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Rebel baseball inexplicably drops game to 5-21 North Alabama

OXFORD – Just when it began to look like the Rebels were going to turn things around, Tuesday happened. Playing one of the worst teams in the nation, Ole Miss failed to get anything going, losing to North Alabama 10-6.

“There isn’t a message. We were really bad today,” said head coach Mike Bianco. “Credit to North Alabama they played really well. It’s a team that’s struggled offensively and we gave up ten runs and 14 hits. Just a bad day.”

Now, North Alabama isn’t exactly a good baseball team. Coming into Oxford, the Lions were boasting a 5-21 record and were just 2-16 on the road. The only other power five team North Alabama had played were two games against Alabama in which they lost 8-0 and 4-1. Remember, Ole Miss took two of three games from Crimson Tide to open SEC play.

North Alabama is playing their first year at the Division I level. At an RPI rating of 285 in the country (there are only 299 teams in D1 Baseball), it’s not a team the Rebels should have struggled against. Frankly, it’s not a great sign moving forward.

Sophomore pitcher Max Cioffi made his first career start in this one; it wasn’t exactly a beauty. Cioffi has been solid on the year thus far, sporting an ERA of 3.86 in 16.1 innings of relief before Tuesday’s start, but this one didn’t go as planned. Cioffi made it just 3.2 innings into his start, allowing six hits and two earned runs.

An error by Tyler Keenan kept the three runs scored under pitcher Cioffi from counting as earned in the fourth inning and Houston Roth allowed two more runs to cross the plate on three hits in the sixth. On the day, the Rebel pitching staff consisting of Cioffi, Roth, Connor Green, Taylor Broadway, Austin Miller and Ryan Olenek allowed 14 hits to a North Alabama lineup hitting an average of .227 prior to Tuesday.

Ole Miss got four of their six runs in the third and fourth off of two RBIs from Thomas Dillard and one apiece from Cole Zabowski and Tyler Keenan. The final two runs came in the bottom of the ninth off a two-run home run by Kevin Graham. The Rebels stranded 11 batters and hit just 4-14 with runners in scoring position.

The Rebels were finally looking like they were playing their best baseball coming off of the weekend. Ole Miss had looked like a legitimate College World Series contender over the weekend, winning the series against No. 8 Arkansas, now they look as inconsistent as ever.

“You can judge it however you want. I don’t know if it was (focus). I don’t know if anyone knows that,” Bianco said. “I think it’s easy to point to that. It’s more of a case of we played really bad and they played really well.”

The last time North Alabama beat an SEC team was 1992 with a win over Mississippi State. Ole Miss stays home for this weekend for the first time in two weeks, taking on No. 21 Florida.