PREVIEW: Back in Mississippi

After taking two of three at Mississippi State two weekends ago, South Carolina is back in the state to try to win another series this weekend. Look inside as Gamecock Anthem baseball analyst John Klauber has the most in-depth breakdown of this Mississippi team that you'll find anywhere.

Ole Miss Rebels

Record: 25-20; Home: 18-7; Away: 7-11; Neutral: 0-2; SEC: 9-12
Stadium: Swayze Field (capacity: 10,323);
Dimensions: L-330; C-390; R-320; A-360.


Our series with the Ole Miss Rebels starts on a serious note, as they will use this series to honor our armed forces with Military Appreciation Weekend. Ole Miss will wear camouflage baseball caps with the M on the front, replacing their traditional blue caps. All military personnel with a military ID will be admitted at no charge for the weekend series.

Ole Miss Classes will end on Friday, May 6th; the start of our series. Their exams are from May 9th-13th. There should be a good crowd each day on hand for this series. Ole Miss averages about +8,100 fans per game; this series should be close to the 10k capacity with Swayze Field holds.

After being swept in Gainesville by Florida last weekend, I am sure Ole Miss would love nothing better than to hit a .500 conference winning percentage at the end of this weekend and take the lead in the SECw. Arkansas faces Florida in Gainesville while Alabama faces LSU in Tuscaloosa. Both teams are tied (10-11) for the lead in the SECw, with Ole Miss (9-12) in the mix, just below them… one game out. There is a lot of rebel pride with this baseball team and since joining the SEC, our record against them at Swayze has been 12-9 (57% W.P.) We should have our work cut out for us, as the natives are restless. Saturday's game is televised on SportSouth (3pm ET).

Ole Miss team batting is middle of the pack (9th overall at .279) in overall team batting statistics, while Carolina continues to ride a sub .300 batting average (.294); we are currently in 4th place. However, Ole Miss leads Carolina in team batting average when playing against SEC opponents; they are in forth place (.281 average) and the Gamecocks are in fifth (.276) against SEC competition.

Ole Miss has solid hitting production (1-4 = .322BA) from the 1-4 hitting positions and it is this order that remains "stable" (without personnel changes). Carolina has even better production from 1-4 (1-4 = .328BA) and is stable as well. As of today, Christian Walker (62 hits) and Tanner Mathis (61 hits) stand 2 and 3 (respectively), behind Vandy's Anthony Gomez (68), in total hits.

Both teams have their problems from the 5-9 batting order… Ole Miss attempts to get the best bats they have available and will switch out or rotate players in CF/LF, Catcher, DH and first base positions to get that production. Lead off man, Tanner Mathis, actually plays two positions (CF/LF) and will start at center field. He will rotate to left field when Jordan King is inserted into the line- up, but King is hitting .167 and I don't see them turning to him in this series, as they didn't against Florida last weekend.

They will rotate catchers (Miles Hamblin [.250BA], Taylor Hightower [.275]), either can be used against lefty pitchers as Hamblin bats left and Hightower is a switch hitter. Preston Overbey (R/R, .237BA) and Dustin Anderson (L/R,.222BA) can be switched at third base and can provide versatility at the plate. Will Allen (R/R, .245BA) and Miles Hamblin (L/R, .250BA) can be switched at first base.

Unlike Carolina, their position changes can occur on a short-term needs basis, usually at the plate and around the fourth-fifth inning. Carolina's changes have been due to long term needs primarily from injuries, which gives our guys and interesting take on the matter. Those that we insert (Robert Beary, DeSean Anderson, Stephen Neff) are very motivated to keep the offensive production positive and in the black… they have done the best that they can, given the circumstances of our team and injuries. We are treading water in that respect and have done well considering the odds of losing our entire outfield to injuries.

Sometimes I think a team and its coaching staff can read more into numbers and less into gut feel about a player, and (in my opinion) this is what separates our coaching staff from others. Player ability has a lot to do with it; they good ones never say die and take advantage of an opportunity. Coach Tanner and crew get the most out of our guys because the lessons never end. This is a series where coaching will make a difference and I'll pick Coach Tanner and his staff over any other coach and staff, given his knowledge of his players.

You can be assured of one thing. This weekend our 1-4 has to set the stage and set it early against Ole Miss pitching because Ole Miss will falter if they get behind. They are 2-16 when trailing after six innings; they are very good if leading after six at 20-2. We will have to rely on our front four to continue to produce in what could be a difficult atmosphere in Oxford this weekend.

Here are Ole Miss hitters and their stats leading into our weekend series, with their usual line-up (based on the past four weekend series with SEC teams), 1-9 (top to bottom). As stated, changes will be made as needed by Coach Bianco.

12, Tanner Mathis CF (L/L, So.); .348BA, 184AB, 32r, 64h, 26RBI, 13w, 8k (.400 obp).

6, Blake Newalu SS (R/R, Jr.); .303BA, 145AB, 30r, 44h, 1HR, 7RBI, 11w, 23k (.376 obp).

