Turning The Page

RALEIGH, N.C. – It was obvious for anyone watching that Stuart Turner wasn't your average catcher, not just another college baseball player, as the Ole Miss Rebels went through fall baseball practices. A lot of others have taken note since.

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On Thursday, Turner added another honor to his growing list of accomplishments, being named a Louisville Slugger All-American by Collegiate Baseball, a second-teamer. His teammate Bobby Wahl was named to the third team.

Both have seen a lot of each other as starting ace pitcher and every day catcher for the Rebels this season. Both will likely be high draft picks next week.

For now, they'll both still be playing college baseball. Postseason baseball for Ole Miss begins now, or if you count the Southeastern Conference Tournament continues. Against William and Mary today at 1 p.m. CT, they'll see how far this postseason takes them.

Wahl won't get the nod. That will go to Mike Mayers who will start today. The Rebels have one of the best one-two punches in college baseball, no matter the order they start. Wahl will go in game two against, most likely, North Carolina State – if both teams win game one.

But William and Mary will prove to be no slouch. At 37-22 and in their first NCAA Tournament since 2001, the third-seeded Tribe aren't supposed to win today.

But the Rebels have to play well to avoid the upset. After all, this is an Ole Miss team that lost two games to Memphis and two games to Southern Mississippi. So any loss is possible; it is baseball after all.

Those losses came with non-weekend starters on the mound. It's been those weekend starting pitchers that have been as reliable as any aspect for Ole Miss this season. Wahl, Mayers, and the solid-performing Sam Smith have all been counted on this season and for the most part come through.

"Certainly the starters have established themselves," said Ole Miss head coach Mike Bianco, his team also 37-22 and seeded second here. "It's been the same three guys basically the entire season. It doesn't get much better than that as far as health and as far as performance."

There were some times when the starters handed the baseball off to a reliever that things didn't continue to go as well. But Bianco believes the Southeastern Conference Tournament proved at least some of that is back on course.

Mike Mayers
Bruce Newman

"The bullpen was terrific at the beginning of the season, struggled some, and pitched better again in Hoover," he said. "So I'm excited and pleased with the pitchers."

And his catcher, too. The Rebels wouldn't be where they are without Turner.

"He's a difference maker, as we've talked about all year. Defensively he's as good as they come," Bianco said. "He's the best catch and throw guy we've ever had. He's great with the pitchers. Great receiver. He's going to block all the balls and can get rid of the ball. Very accurate. Really defends the steal. To have that guy behind the plate has really been a big difference for us."

Turner leads SEC teams on throwing out base runners attempting to steal at 51 percent of the time. It was apparent as far back as fall ball runners would have a tough time dealing with Turner.

And offensively, he's been at the top of the Rebel charts most of the season – leading the team in hitting at .381, tying fellow junior Preston Overbey in the home run department with five, and with a team-best 55 RBI.

Turner, in junior college last season at this time, said he's ready to help the Rebels go as far as they can in the postseason.

"It's a lot of excitement. We want to play and win here, then play in a Super and win a Super," Turner said. "We know we're a good team, and we're ready to play. I feel like when we play our game, we can beat anybody in the country."

Turner agreed the bullpen seems to be back like it was earlier in the season when it was most efficient.

"They came out and threw really well," he said of their performances in Hoover. "I guess you could say (there was a) slump with the bullpen. They had been so good for us all year. Then a couple of games they let a lead go. But they'd picked up the offense so many times. For them to pitch like they did in the SEC Tournament and set the tone for the Regional, it's going to be big for us."

Mayers will be working with Turner today to try to get the Rebels past the Tribe. Then he'll turn things over to Wahl tomorrow.

"Having Bobby in the rotation with me, it's a huge benefit for the team," Mayers said. "I enjoy the pressure. Right now, this is the biggest game of the year. My goal today is get the ball to Bobby Wahl."

With a victory for the Rebels, obviously.

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