Don’t call it a streak (because it’s not … yet), but Ole Miss baseball this week has shown some encouraging signs of postseason life.
The Rebels have won two in a row and three of their last four. They picked up their first SEC series win of the year last weekend against Georgia — including a walk-off clincher on Sunday — and came from behind to take down UALR in the midweek.
It was the first time all season Ole Miss has put together consecutive wins.
The Rebels are still only three games over .500 (24-21) in overall record. They’re 5-16 in the SEC. But they won their first-ever national championship with a magical run that started around this time last year.
They once again have another long-shot path to the postseason — despite a miserable three-month slog riddled by injury and underperformance from a few key pieces. They just have to keep winning.
Ole Miss on May 7 of last year was seven games under .500 in the SEC. The Rebels, historically, rebounded to rattle off 10 wins in 11 postseason games as the last team named to the NCAA Tournament.
Basically, the Rebels turned it on — or got hot, as three-time captain Tim Elko warned his team’s opponents to not let happen, lest they suffer the championship consequences.
They can only hope for a repeat a year later.
For now, Ole Miss (24-21, 5-16 SEC) is on the outside looking in for a spot in the SEC Tournament in Hoover, Ala., later this month. Only 12 of the league’s 14 teams make the tournament. Ole Miss is in a three-team race with in-state rival Mississippi State (24-20, 6-15) and SEC East foe Missouri (24-19, 5-16).
The Rebels are hitting the road for the first time in two weeks.
They visit the Tigers for a three-game set this weekend. First pitch of Game 1 is set for Thursday at 6 p.m. CT.
Mississippi State holds the tiebreaker over Ole Miss and Missouri but face a difficult road to close out the regular season. The Bulldogs still have series against No. 6 Arkansas and No. 1 LSU.
The Rebels, meanwhile, are winners of their last four games against Missouri, as well as seven of the last nine. They swept three games with the Tigers last season. Ole Miss has taken three of four series against Missouri since the Tigers joined the SEC in 2013.
“I don’t think last year anybody saw that team doing it until you do it,” Ole Miss head coach Mike Bianco said last week, in an interview with SuperTalk Mississippi’s Richard Cross.
But regardless of whether the Rebels pull off another end-of-season about-face, they’re barreling towards an off-season of change. They could lose up to eight of their starting nine in the field.
Bianco admitted they’ll be more active than ever before in the NCAA Transfer Portal.
For reference, Ole Miss brought in high-profile transfers Ethan Groff (Tulane) and Anthony Calarco (Northwestern), among others, last off-season. Expect much more activity this time around.
“I don’t think there’s a doubt of that,” Bianco told Cross. “The portal, for us, is different than in the other sports, where kids are going into the portal really early. In baseball, it doesn’t usually happen until the end of the season, because the guys you’re going to want are the guys that are playing. The guys that are going to impact our roster next year are guys that are stars for some other team and for whatever reason they want to leave that school.
“We’re going to have to see how that plays out. Good recruiting class coming in, but what’s that going to look like through the draft? Once you sign them, you have to get them to show up on campus. We have some high-profile guys we need to make sure get to campus.
“But with how many position players we’re going to lose especially, we’re going to have to probably dive into the portal more than we ever have.”
Let’s take a closer look at Ole Miss’ matchup with Missouri, with repurposed (and repackaged) notes originally provided by Ole Miss Athletics.
Ole Miss slugger Kemp Alderman
Ole Miss veteran second baseman Peyton Chatagnier hit two home runs and scored four times in the Georgia series. … Ole Miss is the third-best fielding team in the SEC. The Rebels are ranked No. 8 in the nation in fielding percentage (.981). … Veteran slugger Kemp Alderman has hit a career-best 18 home runs so far, the fifth-most in the SEC and 13th-most in the NCAA. … Junior shortstop Jacob Gonzalez is No. 3 overall in the SEC in doubles (16). … Ole Miss third baseman Ethan Lege has at least one hit in nine of his last 10 games to raise his batting average from .236 to .267. … Lege is the hardest player to strike out in the SEC. Lege has only struck out 13 times in 141 at bats. … The junior college transfer, who is in his first Ole Miss season, has just one multiple-strikeout game this season and just six total strikeouts in SEC play.