2, Alex Yarbrough 2B (S/R, So.); .331BA, 175AB, 36r, 58h, 5HR, 29RBI, 16w, 24k (.389 obp).

16 Matt Smith RF/1B (R/R, Sr.); .305BA, 141AB, 28r, 43h, 7HR, 27RBI, 28w, 29k (.429 obp).

29, Matt Tracy LF (L/L, Sr.); .292BA, 137AB, 20r, 40h, 4HR, 30RBI, 9w, 27k (.333 obp).

33, Matt Snyder DH (L/R, Jr.); .278BA, 144AB, 18r, 40h, 5HR, 30RBI, 20w, 38k (.388 obp).

1, Preston Overbey 3B (R/R, Fr.); .242BA, 157AB, 16r, 38h, 3HR, 20RBI, 9w, 36k (.284 obp).

30, Will Allen 1B (R/R, Fr.); .259BA, 58AB, 7r, 15h, 2HR, 4RBI, 2w, 21k (.283 obp).

13, Taylor Hightower C (S/R, Jr.); .275BA, 69AB, 13r, 19h, 11RBI, 8w, 17k (.375 obp).

21, Miles Hamblin C (L/R, Sr.); 248BA, 129AB, 23r, 32h, 4HR, 19RBI, 19w, 26k (.358 obp).

10, Jordan King CF (R/R, Sr.); .163BA, 49AB, 9r, 8h, 4RBI, 6w, 13k (.268 obp).

8, Austin Anderson 3B (L/R, Fr.); .224BA, 49AB, 5r, 11h, 1HR, 4RBI, 4w, 11k (.296 obp).

17, Jordan Poole RF (R/R, Fr.); .174BA, 23AB, 3r, 4h, 1HR, 2RBI, 3w, 14k (.269 obp).

Totals:

Ole Miss (team) Batting Average: .281
Opponent (team) Batting Average: .278
Ole Miss (team) On Base Percentage: .357
Opponent (team) On Base Percentage: .345

Ole Miss pitching is currently eighth among other SEC teams with a 5.57 team ERA against SEC opponents. South Carolina currently ranks #1 in conference play with a team ERA of 2.06, the best among all SEC teams. Ole Miss team fielding ranks 10th among SEC teams (conference play only) with a .963 team fielding average, whereas Carolina is the #1 fielding team at .981. John Taylor (.82 ERA) and Michael Roth (1.24 ERA) lead the conference (first and second, respectively) in individual pitching.

Ole Miss Friday starter, Matt Crouse (LHP, Jr.) got his start at Young Harris Comm. College, where he pitched one year under Coach Rick Robinson, then transferred to Ole Miss as a Freshman. Crouse throws a fastball in the low-90's and possesses a good breaking ball and a great change-up. His WHIP (Walks plus Hits per Innings Pitched= represents the average number of base runners a pitcher allows per inning), is 1.15, which is good (1.0 or less is outstanding).

Crouse started as a reliever for Ole Miss on last year's team and went through the positive progression of weekday starter (midseason in a loss against Memphis) in 2010 to weekend starter in 2011. It is obvious that his progression was very good as he has been tabbed to fill Drew Pomerantz's spot for this year and is currently 6-3 (4.47 ERA against SEC opponents). We need to hit him early and often this Friday night.

David Goforth, typically tabbed as Ole Miss Saturday starter, will provide good entertainment for the TV audiences this Saturday. Goforth's forte is the fastball. He throws a lot of them. He will start a pitch count against an opposing batter by starting with a fastball. Keep this in the back of your mind as you watch him this Saturday. His fastball hits the mid-90's. He will use a slider with his fastball and occasionally mixes in his change-up; the sequence of pitches he will use… Fastball/slider/change-up came to him as a reliever for Ole miss last year. The pitches were good enough for him to move into a Sunday starter (against Tennessee and UGa) early in their 2010 season over current teammate Matt Tracey (LHP, Sr.). He picked up his first conference win against Carolina in 2010 with a 5-4 win in Columbia over Carolina starter Jay Brown.

Ole Miss Sunday starter, Austin Wright is a LHP new to the Ole Miss pitching staff and came highly recruited by a lot of big time SEC teams (including South Carolina). He came from Chipola Community College in Florida and is a native of Schaumburg, Illinois. While at Chipola, Wright was a teammate of Blake Newalu, Ole Miss current shortstop. He is a big southpaw with a power arm and is an overpowering figure on the mound to face. Wright, originally recruited in 2009 by Coach Van Horne at Arkansas, went the Juco route after his senior season at Conant High School. Wright is known for an overpowering fastball that hits in the mid-90s, but had some control issues of the pitch to begin the season (against Alabama on 3/20 and against LSU 4/3). His Chipola team faced Brian Harper's Southern Nevada team in last year's Junior College World Series;

He will throw his fastball in the 89-91 mph range, but the more velocity he puts into his pitch, the higher it will ride, above the strike zone. He has the potential for a solid repertoire, but his consistency of throwing his breaking ball or his change-up is lacking. He could be the type pitcher that can be taken advantage of by a hitter with a good eye for strikes/balls, but he gets himself into trouble when he is forced to throw his fastball down the pipe.. That is when hitters are most likely to hit him (expecting his fastball) and it is what happened in his outings against Bama and LSU. Let us hope Sunday is not his day.

