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Thursday, April 17, 2014

Mayers, Rebels stay alive by shutting out Razorbacks

BLOG: It’s win or go home for the Ole Miss Rebels today.

Unfortunately for the ninth-seeded Rebels, to will have to rough up D.J. Baxendale if they’re to remain alive in the Southeastern Conference Tournament.

Today’s 9:30 a.m. game is televised on SportSouth/ESPN3.com.

The winner of today’s game will face the loser of top-seeded LSU and seventh-seeded Mississippi State on Thursday at 9:30 a.m. The loser goes home to await their fate with the NCAA Tournament selections Monday.

Earlier this year Ole Miss took two of three from the Razorbacks in Oxford, claiming the first two games 1-0 and 8-2 before losing the third 11-3.

Although Baxendale earned a no decision after allowing one run in 3.2 innings of work in the Hog win in Oxford, he has been a reliable right-hander for Arkansas throughout the season posting 7-3 record and a 3.14 ERA. In 80.1 innings, Baxendale has collected 74 strikeouts against 17 walks. Opponents are also hitting .240 off of the 6-foot-2 junior.

In four career games against Ole Miss, Baxendale is 0-2 with one save and a 3.68 ERA. Baxendale has also racked up 12 strikeouts against six walks in 14.2 innings.

Ole Miss will turn to sophomore right-hander Mike Mayers to keep their postseason hopes alive.

The Ohioan has had success against Arkansas this season. On April 21, Mayers earned a win in Ole Miss’ 1-0 victory by pitching 6.1 scoreless frames against the Razorbacks. It was one of two scoreless performances for Mayers this year.

On the season, Mayers is 4-3 with a 3.84 ERA. In 77.1 innings, Mayers has struck out 52 and walked 225 with opponents hitting .228 off of him.

SHUFFLING THE LINEUP: Ole Miss has a brand new lineup today with plenty of changes. Senior Zach Kirksey has been used almost exclusively as a designated hitter against right-handed pitchers but was inserted into left field today and is batting fourth in the order.

Against Arkansas this season, Kirksey was 1-for-7 with one RBI and three strikeouts.

With Kirksey in left, junior Tanner Mathis has been shifted to right field and freshman Sikes Orvis has been inserted into the DH spot.

Orvis is hitting .286 on the year in spot duty and has been mostly used as a pinch hitter.

It’s probably worth noting that against Arkansas, Orvis was 1-for-2 with an RBI on April 22.

The other move of note is catcher Will Allen was dropped from the middle of the order to seventh.

After being one of the Rebels’ most reliable bats against conference foes, Allen has fallen on hard times and is hitless in his last four games and six of the last seven.

During that seven-game stretch, he is 2-for-26.

HOW’D WE GET HERE: Ole Miss earned a second straight 9:30 a.m. game by losing to Kentucky 2-0 on Tuesday to open the tournament. The Rebels tried a number of things against the Wildcats to push a runner across home plate but were unable to ditch the goose egg. Arkansas, meanwhile, was hit around by Mississippi State in the tournament’s second game Tuesday and eventually lost 9-1 after surrendering six runs in the ninth.

———STARTING LINEUPS———

No. 9 OLE MISS REBELS (34-23 overall)
RF Tanner Mathis (.348 BA/.447 OBP/ .397 SLG)
2B Alex Yarbrough (.381/.436/.513)
1B Matt Snyder (.340/.406/.581)
LF Zach Kirksey (.288/.383/.648)
CF Auston Bousfield (.281/.357/.362)
DH Sikes Orvis (.286/.405/.429)
C Will Allen (.306/.337/.399)
3B Andrew Mistone (.233/.299/.290)
SS Blake Newalu (.351/.386/.455)
RHP Mike Mayers (4-3, 3.84 ERA)

No. 6 ARKANSAS RAZORBACKS (39-18)
SS Tim Carver (.314/.353/.404)
1B Dominic Ficociello (.313/.406/.463)
3B Matt Reynolds (.347/.459/.546)
LF Brian Anderson (.298/.417/.417)
DH Jacob Mahan (.272/.333/.288)
2B Bo Bigham (.282/.333/.350)
RF Sam Bates (.250/.342/.444)
C Jake Wise (.243/.337/.314)
CF Matt Vinson (.222/.381/.293)
RHP D.J. Baxendale (7-3, 3.14)

———SCORING SUMMARY———

OLE MISS 1, Arkansas 0 (Botton 4): Zach Kirksey led off the third with a triple that banked off of the wall in right-center and after Auston Bousfield was rung up on a strikeout, Sikes Orvis scored the left fielder on a groundout to second base. The run, which was Ole Miss’ first of the tournament, drew almost comical applause from those in attendance at Regions Park.

