Diamond in Pearl

The day after the first baseball series of the Southeastern Conference season, Ole Miss head coach Mike Bianco was already looking ahead. Five games in the next six days will make you do that.

The Rebels (15-5) play Southern Mississippi (13-5) in Pearl tonight, and then host the Saint Louis Billikens Wednesday night in Oxford. SLU is 11-9 and will play at Southeast Missouri State Tuesday on its way to Mississippi.

Then it's SEC weekend round two as the Rebels host the Florida Gators, who are 3-0 in the league after sweeping Mississippi State in Gainesville over the weekend and are currently 16-3 overall.

Ole Miss couldn't complete its sweep of the Kentucky Wildcats and fell 12-3 Sunday. Bianco said winning two is always good, but when you don't win the last one after things stand 2-0, it's difficult to take.

"It's tough when you lose that final game of a series," he said. "You get a chance to sweep on the road and don't do it. It was just not a good mix Sunday. We weren't good enough on the mound, in the field, or at the plate."

Bianco was pleased with the first two games, 9-0 and 7-6 wins by his ballclub.

"We played well those first two days," he said. "The game Saturday got a lot closer than it should have. But we were able to win the first two and have a good start."

Then came Sunday. Matt Tracy gave up a three-run homer in the first and pitched fairly well after that. David Goforth struggled for the second straight day. Bianco said both pitchers are better than they showed in the bluegrass.

"What David is going through is a combination of things," he said. "One, he has to make better pitches. Two, he's had some bad fortune. Nobody gets hit like that. In batting practice they don't hit a pitcher like that."

Bianco took some blame for Goforth's lack of effectiveness so far.

"I'm a little mad at myself that I haven't used him more this season," he said. "As a closer, to have only nine innings through five weeks isn't enough. I've probably held him back too much. I could have run him out there more. That would have helped him with his confidence and in other areas, just becoming comfortable out there."

Bianco said Goforth is handling things as best he can given the fact that he's been hit pretty hard in recent outings.

"Mentally, he's pretty good right now," he said. "It's like a quarterback who goes out there and throws interceptions. It's tough at times. But David is handling it because he has a good perspective and maturity to understand the situation. He's talented and he'll get through it. For us to be successful, we need him to do well."

Bianco plans to send Goforth to the mound again vs. either USM or Saint Louis this midweek.

Starting for Ole Miss tonight in Pearl will be sophomore LHP Matt Crouse (2-0, 2.00 ERA). Getting the nod Wednesday against the Billikens is senior RHP Rory McKean (2-1, 4.97).

As for Tracy and his second weekend Sunday start, Bianco said he settled down after a rocky early opening.

"After he gave up a three-run home run in the first, he pitched OK," he said. "He did a nice job, and then in the fifth I made the decision to pull him."

But he isn't ready to make the decision to start him again for a third Sunday. He could end up being the guy in the finale against Florida. But with five games this week, Bianco will wait to make that call.

Drew Pomeranz and Aaron Barrett are obviously set for the first two games of the series.

Bianco was exceptionally pleased with reliever Brett Huber, who stepped up big Saturday and closed the door in the ninth to preserve victory after Goforth struggled.

"Huber did a terrific job," said Bianco of the redshirt freshman right-hander. "We were clinging to a one-run lead, and in comes a freshman onto the big stage of the SEC road. He faced four batters, got a couple of strikeouts and a pop up to end it and we win. It was pressure-packed and he handled it very well."

Bianco said Matt Smith, who didn't play at all at UK with a hamstring injury, could be available to play against Florida this weekend. It's a wait and see situation.

He also said Mike Snyder is 100 percent, and that Matt Snyder is still rehabbing his injured shoulder suffered on Friday night at Tulane on March 5. The latter Snyder can swing the bat but not field the baseball yet.

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