Rebels get early test from No. 2 Louisville

Published 12:01 pm Friday, February 26, 2016

If Ole Miss wants to prove it belongs in Omaha for the second time in three years, the Rebels will have their opportunity this weekend.

The 21st-ranked Rebels (4-0) host No. 2 Louisville (4-0) starting today at 4 p.m. at Oxford-University Stadium.

The weekend series will be a true barometer for how special this season could be for Ole Miss, a year removed from going two and out in the Los Angeles Regional last summer.

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“It’s a huge test. I think it’s a big test in all aspects,” Ole Miss coach Mike Bianco said after Wednesday’s win over Arkansas State. “I think (Louisville’s) offense is terrific. A group that should’ve probably went to Omaha last year but lost in a super regional. It would have been their third year in a row to go to Omaha. I think it’s a huge test all the way around.”

After putting up 32 runs against Florida International’s pitching staff last weekend, it will be a far greater challenge to do the same thing, or even score double-digit runs at all, against the Cardinals’ staff.

Louisville boasts one of the top pitching staffs in the nation, led by senior Kyle Funkhouser. The right-hander went 8-5 in 2015, posting a 3.20 earned run average with 104 strikeouts in 112.1 innings pitched. It earned him All-America and All-Atlantic Coast Conference honors.

Funkhouser will take the mound tonight against Ole Miss ace Brady Bramlett. Probable pitching matchups over the weekend will see Cardinals sophomore Brendan McKay go against Chad Smith on Saturday (1:30 p.m.). Junior Drew Harrington will take the mound opposite Sean Johnson on Sunday (1:30 p.m.).

“We’re going to have to play our A game obviously,” shortstop Errol Robinson said. “They’ve got a very talented team as well as coaching staff, and I think as long as we do what we have to do and honestly just play our best and continue to be consistent and really pick up the bats a little more than what we had (Wednesday) and we’ll be fine.”

Hot at the plate
Offensively, the Cardinals enter the weekend as hot at the plate as the Rebels have been in the young season. Last weekend, Louisville outscored SIU Edwardsville 43-5, hitting four home runs over three games.

Junior outfielders Corey Ray and Colin Lyman have been the top producers at the plate for the Cardinals thus far. Ray leads the team with a .733 batting average, hitting 11-for-15 with a double, triple and three home runs. He leads the team with nine runs batted in.

Lyman is hitting .545 (6-for-11) with one double and five RBIs.

Ole Miss counters that with an explosive offense of its own. In four games, the Rebels have scored 36 runs and are led by a red-hot Tate Blackman. The sophomore second baseman is hitting .667 (8-for-12) and leading the second best hitter in J.B. Woodman by nearly 300 points (.385).  Blackman has a team-best seven RBIs with two doubles and a home run.

This weekend will mark the fourth series between Ole Miss and Louisville since former Rebel assistant coach Dan McDonnell left to take over the head coaching job at Louisville in 2007. In his nine seasons with the Cardinals, McDonnell has posted a record of 406-177 and has beaten Ole Miss four of their last seven meetings.

“Dan McDonnell has done a terrific job since he’s left here,” Bianco said. “Built a dominant force up there and proud of what he’s done. It will be three days of no rain and warmer temps, and it will feel like an SEC weekend I’m sure.”