When Will It Turn Again?

Things can slip a little before you even know it. Sometimes you can see what's happening but not actually realize it until later.

Ole Miss was rocking along 21-6 and highly ranked last Friday night after a 7-3 win against Tennessee. Now three losses later and some are scratching their heads. Others are downright disgusted.

So let's look back a bit. Just to the Florida weekend a week and a half ago is far enough. Ole Miss won the first two games behind starters Drew Pomeranz and Aaron Barrett. Then the Rebels had one of their all-too-common Sunday showings in a 13-1 loss to the Gators.

They went to Pearl that Tuesday and beat an average Mississippi State team, 5-3. The Bulldogs had four errors to none for the Rebels or Ole Miss might have been on the losing end of the Governor's Cup. The Bulldogs had a chance late, too. But Brett Huber pitched the eighth and Matt Tracy the ninth and the Rebs held on.

Then after the win against UT in the series opener, Barrett's first loss of the year put the Rebels in a bit of a spin because of their lack of Sunday success. But maybe this would be the finale to turn things. And David Goforth was trying his hand at starting. He did OK, too.

Aaron Barrett

But it was relief pitching, or the lack thereof, Sunday that cost the Rebels, leading 6-4 after seven. UT scored six runs in the last two innings as Ole Miss pitching broke down in a 10-6 loss.

Then Wednesday night in their only midweek game this week, the Rebels had allowed just two runs with starter Matt Crouse. But Trent Rothlin, Eric Callender, and Huber gave up seven runs in the last three innings. To UALR, a team with 13 losses.

Ole Miss, all of a sudden 21-9 and only 5-4 in the SEC, has to have those guys pitch well - Rothlin, Callender, Huber, Crouse, Rory McKean. Those guys must come through.

But nobody is right now, at least not on a consistent basis. Mike Bianco said the entire team is lacking some confidence now. Rightfully so.

And it mainly appears to be in the two areas his program has been so strong in over the decade. There have been some great hitting players and teams come through the program. But it's been pitching and defense that have carried them to heights not seen here on a consistent basis since the 1960s when seasons were more like 30-something games and probably a third of the baseball team played football as well.

This is a proud program Bianco and company have built with pitching and defense. Right now it is lacking in both departments.

The Rebels had three errors against UALR. Two of them were by young Alex Yarbrough, the sensational freshman who has been so solid in all areas this early season. Until lately. Now it appears to be a mental thing with the rookie. Everybody knows he can play.

Mike Bianco

But when things get a little shaky and you start to think a little out there instead of just play the game, well, doubt and mistakes creep in.

I just don't think it's an offensive problem. Sure there are games when the Rebels don't hit as well, or hit them right to them. But 14 hits in a 10-6 loss to UT Sunday and 12 hits in a 9-6 loss to UALR Wednesday. I say look beyond the offense. That's not the problem.

And a couple of notables here, one prior and one current. Boy, does this team miss Jake Morgan. You've gotta believe they'd have another win or two with their closer. It's next year for Jake, however, recovering now from Tommy John surgery back in the fall.

And hopefully Huber is 100 percent in Athens. He took a shot off the bat of a Trojan hitter Wednesday night, and the ball hit his foot. There was some swelling after the game, and how effective he can be against Georgia remains to be seen.

This is my 20th consecutive Ole Miss baseball team to cover. Ten pre-Bianco and 10 with Bianco. I've seen a lot of teams go through slumps or spells or down spirals, only to pick themselves back up and head in the right direction again. Most Bianco teams have done that.

After watching this team be so successful in February and March, despite the Sunday misery they've been through, I'm not ready to conclude that this is a team that can't compete for an SEC title the rest of the way. Or that this is a team that doesn't have a terrific shot to host or be one of those memorable teams like most of the ones this decade.

I still believe this team has what it takes to right the ship again. But a few of those arms must do better than we've seen recently, especially in the late innings, or the Rebs will be in trouble most games.

Bianco said Wednesday night after the game, "It's in us." I agree with him. Now it's up to him and his coaches to get it out of them.

Tim Ferguson

If they haven't in the next two to three weeks, if the pitching hasn't shown improvement, and if the defense continues to be less than stellar, then maybe this isn't going to be as special a team as once thought.

Because what will likely happen is that the offense will also begin to falter as it tries to make up for a lack of productivity in the other two areas.

Bianco, after the UALR game, had these things to say:

"We're just not playing with a lot of confidence. It's amazing that can happen so quickly. The game can make you very fragile. We've gotta get some confidence back. At some point, one of the phases has got to do that for you. You want all three of them. But right now, we'll take one."

So to Athens, Ga., they head Thursday for three games this weekend. At first glance it would appear, along with a trip to South Carolina next weekend, to be a difficult assignment. But in 2006, the Rebels went to Athens 1-5 in SEC play and swept the Bulldogs to get back in it. Ole Miss won the SEC tourney in late May that season and hosted a Regional and Super Regional.

Anything can happen in baseball, at home or away. Maybe things will turn in Athens again.

"I don't necessarily think it's the road or home," Bianco said. "It's where we are right now. We've stumbled a little bit, and we've got to get some confidence back and play better. Nobody knows when it will turn around. Nobody knows the swing of the bat, the inning, the game. You have to go out there and put it together."

Which they will try to do again Friday night and throughout another important SEC weekend.

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