OLE MISS 2, Arkansas 0 (Bottom 7): After chasing Arkansas starter D.J. Baxendale, the Rebels jumped on Razorback right-hander Colby Suggs with three straight singles to lead off the bottom of the seventh. Kirksey then muscled a fly ball to center field to score Tanner Mathis from third. Bousfield hit into a double play in the next at-bat to end the inning.

———LOOKING BACK———

 After Rebel starter Mike Mayers (5-3) left the game having limited Arkansas to five hits and one walk over four scoreless innings, Ole Miss turned to junior closer Brett Huber.

The sometimes-closer allowed one hit but struck out three over the final two innings to earn his 10th save of the season and 26th of his career. His career mark ties him with former Rebel All-American and current assistant Stephen Head for first all-time in Ole Miss’ record books.

Rebel head coach Mike Bianco went as far as to say Huber has pitched as well over the last three weeks as he has at any other point in his collegiate career.

Baxendale fell to 7-4 on the year after allowing one run on four hits and three walks in six innings.

Having struggled at the plate recently, Rebel second baseman Alex Yarbrough had a big day offensively with three hits to bump his batting average back up to .393.

Ole Miss will return to the diamond tomorrow to face the loser of LSU-Mississippi State at 9:30 a.m.

During his post-game press conference, Bianco said senior R.J. Hively was not available to pitch today due to tenderness in his throwing arm and would be a game time decision.

———QUOTABLES———

Arkansas head coach Dave Van Horn:

*”I thought D.J. threw really well and Mayers was outstanding. We didn’t score on him during the regular season, either.”

*”Mayers came out and just got after us and Huber came in and finished it off in the eighth and ninth.”

*”Yesterday’s game, I don’t know. It just wasn’t a good game for us. We didn’t swing the bat well and today we kind of picked up right where we left off. There’s some older guys that have to get it going. You can’t just depend on these younger guys in the lineup.”

*”We were going to swing. He’s a strike thrower. He throws everything for a strike. He came out and threw that breaking ball for a strike and spotted the fastball pretty good. We didn’t want to get behind in the count and some guys it took them a time or two to figure it out but that was the game plan going in, to go up there and hit. If it’s a four-pitch inning it’s a four-pitch inning but lets get a swing. We just didn’t get it done. He just whooped us.”

Arkansas 2B Bo Bigham:

*”He just really mixes his pitches well. You can’t sit on anything. He throws all his pitches for strikes and just keeps the hitters guessing. That’s been tough on us.”

*”We just weren’t putting very good swings on balls this weekend. They just kept us off balance and we just had a bad weekend.”

Ole Miss head coach Mike Bianco:

“It’s been a rough 10 days for us. I thought the guys today played really outstanding in one of those grind-it-out games.”

“I’m proud of the way the guys hung in there because it’s been a tough 10 days.”

“He has been terrific and pitching mostly in the two spot and sometimes on Sunday earlier in the year. It’s hard for me to think of games where he’s had a bad day. Usually when you think of aces, guys like Bobby Wahl and down the line, with guys we’ve had here like (Lance) Lynn and (Drew) Pomeranz, there aren’t many guys that every time they go out there they get deep into the game and the score is intact to give you a shot to win and that’s what Mike has done. Even beyond that he has had games like this, games where he absolutely shut them down. He pitched terrific last weekend (at Vanderbilt). I look down his record and it’s shocking he only has five wins when you look at his numbers. It’s amazing. He deserves a lot more credit than he’s probably gotten to this point.”

