Ole Miss baseball is off to a fast start after dispatching the Memphis Tigers on Tuesday, improving its record to 4-0 on the year. The Rebels pushed through a late-inning Tiger comeback and emerged victorious, generating plenty of optimism for this upcoming season.
The Rebels entered 2018 ranked No. 16 by BaseballAmerica.com, with some polls placing them as high as 9th.
Last season, the Ole Miss lineup was solid but featured many young players who lacked big-game experience. Head coach Mike Bianco wasted no time blooding the youth, and that should pay dividends in 2018. This year, the Rebels have experience all over the field and look equipped to make a deep run in the postseason.
Despite losing to Auburn in the first round of the SEC Tournament in 2017, enthusiasm surrounding the program is at an all-time high. Coach Bianco is especially optimistic about the power of his pitching staff.
On Friday, the Rebels kick off a three-day series against the Tulane Pelicans at Swayze Field. The Rebels are finally getting their shot at redemption after a 6-5 loss to the Pelicans in the 2016 NCAA Oxford Regional.
Sophomore Ryan Rolison, currently featured in various MLB prospect rankings, will take the mound Friday afternoon for the Rebels. After a dominating performance on opening night, Rolison was named SEC Pitcher of the Week. Over this past weekend, he led all SEC pitchers with 12 strikeouts – more than any Ole Miss pitcher in an opener since Lance Lynn hurled 12 of his own in 2008.
Rolison should match up well against the Pelicans’ starting pitcher, Kaleb Roper, who threw a strong game last week against Wright State. Roper got the start against the Raiders and gave up a single run in five innings pitched for Tulane. He was named National Pitcher of the Week once last year for San Jacinto Junior College.
To counter, Bianco will lean on powerhouse hitters Nick Fortes and Grae Kessinger to bring the heat offensively after top-level performances in last week’s games. Fortes sent two shots deep against Memphis, driving in six RBIs, while Kessinger contributed four hits to the winning effort.
Despite claiming some of the best players in the nation, Ole Miss struggled last year. Communication and quiet bats held the talented group back for long stretches of the season. This year, the Rebels have the chance to redeem themselves. Bianco and the team have all the right pieces, but the question remains: Can Ole Miss put it all together?
First pitch on Friday is scheduled for 4 p.m. at Swayze Field in Oxford.