Ole Miss baseball’s opening day is less than a week away and there is a lot to be excited about, as the team prepares for its debut at the State Farm College Baseball Showdown on Feb. 20-22.
The Rebels will be returning seven of the nine starters from last year after losing two to the MLB draft in June. Over the past few years, the Rebels have gained national attention and asserted themselves as a powerhouse not only in the SEC but nationwide. They have made 16 regionals appearances in 19 years under head coach Mike Bianco.
During the off-season, Ole Miss gave Bianco a four-year contract extension. The expectations are still very high for this team, and this year will be no different. After the season was cut short last year, players are itching to get back.
“My expectation is to play well, especially for an older group,” Bianco said in a press conference. “That’s always your hope for opening weekend, but we expect it from this older group — that we come out and are mature and aggressive and that we go and play that way offensively, defensively and on the mound. There are 300 people who are having press conferences across the country talking about Omaha and talking about having success, and I think that’s what’s neat about the start of the season.”
Ole Miss ranked as high as No.4 in preseason polls, setting the expectation that they are capable of taking this season far. The team is an older group that has continued to recruit well to bring in talent. Last week, the Rebels were also predicted to win the SEC West in the league’s preseason coaches poll.
In addition to the preseason polls, there are a few players who will be back to hopefully make a difference. Senior third baseman Tim Elko and sophomore Hayden Dunhurst are stand-out players who both received the Second Team All-SEC preseason team.
Elko hit a .354 last season and started in 12 of the 17 games. He was named Rebel captain after totaling four doubles, a triple and three home runs in the season. He also had 15 runs batted in with 12 total runs scored.
Dunhurst, the sophomore catcher, was named an All-American after he hit a .269 with five home runs in his freshman season. He allowed the second-fewest stolen bases in the SEC with five.
This season will be long full of highs and lows, and the Rebels will play a full SEC schedule with other teams sprinkled throughout the season. Some of the most telling games will be against Arkansas, Mississippi State and the upcoming opening weekend.
“Usually, older groups play better, they’re more experienced,” Bianco said. “One of the reasons for that, our game is tough. There are a lot of ups and downs. It’s a long season, a lot of games. There are going to be times where we don’t play to our expectations. Usually, older teams can handle that. Younger teams seem to wallow in those lows longer. Older teams seem to handle the adversity much better, and I think this group will do that as well.”
Ole Miss opens its season in Arlington, Texas, at the State Farm College Baseball Showdown, Feb. 20-22 at 3 p.m.