Ole Miss baseball learned a lot about itself during its first road trip of 2018.
After jumping out to an 8-0 start at home to begin the year, head coach Mike Bianco’s Rebels made the trek out West to take on the Long Beach State Dirtbags over the weekend and won two of three games in the series.
Game one, which was postponed from Friday to early Saturday because of rain, was a nightmare for Ole Miss. Poor fielding and defensive play, coupled with ace Ryan Rolison’s worst start of the year, handed the Rebels their first loss of the season with a final score of 4-3. However, with Brady Feigl on the hill in game two, Ole Miss rebounded and squeaked out a 4-3 win of its own and split the Saturday doubleheader.
The third game, on Sunday, saw Ole Miss looking like an Omaha-worthy team as the Rebels routed the Dirtbags 12-1 with 14 hits and no errors – a far cry from its first performance on Saturday. James McArthur pitched his best game of the season, threw five innings and allowed no earned runs on only two hits.
One of Bianco’s points of emphasis coming into the season was changing how his team responded to adversity. Last season, the Rebels struggled at the plate, which made it difficult to climb back into games when the pitching was not at its best or when the team fell behind early. The 2017 Ole Miss squad also seemed to respond poorly to defeat as losses piled up throughout the year, especially in SEC play.
Although Ole Miss suffered its first loss of the season this weekend in California, the fact that the Rebels rebounded to win the series speaks volumes about the team’s potential. Ole Miss has a solid pitching staff and a surprisingly talented offense thus far, and it learned this weekend that it has the tools and talent to rise above inevitable adversity and win ball games.
Of the talent emerging at the plate for Ole Miss, former Oxford High School shortstop Grae Kessinger has been more than a pleasant surprise early on. Kessinger was batting over .400 before heading out West and comes back home with a .395 batting average – one of the best on the team. Mike Bianco’s decision to place Kessinger in the leadoff spot this season may have seemed strange, considering the sophomore’s less-than-stellar offensive performance last season, but it has paid off, so far.
Now that the Rebels are finished with their trip out West, they return to Swayze Field for a five-game homestand that will see Austin Peay, Arkansas-Little Rock and Eastern Illinois visit Oxford.
Today’s game against Austin Peay will see Houston Roth take the mound again after a shaky outing against Murray State a week ago. He enters the midweek bout with a 4.50 ERA and a 1-0 record, but he gave up four runs in the first inning last week. He eventually settled in and retired 13 of the next 16 en route to an eventual 7-6 walk-off win in favor of the Rebels, but he will need to find his groove early this go around.
Austin Peay comes into Oxford with an 8-3 record, having suffered losses to Southern Illinois, Vanderbilt and Indiana State by a combined score of 46-18. As a team, the Governors have a .276 batting average and a 6.45 ERA, which bodes well for the Rebels, who are looking to keep the potential for another loss at bay.
Tonight’s game against the Governors is scheduled for a 6:30 p.m. first pitch at Swayze Field and will be broadcast on SECN+.