Back on the Diamond

Eighth-ranked Ole Miss is back in action today at 4 p.m. as a northern team provides opposition for three games. The Rhode Island Rams are 0-3 but could turn out to be a dangerous pitfall if the Rebels aren't careful.

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"They're a team that's used to doing this," said Ole Miss head coach Mike Bianco. "They went to Florida State last weekend, and they've played in Regionals. I don't think they'll be like some teams that come down here for the first time. I don't think they're going to be wowed or intimidated. They'll be a solid team that does a lot of things well. We expect that they'll be a team that will really compete."

Rhode Island played three games last weekend in Tallahassee. And while the Seminoles won all three, they were challenged. It was a walk-off home run in the tenth inning Sunday that secured it for FSU.

Rhode Island led 5-0 after four innings and kept ninth-ranked Florida State (3-0) off the scoreboard until the sixth inning when FSU scored two runs. Later Rhode Island led 6-2, but the Seminoles scored four runs in the bottom of the eighth to tie the game 6-6.

That led to the extra-innings result as Florida State's DJ Steward homered with two outs shot for the FSU walk-off win.

The Rams also had a shot at winning Saturday. They held the lead in the seventh inning before Florida State went on to the four-run victory. Rhode Island's 12 walks in the contest were killers for the Rams. Only three of FSU's six runs were earned, and URI actually outhit Florida State 8-7 in the contest.

Florida State had jumped out to an early lead in the series opener and cruised to a 11-5 win.

Rhode Island is a veteran squad that's picked to finish second in the Atlantic 10 by the league's head coaches. The Rams return six position starters from last year's club, including 2012 A-10 Player of the Year Jeff Roy, a junior, and All-Conference selections senior Pat Fortunato, junior Pat Quinn and sophomore Tim Caputo.

Roy finished his sophomore season ranked either first or second on the team – and was among the conference leaders – in every offensive category. He recorded a team-best 84 hits and 59 runs while leading the league with a .421 average in A-10 games (40-95). He also reached base in a conference best 41 consecutive games, in addition to leading the Rams with a .487 slugging percentage and a .443 on-base percentage.

Fortunato was one of just three players to appear in each of URI's 59 games last year. He fielded 41 double plays throughout the regular season – second most in the A-10 – and ended the year ranked second on the team in runs scored (40), third in RBI (34) and fourth in hits (56).

Quinn wrapped up his sophomore campaign making 48 starts for the Rams, after recording just six as a freshman. He split time between catcher and first base while primarily serving as the teams designated hitter. He finished the year batting .389 in Atlantic 10 play and was .303 overall, which tied for third on the team.

Caputo led all A-10 freshman (and ranked seventh overall) with a .363 average in league play. He also finished third in runs scored (22), despite primarily hitting ninth in the order. Additionally, he was the only player to receive A-10 Rookie of the Week honors three times last year - including back-to-back weeks leading into the conference championship.

Tanner Mathis
Bruce Newman

Rhode Island's all-time home runs leader, senior Mike LeBel appeared in five games last season before missing the remainder of 2012 with an injury. In those games, he went 7-for-13 (.538) with three RBI, two doubles, a home run and three stolen three bases.

On the mound, head coach Jim Foster has 11 pitchers, including starters Sean Furney and Liam O'Sullivan, who combined to go 10-1 last season. The Rams also return closer Mike Bradstreet, who posted 10 saves last year and is just five shy of setting a new career record at Rhode Island.

Saturday's game is at 1 p.m., while Sunday's finale is at 1:30 p.m.

Leaning Left

Bianco has some left-handed pitchers to turn to this season, and three have already made appearances.

Junior college transfers Jeremy Massie and Austin Blunt, along with freshman Matt Denny have already made their 2013 debuts.

"I thought they were terrific," Bianco said. "Denny got in (Wednesday) and pitched two innings. Just how you draw it up. Just go in there and throw it in the strike zone. He threw all three of his pitches in there. And he looked very comfortable. That's the thing that you hope for the new guys, especially when they get on the mound. They look like they believe they can get them out. (Denny) did. Blunt did. They looked as good as they have in any intrasquad game, so that's exciting for us."

All three have made one appearance through four games with 0.00 ERAs.

On the Mend

Senior John Gatlin, who was the likely starter at second base before a shoulder injury diving for a ball in late January, is healing.

"He's limited in his range, but balls hit right at him (lately), he's been pretty good," Bianco said. "He's been playing catch for a while. So he's coming along."

Bianco said it's hard to predict when Gatlin might be able to play in a game.

"He can't reach for a backhand yet," he said. "I think (he's limited in his) range of motion. I don't think it's any pain. They'll keep working his range of motion and his strength. He hasn't picked up a bat yet, so he's still a ways away."

(URI media relations information contributed to this story.)

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