College baseball is here at last. Friday afternoon, the Ole Miss Rebels, ranked 16th in the nation according to Baseball America’s preseason rankings, will open their season with a series of three at Swayze Field against Winthrop University. After a season that failed to meet expectations in 2017, the Rebels will look to build off of that experience and make a deep run in the postseason.
Last year’s Ole Miss roster contained just six upperclassmen, so the grand majority of this year’s team will be returning with at least one year of SEC baseball under their belts. Experience will be essential for this team and the talent returning should compound that experience.
Head Coach Mike Bianco expects his team’s unique combination of youth and experience to be the difference-maker on Friday nights during SEC play.
“When you say these names, there’s not many new names in there, there’s a lot of familiar names with tons of experience,” Bianco said. “A team that last year was good, just not good enough often enough to compete in the Southeastern Conference. And I think one of the big things this year is the offense, but we talk to the staff a lot about the pitchers.”
As for opening night, sophomore pitcher Ryan Rolison, who earned Freshman All-American honors last season, will get the start. Saturday, Brady Feigl will start, and on Sunday, James McArthur gets the nod. Bianco announced these assignments later-than-usual on Tuesday, citing a problem many coaches would love to have.
“It’s one of the things that wasn’t supposed to be so suspenseful, but this year, it was a tough decision,” Bianco said. “A lot of times it’s not as difficult, you return maybe an ace or some other guys, but when I look at our rotation… people forget last year we had three Freshman All-Americans. Brady Feigl and James McArthur were a couple of them from two years ago. We have a lot of depth, and a lot of talent.”
Bianco is confident in his decision to feature Dallas Woolfolk as the closer, after the rightie was called up to the USA Collegiate Baseball National Team last summer. Woolfolk’s speed and control should make him a dangerous option for Bianco’s bullpen. Expect the Southaven native to catch a few professional scouts’ eyes before the season’s close.
Other starters around the infield include Cooper Johnson at catcher, Nick Fortes at first base, Jonathan Servideo at second and Grae Kessinger at shortstop. Bianco will make a a game-time decision between Tim Elko and Tyler Keenan at third base. Tim Rowe and Chase Cockrell will trade off as designated hitters.
Non-conference opponents can be written off as cupcake opponents at the beginning of an SEC season, but coach Bianco made it clear that this season is all business. His team cannot afford to drop winnable games early in the year. Winthrop enters this game as reigning Big South champions, and they are starting the reigning Big South Pitcher of the Year on Friday. Regardless, the Rebels have every opportunity to get this season off to a strong start with a trio of wins.