#7 Ole Miss baseball is set to face #10 Georgia in the opening round of the SEC Tournament on Tuesday. Here is how they can grab a victory.
The Rebels will face No. 10 Georgia on day one of the SEC tournament, no big deal, right?
On Tuesday, May 24th, 12 SEC baseball teams will meet at Hoover Metropolitan Stadium in Hoover, Alabama, to compete for the Southeastern Conference tournament championship. The tournament, held every year since 1977, was originally hosted at Swayze Field in Oxford, Mississippi.
Ole Miss (40-16, 18-12) has won the SEC tournament twice. In 1977, they defeated the nationally-ranked Florida Gators, and in 2006 they beat a Vanderbilt team headlined by David Price, Pedro Alvarez, and Ryan Flaherty. This year the Rebels are hoping to navigate their way from day one to the final, and will have to face the No. 10 seed Georgia on day one.
This season has been one of hope and relief for the Rebels, who were picked in the preseason to finish fifth in the SEC West by the fourteen SEC coaches. The Rebels started the season out 17-1 prior to SEC play, earning impressive out-of-conference wins over nationally-ranked Louisville and Coastal Carolina.
Mike Bianco’s club began SEC play at Tennessee, and took the series from the Volunteers by winning the Saturday and Sunday games in Knoxville. The following weekend the Rebels were swept by South Carolina in Oxford, then suffered a series loss in Starkville the next weekend.
The Rebels were floundering after a strong start to the season. They needed to reevaluate their starting rotation, after second and third starters, Chad Smith and Sean Johnson struggled in the first three conference starts. Against Arkansas the following weekend, Bianco decided to make a change, starting David Parkinson and Wyatt Short in the second and third games of the series. The Rebels swept the Razorbacks and appeared to be back in business.
The next weekend the Rebels dropped a series to the Alabama Crimson Tide, who defeated David Parkinson and Sean Johnson on the back-end of the series. After the series loss to Alabama, Ole Miss would only drop one more conference series. That meant series wins over LSU and Georgia, with sweeps over Auburn and Kentucky. The Rebels pitching woes have been nullified by the lockdown nature of the bullpen, which is headlined by Andy Pagnozzi, Will Stokes, Brady Feigl, and Wyatt Short.
This Rebel squad is a lot different from the one that lost to Alabama on day one of the conference tournament in 2015.
This Rebel squad is a lot different from the one that lost to Alabama on day one of the conference tournament in 2015. Last year’s team did feature the power of first baseman Sikes Orvis, who launched 16 bombs last season. But this year’s team has hit 41 home runs, compared to the 36 homers hit by the collective team last season.
This 2016 squad has already surpassed the 2015 squad in every offensive category, except for walks. One of the glaring improvements for the offense this season is the drop off in strikeouts. In 2015, the Rebs struck out 484 times, led by third baseman Colby Bortles, who struck out 63 times. In 2016, the team struck out 375 times, with Bortles cutting his strikeout count down to 52, but still leading the team. The team batting average has risen to .276 from .265 a season ago.
Despite game two and three woes, pitching has also been markedly improved in 2016. Though the team lost their Friday night ace from last season Christian Trent to the pro ranks, Brady Bramlett stepped up and really embraced the role of the game one starter. Bramlett is the only pitcher to maintain his rotation spot this season. In his 14 starts this season, Bramlett is 7-3 and has an ERA of 3.19, which is a slight improvement from last season, where Bramlett went 7-4 with a 3.74 earned run average in 15 starts.
The bullpen returned Wyatt Short, Will Stokes and Matt Denny from last season. Short picked up where he left off last least season as the dominant closer that Ole Miss fans have come to love. While his ERA has slightly gone up, he improved from 10 saves last year to 11 so far in 2016.
Stokes is by far the most improved of the returning arms. He cut his ERA in half and doubled his save count this season. Matt Denny, after posting an ERA of 10.80 in 9 appearances in 2015, has a 9.00 ERA in 9 appearances this year.
The New Guys – Who made an immediate impact?
On the offensive side, it was mostly returning players. But the one player who made an impact right away is freshman OF Ryan Olenek. Olenek, from Trinity Prep HS in Florida, stepped in and was a great pinch hitter and backup for the outfield and SS Errol Robinson. Olenek batted .267 in 47 games he played and hit 2 home runs; driving in 27 runs. Statistically, Olenek was the second best fielder on the team behind C Henri Lartique.
On the mound, choosing the best newcomer is easy, but I am giving it to a few people. The bullpen. This year’s bullpen, made up of freshmen Andy Pagnozzi, Brady Fiegl, Connor Green, and Dallas Woolfolk. These four made up the nucleus of one of the best bullpens in baseball. The Rebels are 35-0 when leading after six innings, largely due to these guys.
