Opening Weekend

It's a blend of old and new as Ole Miss baseball opens its season at Stetson for three games this weekend. Mike Bianco said he likes that about this team.

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"When I look at it, it's as good a mix, as good a group of newcomers and veteran guys, that we've had in a long time," he said.

The Rebels, he also said, may start anywhere from two to four freshmen position players in a game this weekend.

Freshman shortstop Errol Robinson appears to be the best bet to draw a start among the rookies. Freshman second baseman Dalton Dulin is also heavily in the mix to start this weekend. Freshman outfielder J.B. Woodman is another that could see a start, as is freshman infielder/designated hitter Colby Bortles.

Another new face in the program who is almost a definite starter is junior college transfer in the outfield - Braxton Lee. His likely spot is left field, but he's played some in right.

Bianco said the first month will be about winning games and also getting the lineup ready for Southeastern Conference play.

"One of the biggest challenges for myself and the coaching staff over the first four weeks because of the depth is to work as many guys and get as much substantial playing time for as many guys as we can," he said. "As many innings on the mound, not only for the starters, but the bullpen guys, and try to define some roles. So when we open up (SEC play) at South Carolina on March 14, we have our best nine out there and the best three on the mound Friday, Saturday and Sunday. And, of course, the right guys coming in when need be."

The three starters this weekend will be junior right-hander Chris Ellis, sophomore junior college transfer LHP Christian Trent, and veteran junior righty Sam Smith, who has the most SEC starts on the squad.

Chris Ellis
Bruce Newman

Ellis limited by injury in 2013. He only worked 21.2 innings with a 1-2 record through 13 outings and two starts.

"Chris is the most talented guy we have. He had a really good freshman year. Last year at this time, we were talking about him being the Sunday starter. He actually started on opening weekend against TCU. But last year, he injured an abdominal muscle after that start for about six or seven weeks. It was hard for me to find him a role last year. Way into the season, we tried to rush him back. We tried him in some relief appearances. We just really never got him back on track. He had a terrific summer in the Cape. He's a guy that's projected to be a first rounder in the draft this coming June."

Trent arrived after pitching as a freshman at Delgado Community College in New Orleans. He was an impressive 9-2 record with a 2.77 ERA in 74.2 innings of work with 12 appearances at DCC. He struck out 72 batters in his time on the mound, leading Delgado to the Region XXIII playoffs. He had six complete-games in his 12 outings last season, including two complete-game shutouts.

"Trent was recruited to be a weekend guy," Bianco said. "We give out an award in the fall for the best pitcher. It's the guy that gives up the least amount of runs, not just earned, but total runs. One of the things we've talked about, along with that toughness, is we don't want you to give up any runs. We want you to be the guy that puts up zeros on the board. He pitched the best of anybody this fall. He gives us a little different look. He's a left-hander. He can throw the ball in the upper 80s to low 90s. He picked up a really good slider and changeup. He's had a lot of success for us."

Smith made 14 weekend starts last season. He had a 3-1 record with a 3.41 ERA and held opponents to a .286 batting average. He did not suffer a loss until the season finale at the NCAA Raleigh Regional in June.

Bianco basically designated Aaron Greenwood as the first guy in for the weekend. The hope for the senior right-hander is that he can go a long way when he comes into games, maybe even several innings to finish the game he enters.

"You have to have somebody at the end of the game that you trust and believe in that can finish the game," Bianco said. "At the beginning, we're going to go with Aaron first - kind of how we used (R.J.) Hively a couple of years ago. That guy will get saves. Aaron will be the first to come in that latter part of the game when you need to win the game and have a lead. We'll use him in that role."

Among position players, there are veterans. Seniors Will Allen and Austin Anderson will start at catcher and third base respectively. Both have three seasons already with the program.

The difference this season for the duo is Anderson moves to third base from shortstop. Allen returns to start as he did two years ago, after playing mostly in the DH role last season and as a backup to Johnny Bench Award winner Stuart Turner. Junior Austin Knight returns with a lot of experience as well as dependability to get the job done behind the plate or at the plate when he comes in.

Juniors Auston Bousfield and Will Jamison will get extensive playing time in the outfield. Senior Preston Overbey could be in a number of positions. He could play second, first, third, or DH. His versatility and experience have made him valuable at any spot and also allowed the coaches to have almost a backup plan if anything early doesn't work out.

Bianco said the Rebels need to step up and "do more" as a team and a program if they are to succeed at an even higher level this season.

Auston Bousfield
Bruce Newman

"The toughness and how to handle the adversity or fall into a stretch where you can't get out much like last year are big things. We were 21-3 at any point and won here Friday night against Texas A&M and then lost two close games on Sunday and then went to Florida and won on Friday night and lost two more games. Then lost two one-run games and an extra innings game against Vanderbilt. You look at that stretch of three weeks and we were good enough certainly, but we didn't play well enough. You just have to do more."

Spirit Watch: Three guys to keep an eye on early as the season unfolds are freshman right-handed pitcher Cheyne Bickel, junior juco transfer Braxton Lee in the outfield, and sophomore RHP Jacob Waguespack. Bickel brings a toughness to the mound Bianco is looking for. Lee is set to leadoff and is a speedy base-stealer. Waguespack is a tall, talented right-handed pitcher who had arm troubles last season and could emerge as a big help for the Rebels this season.

Scouting Stetson: The Hatters return their entire starting rotation from last year and six position players off a squad that posted a 26-31 record and finished fifth in the Atlantic Sun Conference standings last season. Patrick Mazeika returns to the Hatters after picking up Atlantic Sun Freshman of the Year honors. He hit .382 a year ago as a freshman with three home runs and 33 RBI and started 57 games.

Today's starting pitcher for Stetson is right-hander, a fifth-year senior who graduated last May and is currently pursuing a graduate degree, Schluter appeared in just three games last season before injuries forced him off the mound in early March. The 2011 Atlantic Sun Pitcher of the Year is expected to serve as either the team's closer or as a weekend starter.

Austin Perez, the left-handed Saturday starter, led the Hatters last season with a 7-2 record and a 2.81 ERA with two shutouts. He led the Hatters with 66 strikeouts while tossing 89.2 innings.

The Sunday starter is schedule to be junior right-hander Josh Powers. He posted a 1-8 record as a sophomore but also recorded a 3.41 ERA and tossed a team-high 105.2 innings. He also walked just 15 batters but was done in by poor runs support as the Hatters averaged just 3.3 runs in his 15 starts. A workhorse, Powers threw at least seven innings eight different times.

The Hatters hit .263 as a team last season with seven home runs and 223 RBI and 75 doubles. Stetson's pitching staff posted a 4.65 ERA last season with a .288 opponent batting average.

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