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Rebels, No. 8 LSU jockey for SEC West positioning in top-10 series

More than halfway into the Southeastern Conference schedule and the Ole Miss baseball team is sitting right it wants to be.

Even with the highs and lows, including splitting their first six SEC series, the No. 9 Rebels (31-11) are 10-8 in the Western Division and two games back of No. 2 Texas A&M.

The division race and postseason picture could become much clearer for Ole Miss after its weekend series with visiting LSU that begins tonight (6 p.m., SEC Network) and concludes on Saturday afternoon.

The No. 8 Tigers (27-14, 10-8) are in a three-way tie for second with the Rebels and No. 3 Mississippi State, which won its series with the Tigers last weekend in Baton Rouge.

“We got off to a terrific start and won the first (SEC) weekend then played a very good South Carolina team and didn’t play really well,” Ole Miss coach Mike Bianco said. “We played two really good teams when we weren’t playing our best baseball and lost and kind of put us in a hole. From that point on, I think we’ve fought back and put ourselves back in position with four weeks remaining.”

Last year, Ole Miss went to Alex Box Stadium and dropped the series but did win a 14-inning affair on Saturday to salvage a game.

This LSU team is not as intimidating as recent Tiger teams have been, losing midweek contests including a 4-1 defeat to Tulane on Tuesday. That does not mean they do not have the pieces to leave Oxford-University Stadium with a series win or even a sweep.

Freshman outfielder Antoine Duplantis leads a Tiger offense that has seven players hitting over .300 with a .358 batting average and 25 runs batted in. Sophomore Beau Jordan leads LSU with 35 RBIs and is hitting .342.

On the mound, LSU is led by ace Jared Poche, who will get the start tonight opposite Brady Bramlett. Poche has a record of 5-4 and an earned run average of 3.26 to go along with 51 strikeouts.
Alex Lange and John Valek III make up the rest of the probable rotation for LSU. Lange has a team-high 75 strikeouts while Valek has issued only seven walks in 52 1/3 innings.

McArthur’s chance
After getting his first taste of SEC action Sunday, freshman James McArthur will get his first taste of starting in an SEC game when he takes the mound for the Rebels in Saturday’s finale at 11 a.m. McArthur joins Bramlett and Friday starter David Parkinson.

The right-hander relieved starter Sean Johnson last week in relief but has relieved Johnson of his starts completely by becoming the latest Ole Miss pitcher to try his hand as the third starter.

“I’m very excited,” McArthur said. “I’m just blessed to be given the opportunity and I’m ready to just go out there and do what I’ve been doing and have some fun. … I just try and go out there and attack the zone. You’ve got to make them hit it and make them compete.”

McArthur has been a stable presence in the Rebels’ midweek games with a record of 5-0 and an ERA of 2.84. Against Auburn last week, McArthur worked 4 2/3 scoreless innings and struck out eight batters, helping him earn SEC Freshman of the Week honors.