Ole Miss baseball will start the 2017 season facing challenges right off the bat. In their first month alone, the Rebels face nationally ranked and Omaha-contending schools, as well as a pair of off-the-radar but still dangerous small conference teams. The transition into March should be worth watching as non-conference contests turn into heated conference play.
The Rebels begin things early in March with a bid at the Shriners Hospitals for Children College Classic starting March 3. The three-day series will pit Mike Bianco and his team against three top Big 12 schools. The first game will be against Baylor, which is good news for Ole Miss as it is the weakest team on the Rebels’ slate. This game should prepare the Rebs for the trouble ahead that is No. 14 Texas Tech (No. 1 in Big 12 last year; 19-5 in conference play) and No. 1 TCU (No. 3 in Big 12 last year; 49-18 overall record). Both teams made deep runs in Omaha last year and are looking to repeat their success with each returning multiple seniors.
Following one of the most difficult back-to-back matchups on any collegiate baseball schedule, Ole Miss will return to Oxford for a series against Georgia State and Furman. Playing five games in six days should test the endurance of the starters as well as the depth of the pitching staff.
While Georgia State hauled in a nationally recognized recruiting class, and Furman boasts the Southern Conference’s lone representative in Baseball America’s 2017 College Top 100 Draft Prospects, these head-to-heads should tip in the Rebels’ favor despite the limited recovery time.
Two days after the end of the Furman series, Ole Miss will travel to Biloxi to square off with the Nicholls Colonels March 14. The night game shouldn’t give the Rebels much to worry about and could help to rest some players en route to the Rebs’ conference opener the following week.
Back in Oxford on March 17, Ole Miss will conclude the first part of an almost overwhelmingly formidable non-conference schedule and move into conference play against preseason No. 7 ranked Vanderbilt. The Commodores boast two first team preseason All-Americans in juniors Kyle Wright and Jeren Kendall. The duo will likely test just how ready the Rebels’ freshman class is for intra-conference play.
Bianco and the Rebels will then take a trip to Autozone Park for a rematch with the Memphis Tigers, in which both sides are seeking revenge. The Rebels will be back in Oxford just long enough to repack before they are on the road again, this time headed for Lexington, Kentucky, and the Wildcats. Ole Miss swept Kentucky last year, but with a pair of top 100 draft prospects and a new head coach, this could be an entirely different squad.
Upon returning home, the Rebels have a midweek home game against Arkansas-Little Rock. The Trojans lost one of the best players in the country in Ryan Scott and his Division I-leading .435 batting average. An upset is possible but much less likely in the former star’s absence.
Rounding out March, Ole Miss clashes with cross state rival Mississippi State in a series stretching from the 30th of March to the 1st of April. The matchup could see both teams ranked at this point, and this series could have big implications regarding the SEC West race. The Bulldogs took two of three in Starkville last year, and the “no love lost” mentality behind this rivalry should create an eventful, competitive and wholly unpredictable three-game series.
While the Rebels’ first month certainly had its fair share of tests for the young squad, the March lineup could hold even more adversity. With established Omaha contenders and up-and-coming dreamers, this month alone could make or break a season. Escaping the non-conference obstacle course unscathed will be challenge enough, but to seamlessly transition into conference play will be another issue entirely for Bianco and his team.