On lineup shuffle:
“Just looking for something to happen. Obviously with the right-hander you knew Kirksey would play, but was there a way to get Orvis into the lineup? So we moved Kirksey to left field and it was just a chance to get another guy that I think is swinging well (into the lineup)… Orvis has had a couple good pinch hits at Vanderbilt. Baxendale is good. He’s so good and pitches in so many big games for them. Last year,  I considered him maybe the best in the SEC when we faced him at the end. This year, I know his numbers are great but maybe not as great as they were last year but he pitches big games for them and you could see the emotion out there. We knew we needed a lift and fortunately both those guys swung it great today.”

On walking Ficociello to get to Reynolds:
“I don’t know if Reynolds is really 100 percent. We respect both of them and both of them are terrific. It had more to do with Mike and how he pitched to Reynolds in the first at-bat. Reynolds came out of the game last night and we weren’t sure if he was going to start today. I’m sure he’s not 100 percent, still good, but if you had your choice rather than mess around with Ficociello we thought we would just go after Reynolds and hope for the best and he made some good pitches.”

On Huber:
“Today somebody mentioned when we were walking off the field that he hit 94, 95 with his fastball. He had good command with a great fastball and great slider. He’s been as good the last few weeks as anytime in his three-year career. Obviously with tying the record he’s been very special the last couple of weeks.”

On Orvis:
“In the first with the bases loaded, Ficociello is a shortstop playing first. He’s terrific and makes a great play where I’m not sure if every first baseman makes that play. That’s a tough play he makes. Another foot either way and that’s a double down the line.”

“…That’s a lot of pressure. I think he’s only had three or four starts the entire season, to be inserted into the lineup and then compounded by our issues with scoring runs and he’s been in a couple of those tough situations and had great at-bats.”

Was it a relief to get the win?
“I’d like to say no, but I think the truth is yes, it’s been tough. When you lose five in a row, it’s amazing you walk off the field Sunday against Tennessee and feel good about yourself looking to the future and then all of a sudden a tough game against Arkansas State and you don’t play terrible at Vanderbilt but you don’t play great and they play terrific. The first two games were pretty close games and even the third game was only 6-3. Just not playing well and have to beat a team that is playing really well. And then a tough game for us yesterday. It hasn’t been where we’ve been terrible, I don’t know if that’s better or worse. We’ve been in them. When you’re in the SEC, we’ve always said it’s a very unforgiving league and you have to play well to win or you lose in this league unlike any other league. Every weekend. I think it was a relief to play well again and have some success. It was one of those grind-it-out games. We told them the baseball gods aren’t going to let it be easy, you’re going to have to work every at-bat on both sides of the ball. I think that’s why I was proud of them. It wasn’t just that we went out and had 15 hits and scored 10 runs, it was one of those where Baxendale was terrific and Suggs did a great job and gets out of (the jam) with only one run. We just hung in there and I thought in all three phases of the game we played well.”

Set up with pitching?
“R.J. has some tenderness and wasn’t available to pitch today. He has been getting better each day but we’ve leaned on him a lot the last couple weeks of the season. We’ll see. If he doesn’t throw there’s several options, as many as we could sit here and mention. We’ll go back to the hotel and see. It may be something where we won’t know until tomorrow. I think that’s likely. It has nothing to do with gamesmanship, it has more to do with seeing how he feels in the morning.”

Important to win today to get into NCAA Tournament?
“I think every time you win it’s important and you get closer. Only those 10 guys know. I’ll say this, if you look at our resume it’s pretty darn good. Probably the most unfavorable thing would be the last five games. If you look at the RPI and big wins, I think it’s pretty good but anytime you can win is another notch on the resume.”

Ole Miss closer Brett Huber:

“I haven’t talked to Stephen but it’s obviously an honor. He’s a three-time All-American. We give him some grief for that, but it’s exciting to have my name up there with someone like that and at a school like this. It’s really exciting.”

Ole Miss right-hander Mike Mayers:

“They have a great lineup, it’s just one of those things that I felt great both times I’ve gone out there. I filled up the zone and just attacked their hitters”

Ole Miss second baseman Alex Yarbrough:

On offensive struggles & finally scoring:
“It felt really good, especially since we were able to put pressure on them in the first inning.”

“It was a good start. We’ve been struggling to get chances at all really and then when we do get chances we haven’t been able to cash them in.” (May 23, 2012)

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