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Thursday, July 31, 2014

Rally ‘Cats: Kentucky takes Game 1 3-2

BLOG: Do you believe in momentum or other things of that ilk?

Ole Miss head coach Mike Bianco doesn’t necessarily subscribe to such things. The veteran SEC skipper said as much in today’s Oxford EAGLE when asked about Kentucky bringing a seven-game losing streak into Oxford-University Stadium.

When Ole Miss (30-12 overall, 10-8 SEC) and Big Blue (24-16, 7-11) meet tonight at 6:30 — a game televised on ESPNU — the ‘Cats will be fresh off of an 18-inning loss to Western Kentucky on Tuesday.

“This league is very humbling and things can change very quickly,” Bianco said prior to Wednesday’s practice at the Indoor Practice Facility. “What you did last week doesn’t really matter. We went from getting swept to sweeping two weekends in a row and that happens in our league.”

Despite all of that (seven game skid, 18-inning loss, losers in 10 of 12), Bianco said UK could be poised for a bounce back soon.

“I think you have to be really careful. Those types of games where they played 18 innings and it’s a short week and we’re playing on Thursday, sometimes those are things that get people started when they reach the valley and they’re ready to come out,” he said. “I’m sure they’ll be ready to play. They got a day off and they’re 18-22 year-old college kids. There’s worse things physically that they’ve been through so I’m sure they’ll be ready to play.”

BACK TO NORMAL — ALMOST: The Rebels’ middle infield will be back to normal — at least on paper — for tonight’s game. After shortstop Austin Anderson missed several games last week due to a preseason hamstring injury flaring up, he returned to the lineup Tuesday. Anderson’s double play partner, second baseman Preston Overbey, took off Tuesday to help expedite his recovery from shin splints. Overbey took batting practice Wednesday but hasn’t taken infield recently (and won’t until game time tonight).

(EDITOR’S NOTE: As it turns out, the Rebels’ lineup will be tweaked after all, with Overbey at first base in place of Sikes Orvis. Christian Helsel will fill in at second base for a second straight game.)

Regarding Anderson, Bianco said he’s asking his shortstop to not push his ability and do only what he’s able to do. Easier said than done, I’d think.

“He has to play at a different speed. He’s well enough to play shortstop but he’s not at full speed. His range isn’t what it was,” Bianco said. “Running-wise, we’ve asked him to be very conservative. When he hits a ball, only run as fast as you can and only that fast when it matters. As a coach you hate to do that, but there’s times you have to do that. He can’t play full speed.”

While Anderson is being asked to dial back his running, it’s not like he’s unable to run or that he’ll impair the Rebels’ on-field ability.

“He has been challenged a lot that he’s not allowed to get hurt again,” Bianco said. “If you want to play these are the limits and the rules you have to play by. … (Against Arkansas State) we started him on a first and third steal. (Stuart) Turner hits a SAC fly so he runs all the way to second and has to run back to first and then the throw got away from the catcher and he got to second base. It’s not like he’s unable to run,” Bianco said. “He’s better than some of the guys in the lineup (but he doesn’t need to take chances). Before, he’s a stolen base guy and a guy who could drag and do some of those things that he’s probably unable to do right now.

“Each day he is getting better.”

The Rebels could definitely use Overbey’s right-handed bat in the lineup against an all-southpaw UK rotation. In SEC play, Overbey is fourth on the team with a .267 batting average. Overbey is also second on the team with a .400 slugging percentage against league foes.

Helsel has filled in admirably in the absence of Anderson and Overbey. In 19 games (six start; 30 at-bats), Helsel is hitting .267 with a .353 on-base percentage and .333 slugging percentage.

“Terrific. He made an unbelievable play in the four hole last night in the ninth inning (against ASU),” Bianco said. “He swung the bat great. He’s playing with confidence and it has been neat to watch him out there.”

ON THE MOUND: Tonight’s pitching matchup will pit one of the top collegiate right-handers in Bobby Wahl (8-0) against an elite two-way performer in UK southpaw A.J. Reed.

Wahl is second in the SEC in ERA (1.22), third in opposing batting average (.183), fifth in innings pitched (66.2) and eighth in strikeouts (56). He also has a near nonexistent ERA against SEC foes (0.82), good for second in the league behind Arkansas’s Ryne Stanek (0.70).

Reed is 2-5 on the year with a 3.20 ERA. In 10 games, he has struck out 43 against 12 walks. Opponents are also hitting .288 off Reed. In league action, Reed is 0-4 with a 3.19 ERA. SEC opponents are also hitting .288 off of Reed. Where the 6-foot-4, 245-pound left-hander really stands out is at the plate. Reed is hitting third for UK with a .318 batting average. His .580 slugging percentage is fifth in the SEC (just ahead of Ole Miss catcher Stuart Turner‘s .565). He’s also tied for third with 45 RBIs and fourth with 10 homers. Reed’s 91 total bases rank fifth.

WELCOME BACK: Former Ole Miss Rebel Evan Button has been back in Oxford recently and took infield with the team prior to tonight’s game.

