Rebels seek redemption against Florida after embarrassing midweek loss

Posted on Apr 5 2019 - 5:50am by John Macon Gillespie

Much like Mississippi’s weather, Ole Miss baseball can’t seem to find its identity in early April, but it has an opportunity to find some consistency this weekend as the Florida Gators come to town.

After a massive road series win over top-10 Arkansas last week, Ole Miss suffered one of the worst regular season losses in program history on Tuesday in a 10-6 decision against North Alabama, who came into the contest ranked 285 in RPI out of 299 Division I teams. This season is North Alabama’s first in Division I, and the loss could prove detrimental to the Rebels’ resume when tournament time comes in late May.

Ole Miss infielder Tyler Keenan watches the ball after hitting a double during practice earlier this season. The Rebels will play the Florida Gators at home this weekend. File photo by Christian Johnson

Ole Miss still has a chance to right the ship and boost its resume this weekend with a series win over the Gators, but that will be no easy task. Although Florida has not performed to its typical standards early-on this season — sitting at 4-5 in SEC play — the Gators are a perennial power in college baseball, winning the national championship in Omaha, Nebraska, in 2017. The Gators are fresh off a sweep of the Alabama Crimson Tide last weekend, so they could have some newfound momentum as they prepare to take on Mike Bianco’s squad this weekend.

Ole Miss has lost its last two Friday night contests despite solid pitching performances from staff ace Will Ethridge. Last week’s start against Arkansas was one of Ethridge’s worst of the season, but he still lasted five full innings and allowing 7 hits and 5 runs, four of which were earned. Ethridge has been solid at Swayze Field this season, but will have his hands full with the Gators’ lineup which boasts four batters who are hitting over .300 on the year. Florida has also racked up 35 home runs this season, so keeping the ball in the park will be another challenge the Rebel pitchers face this weekend.

Ole Miss’s Saturday starter Doug Nikhazy has been solid all season and had another strong outing last week against Arkansas. Nikhazy went 5.2 innings and allowed 3 runs, but this was enough to keep the Hogs at bay as the Rebel bats propelled Ole Miss to a 4-3 win.

Sunday starter Gunnar Hoglund has still struggled to find consistency and lasted a mere three innings in his start in Fayetteville, but was helped along by a strong bullpen performance, including an outing from the emerging Tyler Myers, who picked up his first save of the season. Myers’ ERA has slid to 2.65 after four-straight scoreless outings coming into this weekend.

Fortunately for the Rebel offense, which has struggled to string together timely hits as of late, the entirety of Florida’s starting rotation is right-handed— something that bodes well for a lineup that has struggled against southpaws this season. The Gators are expected to throw Tommy Mace, Tyler Dyson and Jack Leftwich in that order this weekend, and all three of these arms have an ERA over 3.00, so the Rebels will need to capitalize on this potential mismatch if they hope to take two of three from the Gators this weekend.

Ole Miss has not put together many quality games this season, but this weekend provides an opportunity to regain some momentum after Tuesday’s embarrassing loss to North Alabama.

This weekend is also Grove Bowl Weekend, in which the Ole Miss football team will have its spring game, so crowds at Swayze Field could be larger due to the influx of people on Saturday.

First pitch tonight is scheduled for 6:30 p.m., followed by a 7 p.m. and 1:30 p.m. start on Saturday and Sunday, respectively.