Ole Miss’ offense to be tested by LSU’s arms

Published 3:55 pm Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Ole Miss’ pitching has been strong all season, and the offense is starting to show signs of coming around.

The Rebels will get a good indication of exactly how much progress they’ve made with the bats this weekend.

Ole Miss will head to Baton Rouge, Louisiana for its series against No. 8 LSU on a five-game winning streak following its 6-2 win at Southern Miss on Tuesday. The series will begin on Thursday (6:30 p.m.) and end on Saturday (2 p.m.) with Friday’s middle game set for a 7 p.m. first pitch.

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The Rebels (21-12, 6-6 Southeastern Conference) began the week still at or near the bottom in many of the league’s offensive categories, but they’ve scored at least five runs in each game of their winning streak while hitting .268 during that span — a 22-point uptick from their .246 average on the season. Will Golsan, Ryan Olenek and Nick Fortes have been catalysts with Olenek and Golsan hitting .381 and .333 during that span while Fortes, who’s made seven straight starts at catcher, has seven hits in his last 13 at-bats.

LSU (23-11, 7-5) will counter with one of the best rotations in the SEC led by left-hander Jared Poche, who had a seven-inning no-hitter against Army in his first start and flirted with another one his next time out to begin the season with 15 consecutive hitless innings. Poche has won six of his first eight starts, yielding just 13 earned runs and 38 hits in 50 1/3 innings on his way to a team-best 2.32 earned run average.

Alex Lange joins Poche to create a formidable 1-2 punch even if Lange’s numbers aren’t quite as impressive to this point. He’s 3-4 with a 3.77 ERA, but the 6-foot-3 right-hander, who’s widely projected to be a first-round pick in this summer’s MLB First-Year Player Draft, has 62 strikeouts in 45 1/3 innings.

Only Poche has thrown more innings for the Tigers than true freshman Eric Walker (4-0), who’s got a 2.45 ERA while limiting opponents to a team-best .206 average as the third weekend starter. Teams are hitting just .228 against LSU while the Tigers are striking out more than nine batters a game.

Ole Miss has pitched it well from the start, ranking at or near the top of the league in ERA (2.77), opponents’ average (.220), strikeouts (319), hits allowed (231) and runs allowed (111), but the Rebels, who will stick with their rotation of James McArthur (2-1, 1.85 ERA), David Parkinson (4-2, 2.85) and freshman Ryan Rolison (4-1, 1.99), will have to navigate one of the SEC’s better lineups to keep it going.

The Tigers have six regulars hitting .303 or better led by second baseman Cole Freeman’s .350 average. LSU is third in the SEC in average (.296) and trails only Kentucky in runs (232) and RBIs (215).

The road trip gives Ole Miss a chance to boost its postseason resume as teams hit the halfway point of the SEC slate. The Rebels’ RPI is 39 while LSU has an RPI of 16.

Ole Miss hasn’t won a series in Baton Rouge since 1982.