Through 12

Taking anything at face value can sometimes be difficult for humans. Almost like that old saying "Never look a gift horse in the mouth." Bottom line: accept it and move on.

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That could be Ole Miss' approach to its recent close baseball wins. However, nobody gave them much of anything. The Rebels earned it. It took a while, as in extra innings at times, but they finished the job and won the games.

This team, at 11-1, is different. Likely it's better. Will it win more games than say 38 like last season? We'll see.

There are more tools available. More speed. More power. More depth. More options across the board. It remains to be seen if the solid pitching can be sustained throughout the weeks ahead. More than any other position, pitching is the one you have to watch throughout the spring for 60-plus games.

Arms change. Effectiveness comes and goes. So far, the Rebels have managed to be strong on the mound in nearly every game, the loss to Georgia State when they gave up 14 hits and six runs the exception.

What happened Sunday in the finale against Central Florida is a snapshot of how this team seems to respond. Sam Smith loads the bases with one out in the top of the first against a warm-weather mid-major program hungry to leave Oxford with a win after losing two close ones. But Sam, after a visit to the mound from Mike Bianco, gets two Ks looking, and the Rebels head to the bottom of the first where they pick up four runs on their way to a 9-2 victory.

There's been power from the veterans. Will Allen launched one straightaway into center and over the wall for the game winner Saturday. Sunday he hit one to the same location that was just a bit short of going out.

We assessed in the press box that Will could move it left or right a little bit and he wouldn't have to hit it so far to get it out.

Pitching is still being shaped and molded for a long run this season. Chris Ellis, Christian Trent, and Sam Smith are locked into their roles for now. Three weekends in if you are getting what they are giving, that rotation will likely remain.

That's not to say it for sure will. April and May are a ways off. But the three are giving Ole Miss a chance to win every time they start.

The pitching staff's ERA through 12 games is 1.75. Ellis has yet to give up an earned run. Josh Laxer has so far looked like the pitcher he was projected to be three years ago, and he hasn't given up a run in 7.2 innings. Jeremy Massie, Wyatt Short, Preston Tarkington, Matt Denny, Austin Blunt, and Hawtin Buchanan have all kept opponents from scoring so far. Maybe the most surprising number to date is that of Aaron Greenwood, the veteran who was supposed to be a clutch closer or late-game guy but has struggled to a 7.20 ERA and hasn't yet found his groove, which he likely will. Jacob Waguespack and Cheyne Bickel will continue to log heavy innings.

Auston Bousfield
Bruce Newman

Defensively the Rebels have been strong, and the few miscues haven't been costly. Allen behind the plate is a better player there than he was two years ago. Austin Anderson is adjusting at third, although with the team lead in errors at three.

Errol Robinson has been smooth at shortstop. Preston Overbey is a veteran of college wars at second and for the most part makes things look easy; and he can play anywhere on the field. Sikes Orvis at first is primed for a solid season.

The players at the top of the batting average chart are the ones you would expect to be there. Auston Bousfield is over .400 at .404 through 12 games. Then come Allen, Overbey, J.B. Woodman, Orvis, Anderson, and Braxton Lee, all batting over .300 to date. Lee has been a terrific leadoff guy.

But it's the on-base percentage the coaches look at as well. The leaders in that stat are all the ones listed in the paragraph above, along with Errol Robinson, Colby Bortles, Brantley Bell, and Holt Perdzock. All are above .350 in on-base percentage.

Although not listed among the stats above, players like Dalton Dulin and Will Jamison have been heavy contributors and will continue to be. They've both started several games; Dulin a freshman and Jamison a third-year veteran. Both are from the Memphis area, and this midweek's game – Wednesday at Swayze at 6:30 p.m. - is big for them, as it is for the team.

The Memphis Tigers program has improved, and Ole Miss has lost to them lately. Memphis is off to a 10-1 start that includes a win over Mississippi State in Starkville. Memphis should be the best team the Rebels have played yet.

It's early and we only have a small sampling. But so far a grade of "A" for this team as it moves into heavier congestion on the road to warmer weather and whatever lies ahead in May and June.

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