Other Ole Miss pitchers to look for are Bobby Wahl (RHP, So.) who is currently their weekend closer with 3 saves. Wahl possesses a legitimate four pitch mix with a fastball (upper 80s-low 90s), slider (80-82 mph), curveball (low 70s delivery with same arm slot of his fastball) and change- up (more of a work in progress). It is noted that he is presently working on a cutter that rides in on left handed hitters. Most of his stuff comes in at relatively lower speeds, but he has been working on throwing with velocity and has made improvements with his fastball in that area. He gets good movement on pitches and can go up to +3 innings if he is on.

Eric Callender (RHP, Sr.) was used primarily in relief in 2010, typically in the 2nd or 3rd spot of relief for a starter. He fulfills the identical role with thei year's team, typically in Friday evening relief (behind Crouse). His fastball is in the high 80's range and his out pitch is a mid to high 70s curveball with a late, hard break. Callender also possesses an excellent pick-off move to first base. He pitches well for k's or to get pop-up outs to quickly end an inning.

Brett Huber ((RHP, So.) is a mid to late inning relief pitcher, typically coming in on Saturdays. Large build, athletic frame, he throws off the mound in a downhill fashion with his height, with quick arm movement and a tight release. Has a fastball in the high 80s-low 90s and a curveball that tails downward at the plate. He is confident with his change-up and will throw it with effectiveness. Typically used as a "bridge" pitcher to get to the late inning closer, he goes typically for @ 1.1 innings/outing.

Mike Mayers (RHP, Fr.) was a three sport athlete in high school, quarterback for the football team, basketball and baseball. Has a large body to grow into and has the make of a solid, athletic pitcher in baseball. His fastball hits around mid to high 80s,-but has touched 90-92 mph rtange. He has a change-up which he is currently developing and has a curveball he will use when needed… to extend his innings on the bump. Most recently, he has been a ble to extend his time on the mound to +2.0 innings, but was used primarily in specific match-up situations early in the year. He has improved as he has been given opportunities.

Here are all of the pitchers and their numbers you may see this weekend, toeing the rubber against Gamecock hitters:

20, Matt Crouse (LHP, L/L, Jr.); 3.41ERA, 6-3, 71.1IP, 70h, 33r(27e), 12w, 48k (.261oba; WHIP: 1.15).

22, Austin Wright (LHP, L/L, Jr.); 4.79ERA, 4-4, 56.1IP, 67h, 34r(30e), 20w, 51k (.298oba; WHIP: 1.55).

7, David Goforth (RHP, R/R, Jr.); 4.96ERA, 3-6, 65.1IP, 69h, 41r(36e), 24w, 50k (.274oba; WHIP: 1.43).

19, Bobby Wahl (RHP, R/R, Fr.); 3.74ERA, 4SV, 21.2IP, 24h, 10r(9e), 5w, 19k (.270 oba).

23, Eric Callender (RHP, R/R, Sr.); 3.52ERA, 1-0, 1SV, 30.2IP, 34h, 12r(12e), 7w, 21k (.288 oba).

38 Brett Huber (RHP, R/R, So.); 3.70ERA, 2-1, 4SV, 24.1IP, 21h, 11r(10e), 15w, 20k (.247 oba).

28 Mike Mayers (RHP, R/R, Fr.); 5.46ERA, 1-0, 28.IP, 36h, 18r(17e), 9w, 26k (.305 oba).

27, R.J. Hively (RHP, R/R, Jr.[JuCo]); 9.00ERA, 1-2, 14.0IP, 26h, 14r(14e), 5w, 12k (.413 oba).

37, Blair Wright (RHP, R/R, So.); 4.72ERA, 0-1, 13.1IP, 7h, 9r(7e), 8w, 7k (.152 oba).

Totals:

Ole Miss (team) ERA: 4.27
Opponent (team) ERA: 4.99
Ole Miss (team) On Base Average: .278
Opponent (team) On Base Average: .281

We have another tough row to hoe away from the friendly confines of Carolina Stadium this weekend. I am concerned that we may find ourselves trying to piece together an outfield, I am concerned that our top for hitters in our line-up may experience a tough time hitting some of the pitchers they will face in Oxford. Mostly, playing Ole Miss after a sweep in Gainesville has me hoping that Florida will drop a few to Arkansas in Fayetteville; Vanderbilt will most likely win 2 of 3 against Kentucky in Lexington.

If we focus on what we can do and play to the level we always play, we can achieve great things this weekend. We just need to continue to strive for excellence… nothing has changed with our goals and where we want to be at the end of this season. Gamecocks squeeze out 2 of 3 this weekend, but it won't be easy.

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