After a 21-2 start to the season, the Ole Miss Rebels (23-10, 4-8) have dropped six straight and eight of the last ten. The Rebels are averaging 1.5 rpg in that span while allowing 4.7 rpg. There has been a deficiency in purposeful swings and the team appears to be playing uninspired baseball at the worst time.
Alabama, on the other hand, hit their stride as the conference season began. The Tide (22-13, 8-4) began the season like they ended the 2012 season, towards the conference cellar. Due in large part to a tough early schedule that included road series at Florida Atlantic and Louisville, Big Al & Co. got off to a 9-8 start in nonconference. They won their first three series of the season before dropping a pair at home against Arkansas over the weekend.
While the two teams are headed in opposite directions of late, both have suffered from the same ailment, a lack of offense. Alabama has one starter who is hitting at .300, catcher Brett Booth at exactly the .300 mark. Ole Miss is not much better with just two above the mark, shortstop Austin Anderson at .311 and catcher Stuart Turner at .412. Ole Miss has scored 182 runs this season, four better than Alabama at 178. Ole Miss is hitting just .276 as a team, which is still far superior to Alabama’s abysmal .254.
Despite having an offense that lacks any real firepower, Alabama has remained afloat due to a pitching staff that holds a team ERA under 3.00. Friday’s starter will be a name familiar to Oxford natives, Charley Sullivan. The senior right-hander graduate from Oxford High School and pitched a year at Northwest Mississippi CC before enrolling at Alabama. A member of the NEMDJ all-area team, Sullivan became a household name in the Oxford baseball community before he headed to Tuscaloosa.
In 2012, Sullivan was a member of the weekend rotation and posted a 2-3 record with a 5.09 ERA. He has drastically improved in 2013 and has moved up to the Friday starter spot with a 3-2 record and a 2.52 ERA. In his most recent start against Arkansas, Sullivan allowed 8 hits and 3 runs over 5.0 innings. The senior has allowed 50 hits in 50.0 innings this season but has been able to limit the damage because of his success at holding the opponent slugging percentage at bay. 86 percent of the hits allowed by Sullivan have been singles with only 6 doubles and 1 home run allowed. The Rebels will need to extend innings and win the small-ball battle if they are going to get to him.
After Sullivan, Alabama has a couple of studs at the backend in Keaton Haack and Ray Castillo. Haack is a hard throwing wild card who has walked 18 and struck out 22 in 25.2 innings. He is 0-1 with a 2.45 ERA this season. Castillo is the Tide’s closer and is 2-0 with 6 saves and a 1.82 ERA. Another fireballer, Castillo has 26 strikeouts in 24.2 innings pitched.
Ole Miss will look to break a three-series losing streak and reestablish themselves at the top of the SEC pack. Alabama, on the other hand, owns series wins over Tennessee, Georgia and Auburn and are looking for a series to add to their resume to prove they belong among the elite. First pitch is set for 6:30 at Swayze Field.