After nine long months, Ole Miss baseball returns to the diamond for its first regular-season series of 2018 on Friday afternoon, hosting the Eagles of Winthrop University.
Coming off a middle-of-the-pack season last spring, head coach Mike Bianco is excited to see how his young roster plays with another offseason under its belt.
“The freshmen that stepped onto the field for the first time had great first years, guys like Will Ethridge, Ryan Rolison and Houston Roth, who garnered Freshman All-American Honors and had great freshmen campaigns,” he said. “Some of those freshmen didn’t play as well, but the good news for us was that they were out there a lot, and they gained a lot of experience at times.”
Bianco released the starting rotation Tuesday, revealing highly touted draft prospect Ryan Rolison as Friday’s starter on the mound, followed by Brady Fiegl and James McArthur on Saturday and Sunday, respectively. Though it’s typically an easy decision to name the three opening weekend arms, Bianco found this year to be a battle to the end for the final spots.
“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,” he said. “We have a lot of depth and a lot of talent, and along with the guys that I’ve mentioned, guys like Houston Roth, Greer Holston and Will Ethridge are looking for one of those spots as weekend starters, but as we start the first weekend, those guys will find themselves in the bullpen.”
Alongside the rocket-armed potential starting pitchers, the remainder of the bullpen provides depth and security. One of those key returners who will be phoned-in throughout the year is Dallas Woolfolk. Woolfolk will anchor the pitching rotation as the season’s closer. Over the summer, the 6-foot-3, 240-pound right-hander represented the country on the USA Baseball Collegiate National Team in the same role.
“To wear that ‘USA’ across your chest and represent the best that our country has to offer for amateur baseball players, Dallas, I think, is tested not only in our league but internationally, and I’m excited to have him back there,” Bianco said.
As Friday afternoon rolls around, there is no denying the Rebels’ depth both in the field and on the mound. Losing just Colby Bortles and Tate Blackman in the field, the Rebels return seven of their starting nine from last season, which is a stark contrast to the beginning of the 2017 season.
“And when you look at the pitching staff, they really did pitch it pretty well last year. I think we were ranked fourth in the SEC in ERA, and we return seven of the nine best earned run averages from last year,” Bianco said.
Overall, the 18-year skipper is excited about what this abundance of talent will bring to the opening series against a Winthrop program that is not to be taken lightly.
“An experienced staff and experienced position players usually makes for a pretty good team,” he laughed.