The Matchup – How the Rebels can advance to the second day
This Rebel team is one that can out-hit you or out-pitch you, it just rarely happens on the same day.
If the Rebels can put together a string of games where their hitting and pitching both click, this team is scary.
If the Rebels can put together a string of games where their hitting and pitching both click, this team is scary. That’s what happened when they took the series from then #2 Louisville. Here is what needs to happen for the Rebels to defeat Georgia (27-29, 11-19).
This will not be the first time these two teams have faced each other. Earlier this season, Ole Miss made a trip to Athens to face the Bulldogs. The Rebels took games one and two with scores of 6-4 and 7-3, respectively. The Bulldogs managed to take the final game of the series13-2. Georgia is a team that managed to only win four weekend series all year. Of those four series victories, one of them was against #2 seed South Carolina.
Since pitching is the first step to defeating Georgia, coach Bianco has a tough decision to make on who starts the game. Game one ace Brady Bramlett is coming off of a short start against Texas A&M where he only threw 78 pitches on Thursday night and most likely could make the start on 5 days rest.
The other argument is that you throw midweek starter James McArthur or Andy Pagnozzi against Georgia, and save Bramlett for round two against South Carolina if you make it. However, the argument against that is, what if you lose to Georgia? Well, then you wasted your ace pitcher who sat on the bench.
Many of you may remember how last season’s SEC tournament went. We started our Sunday starter, Scott Weathersby, who was on ten days rest due to the final game of the season being rained out. If I am the manager of the team, which I assure you, I am not, I would start Pagnozzi and hope to get 4 or 5 solid innings out of him. Then let the bullpen do it’s work. It is a risky move, but Bramlett does not pitch well on short rest and saving his arm for the regional is my number one concern.
Losing to Georgia is not a back breaker to this team, who will most likely host a regional no matter what happens on Tuesday. But losing the ace is an end to the season.
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So who does Georgia throw? Their game one starter has been junior Robert Tyler. Tyler, who has started 14 games this season, has an ERA of 4.10 and a record of 3-5. The Bulldogs could also face the same predicament that Ole Miss is in. Do you start Tyler and then worry about the second game, or do you start your midweek starter and save Tyler? While this line of thought is not one I agree with, it is always brought up around this time of the season.
Georgia does have two very viable midweek starters that could make an appearance Tuesday. Heath Holder (3.34 ERA) and Andrew Gist (5.18) have both made starts during the season. But the number one concern for the lower seeded team should be to beat Ole Miss, and I believe Tyler gives them the best chance to do so.
Offensively, both teams are similar, with Ole Miss holding the statistical edge. As a team this season, the Bulldogs batted .253 with 40 home runs, while Ole Miss batted .276 with 41 home runs. In order to gain the victory in this match-up, the Rebels will have to make sure to shut down the Georgia offense that is spearheaded by junior OF Skyler Weber, who batted .315 this season, with 4 home runs and 101 RBI’s. As for power, the Dawgs bring freshman C Michael Curry to the dish. Curry, who hit a team leading 11 home runs this season, is the power source the Rebels are looking to silence.
In conclusion, how do the Rebels beat Georgia and advance to play South Carolina? Score more runs than you allow. So how do you that? If the Rebels can stifle the bats of Weber and Curry, and be able to continue their ability to hit good pitching. The Rebels scored 6 runs off of Tyler earlier this season, let’s see if they can do it again.
How to witness the match-up
Every round is being broadcast on SEC Network up until the final round, where the game will be shown on ESPN2.
SEC Tournament schedule
Game 1 – #6 Vanderbilt (41-15, 18-12) -vs- #11 Missouri (26-29, 9-21) / 9:30 AM CT
Game 2 – #7 Ole Miss (40-16, 18-12) -vs- #10 Georgia (27-29, 11-19) / 30 minutes after game one.
Game 3 – #8 Kentucky (32-24, 15-15) -vs- #9 Alabama (31-24, 15-15) / 4:30 PM CT
Game 4 – #5 LSU (39-17, 19-11) -vs- #12 Tennessee (29-27, 9-21) / 30 minutes after game four.
The rest of the tournament is double elimination after day one.
Game 5 – #3 Texas A&M (41-13, 20-10) -vs- Game 1 winner
Game 6 – #2 South Carolina (42-13, 20-9) -vs- Game 2 winner
Game 7 – #1 Mississippi State (40-14-1, 21-9) -vs- Game 3 winner
Game 8 – #4 Florida (44-11, 19-10) -vs- Game 4 winner