Players in both camps likely felt they could sweep this college baseball headline series. It's what players do and the positive attitudes they have. Both teams are projected to make some major national noise this season.
At Oxford-University Stadium/Swayze Field over the weekend, the Rebels won by counts of 1-0 on Friday and identical 5-2 scores Saturday and Sunday.
Arguably the most impressive aspect of the three games was the fact that so many relievers came into situations for the Rebels and were solid. Guys like Tanner Bailey, Josh Laxer, Scott Weathersby, and Aaron Greenwood. When they entered the games, in some cases tough situations, they were effective. That's as much why the Rebels swept as anything.
During the course of a game or a three-game weekend, there will be lots of twists and turns and decisions that affect the outcome. This weekend was no different.
Friday night's double play call by the umpire to end the game was huge. TCU's Dylan Fitzgerald was charged with runner's interference moving from first to second when he apparently ran outside the base path and kicked his legs out and hand up just enough toward Rebel shortstop Austin Anderson to warrant the penalty.
Some would argue that call isn't made in that situation, much like some apparent no-calls near the end of games in other sports. But the umpire was right there to make the call, and Ole Miss was 1-0 on the season at that moment.
It happened as Brett Huber was on the mound and the bases were loaded with one out. It came at the right time for Ole Miss. Sometimes those are the breaks, calls, situations a team needs to move on to something special, or at least win that particular game.
Saturday's game was important because it was a comeback win. As Coach Mike Bianco pointed out, the Rebels were not good in comeback situations last season. To trail 2-1 in the eighth and be able to win it was big for this team in game two of the season.
Then on Sunday, first-year catcher Stuart Turner's grand slam in the bottom of the first after the Rebels trailed 1-0 in the top of the first was important – for the team, since those runs proved to be enough, and also for Turner, who needs to be one of those players that provides some offense, especially of the long-ball variety.
And starter Chris Ellis, who emerged early last fall as the likely third starter, had a good outing despite an ab muscle pull he had been battling for a couple of weeks or more. After giving up a first-inning home run to tough out Jantzen Witte, Ellis pitched well and into the fifth, walking the first batter that inning and giving way to Josh Laxer. But he only allowed the one run on two hits with three strikeouts. He did walk three Horned Frogs. Ellis got the win, and it will be nice to see him pitch when he's 100 percent.
Sophomore center fielder Auston Bousfield had an impressive weekend, and as expected will be a key for this team, especially offensively. He batted .455 in the three games, going 5-for-11 with two runs scored. He had two hits in three at-bats Friday. He had the go-ahead RBI in the four-run eighth inning Saturday. Bousfield ended the weekend with a 2-for-4 game Sunday.
The leadership and maturity of this team showed up a lot over the weekend. Whether it was Tanner Mathis rallying the crowd with his play and his gestures late in Saturday's game when Ole Miss was making its move, or the obvious progression the pitchers have made since last year, the first weekend proved this team is older and deeper.
"Last year we couldn't have won all three," Bianco said, point blank after Sunday's game.
So what is the difference, Coach?
"We're a more mature team," Bianco said. "Last year's team felt the pressure. If they had success, it was try to get comfortable and make themselves feel good vs. just going out and playing every single day. We had trouble putting weekends together. That happened to us a lot.
"And by maturity, I'm talking about baseball maturity," he continued. "I'm talking about being a mature team and an experienced team. Last year going through that will be able to help a lot of these guys handle some situations differently."
Bianco was pleased the Rebels came to play every day and responded to every situation against a program like the Horned Frogs have established under head coach Jim Schlossnagle.
"To beat a team like TCU, you look at them and you realize they're very good," Bianco said. "The arms they run out and the pitching that they have, a team that's obviously coached very, very well and they're just so fundamental. They're going to win a lot of games this year. It was a big challenge for us this weekend. Three really tight games."
But it was only one weekend. There are 53 more scheduled games in the regular season.
"It's a long season," Bianco said. "But certainly it's good to get off to a good start."
Here are some notes from the weekend from Bill Bunting of Ole Miss baseball media relations:
Ole Miss opened the season with a strong showing, posting a sweep of No. 12 TCU in one of only two matchups of nationally-ranked teams in the opening weekend ... The weekend wins improved Ole Miss to 12-1 in season opening games under Mike Bianco ... The Rebels are also now 7-0 in three-game series to open the season under Bianco with five sweeps in those seven outings ... With the sweep, Bianco has now posted 474 wins at Ole Miss and is 12 wins away from becoming the all-time win leader in Ole Miss history, passing Jake Gibbs who posted 485 wins from 1972-1990 ... Bianco also needs 26 wins to hit the 500 win mark as Ole Miss head coach and 600 wins for his career as a head coach ... Senior RHP Brett Huber became the career saves leader at Ole Miss on Friday night, posting the save and combining with junior RHP Bobby Wahl and senior RHP Tanner Bailey for a 1-0 shutout of the Horned Frogs ... It was one of two saves on the weekend for Huber who closed out the Saturday game as well and now holds 28 saves for his career ... Huber passed three-time All-American Stephen Head for the saves record after entering the year with 26 for his career ... Wahl pitched the fourth combined shutout of his career in the Friday night win over TCU and struck out eight batters in 6.1 innings of work ... Junior RHP Aaron Greenwood picked up his first win of the season in a relief outing on Saturday, helping clinch the series win for the Rebels ... Greenwood worked 3.1 scoreless innings and struck out four while allowing only one walk and one hit against TCU ... Sophomore RHP Chris Ellis picked up the sweep clinching win on Sunday in his first weekend start of his career ... Ellis, who was working on a predetermined pitch count, alllowed one run on two hits ... The one run came on a solo home run in the first inning before settling in and holding the Horned Frogs off the board before leaving the game in the fifth inning ... Senior RHP Tanner Bailey proved masterful out of the bullpen, making two appearances on the weekend ... Bailey retired all five batters faced in the series opener to get the Rebels out of the seventh inning and through the eighth inning to set up the save for Huber ... Bailey picked up his first career save on Sunday, retiring five of six batters faced down the stretch to preserve the win ... He entered the game on Sunday with a man in scoring position and one out, proceeding to get the Rebels out of the inning with a strikeout and a foul fly ... Bailey held TCU to a .091 batting average, allowing only the one hit through 3.1 innings of work ... Junior C Stuart Turner came up big for the Rebels on Sunday, posting a grand slam for his first hit as a Rebel to give Ole Miss a 4-1 lead on TCU ... Sophomore OF Auston Bousfield led the Rebels at the plate on the weekend, hitting .455 with two runs scored and went 2-for-2 on steal attempts ... Bousfield did not post a strikeout and drew one walk while posting a .500 on base percentage ... Senior OF Tanner Mathis was big in Saturday's game, driving in the game-tying run and scoring the go-ahead run as part of a four-run rally in the eighth inning of the come-from-behind win to clinch the series ... Ole Miss will play four games this week, including a single game against Tennessee-Martin on Wednesday and a three-game series against Rhode Island over the weekend ... It will be the first-ever meeting between Ole Miss and Rhode Island on the baseball diamond.