Ole Miss baseball head coach Mike Bianco spoke with the media Monday afternoon at baseball media day to discuss his team as they prepare for their season opener. The No. 13 Rebels open the season Friday with a three-game series against No. 14 TCU.
The opening of Ole Miss baseball season is just days away, when the No. 13 Rebels welcome No. 14 TCU for a three-game series.
First pitch for Friday’s season opener is set for 4 p.m. from Oxford-University Stadium/Swayze Field. Head coach Mike Bianco is excited to get things underway.
“It’s obviously an exciting time of the year for us with opening day less than a week away,” Bianco said.
“The kids have been going at it since late August, since they stepped on campus. We had a tremendous fall and really good early spring, but they’re ready to play somebody in a different uniform.”
Ole Miss ended last season with two consecutive losses to the Horned Frogs in the championship of the College Station, Texas, regional. The Rebels have six position starters returning this year in addition to their Friday and Saturday starters and closer.
Bianco said he believes that returning experience will not only make a big difference as the Rebels go through a tough non-conference schedule, which includes the series with TCU, a three-game series at Florida International, neutral-site games against Mississippi State and Southern Miss and a road game at Southern Miss, and SEC play, but that experience will also come in handy during NCAA Tournament time.
“Last year’s team lacked an identity, but this year’s team, certainly, has that identity.” Bianco said.
“We have as much experience as much as I can remember on both sides of the ball.”
On the mound, junior right-handers Bobby Wahl and Mike Mayers provide one of the best one-two punches in the country, but Ole Miss needs someone to be a consistent starter on Sundays to reach the Rebels’ full potential.
Bianco announced Monday that sophomore right-hander Chris Ellis will get the nod against the Horned Frogs and said the Birmingham, Ala., native had a good fall that set him apart from the competition.
“Since Chris got back (from summer ball), he’s different,” Bianco said. “He walks around like an SEC starter, and certainly, he’s always had the stuff. The stuff has always been in him, you just never know when it’s going to come out.”
Ellis was 4-0 with a 2.84 ERA in 31.2 innings of work this past season.
At the plate, Ole Miss lost Alex Yarbrough, Matt Snyder and Zach Kirksey, but hitting coach Cliff Godwin feels this year’s squad will fill that hole.
“This offense has much more dynamics to it,” Godwin said.
“We’ve got guys that can run, but we’ve also got guys that can hit the ball in the gap and hit it out of the yard.”
The Rebels will be led by senior left fielder Tanner Mathis and sophomore center fielder Auston Bousfield.
Mathis is the leading returner at the plate. This past season, he hit .359 with 23 RBI and also had eight stolen bases, which led the team, and Godwin said Mathis is the catalyst for making the offense go.
“As far as being blue-collar, hard-nosed, he’s my type of guy,” Godwin said.
“When other teams face him, they hate that guy. He just spreads that throughout the team in a positive way.”
Bousfield could be a player that really comes into his own this season.
As a freshman, he hit .281 with 22 RBI and two home runs, but in the fall and spring, he was one of the most impressive batters. Wahl said he hates facing Bousfield in practice and scrimmages because he doesn’t swing at a bad pitch and is “just a tough out.”
“He’s just stronger,” Godwin said of Bousfield. “He’s a lot stronger than when he stepped on campus. The other thing is experience. He’s played every day in SEC play as a freshman and played center field. When you can do that, the experience you take away and have success as freshman, he’s just more confident.”
Two newcomers will also look to play big roles for Ole Miss.
Junior college transfer Stuart Turner will man the duties behind the plate, while junior college transfer Lance Wilson gets the starting nod at second base. Bianco said Turner is known for his defense but could also provide a big bat in the Rebel lineup.
Junior Will Allen and sophomore Sikes Orvis will both get playing time at first base, with the other most likely filling the designated hitter spot.
On the left side of the infield, senior Andrew Mistone returns at third base, while junior Austin Anderson looks to be the everyday guy at shortstop. Godwin looks for Anderson to have a breakout year at the plate.
“He was one of the better hitters on our team last year, and his numbers didn’t show for it,” Godwin said. “He led our team in hitting in the fall. He’s been nagged by a little hamstring injury in the preseason, but has still swung the bat really good. He’s just much more confident.”
In the outfield, Bousfield and Mathis will be the everyday starters in center and left field, respectively, while junior Preston Overbey and sophomore Will Jamison will split time in right field.
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