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Preview: Diamond Rebs host South Carolina in Battle Between SEC East and West

Preview: Diamond Rebs host South Carolina in Battle Between SEC East and West

OXFORD, Miss. — This weekend, Swayze Field will play host to a battle between teams from the SEC East and West. The East will be represented by the South Carolina Gamecocks (26-12, 11-7 SEC), who come into Oxford with a good record against league foes after sweeping Florida, winning 2-1 both at Georgia and at home against Missouri. The Rebels (28-12, 10-8 SEC) have recorded two sweeps this season, Auburn at home and on the road at at Alabama.

Going into this weekend, Ole Miss has lost its last four SEC series: to Florida in Gainesville, Arkansas at home, Mississippi State in Starkville, and LSU at Swayze. The Rebs just have not had the right pieces of the puzzle fall into place yet, and much of that goes back to injuries and absences due to COVID protocols. The Rebels have a lot of young talent — but many of them had never before participated in an SEC game prior to the Auburn series in Oxford in March, so youthful miscues are to be expected.

The great news is the bottom of the lineup is beginning to catch fire. Hayden Leatherwood is seeing the ball well and is a major threat, once again, just as he was in last year’s shortened season.

Freshman T.J. McCants now leads the team with a .345 batting average after hitting a grand slam in game three against LSU, tying the game that the Rebels would ultimately win via another freshman phenom, Kemp Alderman.

Alderman took his first pitch over the blue wall in a walk-off win and beer showers poured from the right field crowd.

The top of the lineup got going on Sunday late in the game to stack runs and send the Bengals back to Baton Rouge with a final-game loss.

Game One Matchup

Coach Bianco announced at Thursday’s press conference that RHP Gunnar Hoglund will be the starter Friday night. As a precautionary measure, Gunnar did not start last week due to some stiffness in his bicep but he will take the mound in game one vs. South Carolina.

Hogland (3-2, 2.73 ERA) will go up against South Carolina’s ace Thomas Farr (2-4, 3.36 ERA).

Farr is a three-pitch thrower who relies heavily on his high-velo fastball. The Gamecocks’ Friday starter has a fastball in the 92-94 mph range but it has been clocked as high as 96 mph.

Farr has a high 3/4s arm slot and is powerful enough to keep his high velocity fastball into the sixth and seventh innings. He also has a changeup with a sinking action that is 85-88 mph that he uses in contrast to his fastball. Farr also possesses an excellent curveball in the low 80s that is routinely thrown for strikeouts.

The key for the Rebs to winning game one on Friday is identifying the fastball early. Farr is a pitcher capable of going 7-8 innings, especially if his pitch total is low enough. The Rebel offense must jump out to a quick lead and keep piling on to win this matchup.

Game Two Matchup

LHP Doug Nikhazy had a good performance last weekend against an LSU team that seemed relentless at times. Nikhazy (4-2, 1.81 ERA) pitched 6.0 innings and gave up two runs on seven hits. Though he took the loss to his record, you can be sure he isn’t thinking about any other outing except for the Gamecocks.

South Carolina will likely start RHP Brannon Jordan (4-2, 3.04 ERA) who started against Arkansas last week — only allowing two runs on three hits in 4.2 innings of work. Like SC’s Friday night ace, Jordan also throws a three-pitch mix. The 6-foot-2, 190-lb Jordan is a breaking ball pitcher. His slurve or power slurve has great depth and tight rotation with a spin rate of 2600-2700 at 79-81 mph. He also tosses a fastball at 90-92 mph with the ability to touch 95 mph — but not often — and he also throws a changeup in the low 80s.

The best way to attack a pitcher like Jordan is to attack the first pitch thrown, as analytics have shown the first pitch will be a fastball. Next, the Rebels will need to be patient, identify that slurve, and then key on its motion to make sure that his stay on the mound is a short one.

Game Three Matchup

RHP Drew McDaniel (4-0, 4.14 ERA) will top the hill on Sunday in his third SEC start. Drew faced a rude greeting by the Tigers this past Sunday when he was pulled after allowing six runs on nine hits in 2.2 innings of work, but all things worked out well for McDaniel and the Rebels as the team bounced back from a 9-1 deficit to win 10-9.

South Carolina will send out Will Sanders (6-2, 2.70 ERA) against the Rebs. At 6-foot-6, 195 lbs., Sanders is a long, lean built pitcher who has a very fast arm action to the plate. His fastball works in the low-to-mid-90s and occasionally tops out at 94 mph.

Sanders mixes in his changeup well and works it to offset his fastball. He has a 12-6 curve that has tight spin and a hard down break. Where Sanders gets in trouble is when he cannot get comfortable on the mound, and that causes him to lose his timing. A pitcher with that long of a frame this early in his career does not typically stay consistent over a full game. Whether or not that is the case, the Rebels must attack early and often. Ole Miss cannot afford many more game three losses heading into the back stretch of the SEC. Hopefully Sunday’s come-from-behind victory vs LSU will be the first of many more to come.

Summary

The Ole Miss pitching staff needs to be watching for two very dangerous hitters on South Carolina’s squad. Brady Allen is batting .320 with 11 home runs and he has eight stolen bases, so Rebels’ catcher Hayden Dunhurst will be tested this series.

Second, while Wes Clarke is only hitting .280, he has 15 home runs to his credit on the year. As with every SEC series, a win or a sweep can come down to just two to five pitches. The middle relief for Ole Miss is beginning growing steadily as Derek Diamond jumped in place for Gunnar on Thursday night and freshman Jack Dougherty was the “stopper” against LSU that allowed Ole Miss the chance at the victory.

The Rebels have four SEC series remaining: South Carolina, at A&M, Vanderbilt, and at Georgia. Regional host sites will be narrowed down to 20 by May 10, with 16 sites and their hosts announced on Selection Sunday. It’s getting down to the wire, and the Rebels are ready to get back to their winning ways and play hard for the Red & Blue!

The weather should be nice and warm this weekend in Oxford. So throw on your Ole Miss gear, pack your coolers and your cups, and head down to Swayze this weekend. Let’s get behind our Rebels!

Game info

Game 1 – Friday at 6:30 pm (SECN+)

Game 2 – Saturday at 6 pm (SECN)

Game 3 – Sunday at 11:30 am (SECN+)

(Feature image credit: Josh McCoy, Ole Miss)

About The Author

Chad Smith

Chad holds a Bachelor of Business Administration from Ole Miss and stays immersed in Rebel sports and alumni affairs. As a second-generation Rebel, he loves everything that makes the university unique and appealing. While he supports every sport on campus, his primary love is Ole Miss Baseball. As a baseball scout and creator of the only group dedicated to Ole Miss Baseball, Chad enjoys focusing on the players’ and the team's success on and off the field. The unique atmosphere created by the fans, facilities and coaching staff has transformed Swayze Field into a world-class program that others only dream of having. Chad currently lives in Lula, Georgia with his wife Danielle, his German Short-Haired Pointer Renegade "Hotty Toddy," and a cat named Boudreaux.

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