average.

Last Friday, Darnell went eight innings against IPFW, allowing just one run. Pomeranz hurled 6.1 innings against Louisville last week, striking out 12 and walking three, allowing just three hits and one run.

On Saturday the Cats will turn to freshman southpaw Taylor Rogers (3-0, 4.30 ERA) for his first career SEC start. Ole Miss goes with Barrett (4-0, 1.80 ERA).

Rogers, who was named SEC Freshman of the Week after his first career start, has tossed 23 innings, allowing 26 hits, walking just six and striking out 14. Of his four starts, three have been quality starts, including hurling seven shutout innings in his last start Saturday against IPFW.

Barrett has totaled impressive numbers for the Rebels through four starts, winning each game and striking out 30 in 25 innings, allowing only 15 hits and a .190 opponent average. In his Saturday start against Louisville, an 8-3 Ole Miss victory, Barrett went 6.2 innings, allowing three runs, four walks and striking out nine.

On Sunday the Wildcats will turn to sophomore right-hander Alex Meyer (3-2, 7.29 ERA), who leads the team with 26 strikeouts in his 23 innings. Meyer, a 6-foot-9, 220-pounder, has started four games and appeared in five games overall. In his last start, Meyer hurled five innings and allowing one run against IPFW. Ole Miss will counter with the junior LHP Tracy (1-1, 3.38 ERA), who has started three games and appeared in five, tossing 21.1 innings and striking out 19. Sunday against UL, Tracy went 4.2 innings, allowing 10 hits and seven runs.

The Wildcats have been led offensively by senior centerfielder Keenan Wiley, who paces the team with a .390 (23-for-59) average, adding two homers and 14 RBI, drawing six walks and striking out just three times. Preseason All-American second baseman Chris Bisson has hit .381 (16-for-42) with two homers and 11 RBI, returning this week after missing the previous five games due to injury.

Senior Gunner Glad has hit .357 (22-for-59) with four doubles, two homers and 15 RBI, while sophomore Chad Wright leads the team with 16 RBI, adding a .357 (25-for-70) average with two doubles, a triple and two homers. Sophomore Braden Kapteyn leads the team with six doubles, hitting .321 (17-for-53) with a homer and eight RBI, while sophomore Cory Farris has hit three homers and added 10 RBI in nine games. Andy Burns leads the team in homers, hitting four and adding 10 RBI.

Ole Miss has several players boasting hit streaks currently, but none longer than junior Tim Ferguson. Ferguson has hit safely in seven straight games and is two games away from tying his season-long of nine he set in opening the season. Ferguson saw his 10 game hit streak (dating back to 2009 - nine games in 2010) snapped in the Saturday game at Tulane.

Also holding hit streaks heading into the weekend are Matt Smith (6), Miles Hamblin (5), Tanner Mathis (3), David Phillips (3) and Taylor Hightower (2). Other players on the roster who hit safely in their last game played include Taylor Hashman, Jordan King, Kevin Mort, Matt Tracy and Alex Yarbrough.

It's never fair to answer a question as important as how good a team is when only three games of 30 will have been played come Sunday night.

But the road to another SEC title will have begun, and we'll know a little more about the Rebels by then. And the table will be set for two home weekends to follow - with Florida and Tennessee.

At that point, after those nine league contests, we'll know a good bit more about this Ole Miss baseball team, nearly a third of the way home in the SEC season. For starters, it's all about Kentucky this weekend. So stay tuned.

OM Spirit Top Stories