OXFORD – Colby Bortles homered twice – including his second grand slam in five days – and Ole Miss won easily against Tennessee-Martin 11-1 before a sparse gathering at Swayze Field on Wednesday afternoon.
Senior right-hander Sam Smith pitched six innings with four hits and one run as Ole Miss climbed above .500 at 19-18 going into this weekend’s SEC series at Auburn.
The question now is can the Rebels turn momentum from a series win at No. 1 Vanderbilt into a second-half run for breathing room going into the SEC tournament?
With 19 regular season games, left Ole Miss needs to go 10-9 to be 29-27 going to Hoover, Ala., to give themselves a plus-.500 record going to the SECs.
“That’s been the question all week. What kind of effect with the Vanderbilt weekend have,” Ole Miss coach Mike Bianco said. “I hope we can wake up in June and say the second half (of SEC play) after the Vanderbilt series was the turning point. We’ll see. I don’t know how to answer that.”
The Rebels are 7-8 in the league standings, tied with Arkansas for third place in the Western Division.
Ole Miss has been 7-8 at the SEC turn five times under Bianco.
All five of those teams reached the NCAA tournament. Two of them – in 2005 and 2006 – hosted super regionals.
The Rebels were 8-7 at the turn in 2011 but went 5-10 over the back half of SEC play and missed the postseason.
If the Rebels get up to 14 SEC wins they’ll have strong resume numbers. Their schedule is ranked No. 1, and the SEC is rated No. 1 in RPI among conferences.
Ole Miss went into the week with a 27 RPI rating, well within the range of NCAA at-large teams – provided other factors are in play.
The factor the Rebels will have to keep an eye on is their overall record.
“We’re beginning to get a little of our swagger back,” Bortles said. “We didn’t play well the first part of the year, not like everybody wanted.”
The Tennessee-Martin game was the breather it looked like when comparing numbers in advance.
The Skyhawks weren’t clean defensively and didn’t score until a solo home run in the sixth and dropped to 10-24 on the year.
Not all the remaining non-conference games are breathers. The Rebels have a neutral site game with Mississippi State, a home game with Memphis and a road game with Arkansas State still to play.
Senior first baseman Sikes Orvis, who also hit a home run Wednesday, said this team is maturing more.
“I don’t want to say it’s just been being so young, but we’re inexperienced and (now) learning how to show up every day,” he said. “That’s what we were so good at last year with a lot of veteran guys. Now we’re doing it, and you’re seeing it."