Alderman absolutely raked in April.
He led the SEC in total bases (59) and finished second in hits (31). Alderman was fourth in doubles (7), fifth in home runs (7), sixth in RBI (21) and seventh in both batting average (.397) and slugging percentage (.756).
He’s currently riding a 40-game on-base streak, as well as a 10-game hitting streak. Alderman has 12 hits in his last six games and is third in the SEC in total bases. He’s fourth in RBI, fifth in home runs, eighth in batting average and eighth in slugging percentage.
“It’s hard to compare anybody to the captain (Elko),” Bianco said last week. “But when you talk about the size (and) athleticism … he can play corner infield (and) corner outfielder. Big, right-handed hitter. Like Elko, can hit it from foul pole to foul pole and out in just about any ballpark.”
Gonzalez and junior catcher Calvin Harris in April both tied for the SEC lead in doubles with eight apiece.
FRESHMAN OF THE WEEK
Freshman right-hander Grayson Saunier was named SEC Freshman of the Week by the SEC office on Monday.
Ole Miss went into the weekend without a named third starter in the rotation after staff ace and sophomore Hunter Elliott was again shut down following his much-anticipated return start against LSU. Elliott has been battling a UCL injury all season. This week he visited another doctor for a second opinion on possible next steps.
He’s done for the season with Tommy John surgery, as announced on Friday.
Saunier got the call and put forth by far his best start of the year. But he got his award-winning week started against Mississippi State in the annual Governor’s Cup. He allowed just one earned run in both starts and surrendered only five hits over 9.2 combined innings. Saunier issued just two walks and struck out 10.
Opponents hit .147 against him. The 10 strikeouts tied for the most in the SEC last week.
Saunier retired the first 10 batters he faced against Georgia and 15 of the first 16. His six complete innings were a career-high, and his six strikeouts were the second-most in a single game in his young Rebel career.
It was also the first time Saunier hasn’t issued a walk in a start.
Saunier has been tagged for all of one earned run in three of his last four starts and one or less in five starts this season.
Ole Miss freshman pitcher JT Quinn
Freshmen are responsible for covering 49.3 percent of Ole Miss’ 191.1 innings this season. Seven have pitched at least seven innings. Five have pitched 25 or more.
JT Quinn — who was moved to the weekend rotation last month and will again take the second weekend rotation turn this weekend at Missouri — leads the newcomers with 47 innings worked. Quinn is followed by Saunier (39).
Quinn, Saunier and Jordan Vera have combined to start 24 of the Rebels’ 45 games. In all, 231.2 innings (59.6 percent) have been pitched by Rebels who were not on the roster in 2022.
“When you have the season we’ve had to this point, there’s going to be tough situations for them,” Bianco said. “Hopefully, rather than look at it as excuses, you look at it as opportunities where this is going to help them grow. Sometimes growing’s hard. Sometimes growing’s tough, and, at times, it’s not fun.
“But I think it’s going to pay dividends in the future. Hopefully the future is here at the end of the year.”
Gonzalez, Alderman and Harris have been the best Rebel hitters with two outs in an inning this season.
Gonzalez is hitting .444 (20 for 45) in two-out situations, while Alderman is hitting .343. Harris is hitting .302. Alderman leads the team in two-out RBI (23). The trio has combined for 57 total two-out RBI.
Gonzalez has been climbing the Ole Miss all-time runs-scored leaderboard this season.
He’s currently No. 5 in school history in career runs scored (181) and needs just 17 more to claim the top spot. The Rebels have under half the season remaining.
Brad Henderson owns the record (198). Henderson is now serving as the color analyst for Rebel baseball games for the Ole Miss Radio Network. He scored 198 runs in 203 career games.
Gonzalez owns the second (73, 2021) and fifth-highest (67, 2022) records for runs scored in a single season.
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