Button is currently on the Rockford Aviators of the Frontier League.

Last season with Rockford, Button hit .268 with 10 homers (only 21 behind former Oxford High Charger and current Windy City ThunderBolt Chad Cregar).

——— AROUND THE LEAGUE ———

Tonight’s Game
Kentucky at Ole Miss, 6:30 p.m. (ESPNU)

Friday’s Games
Kentucky at Ole Miss, 6:30 p.m.
Mississippi State at Vanderbilt, 6:30 p.m.
Auburn at Missouri, 6 p.m.
Tennessee at Florida, 6 p.m.
Texas A&M at Alabama, 6:30 p.m.
Arkansas at Georgia, 6:30 p.m. (CSS)
South Carolina at LSU, 7 p.m. (Cox)

Saturday’s Games
Kentucky at Ole Miss, 2:15 p.m. (FSN/SportSouth)
Mississippi State at Vanderbilt, noon (CSS)
Arkansas at Georgia, 11 a.m. (FSN)
Auburn at Missouri, 2 p.m.
Texas A&M at Alabama, 6 p.m.
Tennessee at Florida, 6 p.m.
South Carolina at LSU, 6:30 p.m. (Cox)

Sunday’s Games
Mississippi State at Vanderbilt, 1 p.m.
Tennessee at Florida, noon
Texas A&M at Alabama, 1 p.m.
Arkansas at Georgia, 1 p.m. (CSS)
Auburn at Missouri, 1 p.m.
South Carolina at LSU, 2 p.m. (ESPN)

——— STARTING LINEUPS ———

KENTUCKY WILDCATS (24-16 overall, 7-11 SEC)
RF Kyle Barrett (.352 BA/ .406 OBP/ .420 SLG)
CF Austin Coustno (.269/.395/.442)
LHP A.J. Reed (.318/.416/.580)
2B J.T. Riddle (.294/.396/.373)
LF Zac Sellers (.246/.360/.304)
1B Paul McConkey (.236/.312/.361)
3B Max Kuhn (.245/.373/.364)
SS Matt Reida (.226/.335/.278)
C Greg Fettes (.333/.400/.533)
Reed (2-5, 3.20 ERA)

No. 18 OLE MISS REBELS (30-12, 10-8)
LF Tanner Mathis (.235/.385/.268)
SS Austin Anderson (.296/.387/.370)
CF Auston Bousfield (.293/.381/.396)
C Stuart Turner (.381/.443/.565)
3B Andrew Mistone (.274/.363/.329)
1B Preston Overbey (.285/.329/.394)
2B Christian Helsel (.267/.353/.333)
DH Will Allen (.247/.280/.318)
RF Will Jamison (.245/.392/.383)
RHP Bobby Wahl (8-0, 1.22)

——— SCORING SUMMARY ———

Kentucky 1, Ole Miss 0 (Top 1): Kentucky center fielder Austin Cousino swatted a one-out solo shot into the visiting bullpen off his former Team USA teammate Bobby Wahl.

OLE MISS 2, Kentucky 1 (Bottom 7): It took a somewhat whacky inning, but after trailing the entire game Ole Miss took its first lead in the bottom of the seventh. Third baseman Andrew Mistone led off the frame by reaching on a two-base error. A Preston Overbey SAC bunt and Christian Helsel SAC fly to right scored Mistone to tie the game. Will Allen then singled and with a 2-2 count on pinch hitter Austin Knight UK opted to pull starter A.J. Reed for right-handed reliever Chandler Shepherd. The move didn’t pay off and Knight walked after two consecutive balls. Left fielder Tanner Mathis has fought injuries and nicks all season. He looked healthy in the seventh as he legged out an infield single, beating a throw from UK shortstop Matt Reida. The grounder allowed Cameron Dishop, pinch running for Allen, to score the go ahead run from second.

KENTUCKY 3, Ole Miss 2 (Top 8): Ole Miss’ lead was short lived. With shutdown reliever Aaron Greenwood on the mound in relief of Wahl, the ‘Cats loaded the bases on a double, walk and single without registering an out. Ole Miss coach Mike Bianco turned to freshman southpaw Matt Denny to face three left-handers in a row. Two groundouts to first, bracketing an intentional walk, scored Kentucky’s second and (go ahead) third runs of the game.

FINAL SCORE: Kentucky 3, No. 18 Ole Miss 2.

BY THE NUMBERS: Wahl was hard on himself post-game despite allowing four hits and one walk in seven innings. He also struck out three in a no decision. Greenwood, normally a lockdown reliever, allowed a double, walk and single to the first three batters he faced to open the top of the eighth and was promptly pulled. Denny got two outs but not without allowing two inherited runners to score. … Kentucky reliever Chandler Shepherd improved to 3-0, pitching 2.1 scoreless innings. UK starter A.J. Reed earned a no decision, allowing two unearned runs on four hits and one walk in 6.2 innings. … Mistone had a game-high two hits.

Ole Miss and Kentucky will return to the diamond Friday for another 6:30 p.m. start.

 (April 25, 2013)

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