Starting Again

Mike Mayers

HOOVER, Ala. – The Southeastern Conference baseball tournament opens here today, and nobody seems to know quite what to expect. It's the first time 12 teams have been in the field with only two of 14 at home – Georgia and Tennessee.


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Ole Miss and Kentucky play at 9:30 a.m., the first of four games on the day. That much we know.

We also know Vanderbilt and LSU separated themselves from the rest of the field and are the class of the league. All the other teams, it seems, are at least a notch below those two.

The Rebels are seeded sixth, their highest position at this point in a season since 2009 when they won the overall Southeastern Conference regular season crown. The Wildcats come in at No. 11.

Ole Miss is 36-20 overall and had a regular season SEC record of .500 at 15-15. Kentucky, which won two of three games against Ole Miss in Oxford in late April, is 30-24 overall and 11-19 in the SEC.

"Obviously we're excited to start a new chapter to the season," said Ole Miss head coach Mike Bianco. "Certainly we're excited to play a very good Kentucky team."

One of the questions, at least for Ole Miss, was who the Rebels would turn to as their starting pitcher today. The last couple of weeks, with a rain situation against Mississippi State and a Thursday through Saturday series at LSU followed by this early game, have gotten the Rebels out of their routine. Actually that's the case for all teams to some degree.

Ole Miss will turn to junior right-hander Mike Mayers, who started the Thursday game last week in Baton Rouge, La., and has for the most part been the Rebels' second-game-of-the-weekend starter.

Some Mayers notes:

• Mayers makes his 14th start and 15th appearance of the season against Kentucky on Tuesday.

• In two career starts against Kentucky, he is 2-0 with a 3.21 ERA, nine strikeouts and a .188 batting average against.

• Earlier this year, Mayers picked up the win as the Rebels defeated Kentucky 11-5 in game two of the series.

• Mayers has turned in seven quality starts this season and allowed two or fewer earned runs in 10 outings.

• His most dominant outing came with 7.0 scoreless innings pitched in relief against Mississippi State in the series opener.

Regular first-game starter Bobby Wahl might or might not make an appearance this week, depending on how far the Rebels go in the tournament.


Andrew Mistone
Bruce Newman

"There's no way he would start Tuesday, Wednesday, or Thursday," Bianco said of Wahl. "But there's a possibility we could use him out of the bullpen at some point. We'll see how he feels and go day to day. We want to pitch him, but we also have to be careful that he really feels good by the time the (NCAA) Regional rolls around."

It appears the top of the Rebels' order, if the trend continues, is getting hot at the right time. Tanner Mathis, Austin Anderson, Auston Bousfield, Stuart Turner, and Andrew Mistone all seem to be hitting the baseball better and making something happen when an opportunity arises.

Four Rebels have hit streaks of multiple games heading into the tourney. Mistone (7) leads the way, while Mathis (6), Anderson (4), and Will Jamison (2) are the others.

"All of them have swung the bat great and continue to get hotter and hotter as the postseason approaches," Bianco said of the top of the order Rebels. "That bodes well for us. You need not just one guy, you need a handful of guys collectively in the middle or the top to produce runs. All of them are feeling good and swinging the bat well."

Kentucky head coach Gary Henderson said if his team is to succeed, it will have to find ways to get runs home. And that's been quite a task lately.

"We got off to a great start this season. It's been hard for us to score runs about the last six weeks," he said. "In order for us to play well here, we're going to have to find a way to manufacture some offense and continue to pitch effectively."

Here's a little more about Kentucky, including today's starting pitcher, Jerad Grundy:

• Kyle Barrett leads the Wildcats at the plate with a .352 average - one of two Cats hitting above .300.

• As a team, UK hits at a .256 clip this season, but have drawn 224 walks and have 86 HBP.

• LHP Jerad Grundy is 6-5 this year with a 4.75 ERA, 60 strikeouts and 20 walks through 77.2 innings pitched.

• Opponents are hitting at a .286 clip against Grundy and the Rebels are 2-0 all-time vs. the LHP.

• As a pitching staff, UK holds a 3.56 ERA with a .271 opponent batting average and 244 runs allowed.

(Bill Bunting of Ole Miss contributed to this story)

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