Six weeks from today is first pitch for the new season. The baseball team from The College of William and Mary is in town for three games the weekend of Feb. 13-15.
William and Mary. Remember? Among the things that 2014 did was at least somewhat erase the memory of losing to the Tribe twice in the Raleigh Regional at North Carolina State to end the 2013 season.
That was back in the day before Ole Miss broke its longtime 42-year streak of not going to Omaha.
Then came 2014.
A lot of veterans stepped up. Guys like Austin Anderson and Will Allen, co-captains that the others followed all season.
Guys like Auston Bousfield, Preston Overbey, Sikes Orvis, and Will Jamison. And on the mound Chris Ellis and Sam Smith, for starters, and guys like Josh Laxer, Aaron Greenwood, and Scott Weathersby in relief.
There were other vets, but you get the picture.
There weren’t many dips. Only a four-game tailspin in mid-season against USM one game and Alabama the next three were what could have been called a losing streak of any significance.
There was a lot of consistency from that team. Veteran players and leadership. And balance, not only in the baseball sense but in the maturity department.
So they’ll be looking for all that this season. They can draw on how last year’s squad handled adversity, not getting too high or too low as the long, four-month process culminated at the apex of the game, among the elite eight in Omaha.
Then you had some first-year players who were remarkable. Nobody knew much about Braxton Lee, how valuable he would be, before he manned left field for an Omaha season. He was here only a short time but was on a team that made its mark. Much like Lee did.
And Christian Trent. The sensational left-hander with the perfect record. Not a loss as a starter.
Errol Robinson, J.B. Woodman, and later in the season Colby Bortles. Freshmen who grew up in a hurry.
And others already in the program who contributed, like Austin Knight, Holt Perdzock, and John Gatlin. And Sam Smith, with as many innings pitched as anyone in the program possibly ever.
That wasn’t everybody. There were others. Some return and will need to produce again. Newcomers will need to step in and help.
There’s one coaching staff change as Cliff Godwin heads up his alma mater’s baseball program at East Carolina. Mike Clement, now with his first fall semester in Oxford behind him, has replaced Godwin.
Ben Fleming is also back, and the Rebels’ strength and conditioning coach was an important part of the team's success in his first season. That area continues to be a “strength” for the team this year. There's been no let up since Fleming arrived in the summer of 2013.
We’ll begin to take a look at the team more in depth in the days ahead. One thing Ole Miss fans have proven in this era, and especially with last summer’s success through June, is that they're always excited about baseball. Rebel Nation does love this sport.
The Rebels will face, in addition to William and Mary, Wright State, and Stetson as home weekend series in the non-conference. And they’ll play at Central Florida for one weekend series in an area that’s become fertile recruiting ground for Rebel baseball. And as a reward for so many in the program to be able to go back and play down there, much like the Rebels did last season when they opened the run to Omaha at Stetson for three games in February.
They'll go to Louisville for two games in March, and the usual foes dot the schedule - Memphis, Southern Miss, and MSU in the non-conference.
The Southeastern Conference season begins at LSU with three games in mid-March, which will be no easy task. It’s been more than 30 years since the Rebels won a series in Baton Rouge.
But the SEC schedule is home heavy late, with Alabama in town the last weekend of April on Oxford’s Double Decker weekend. In the second and third weekends of May, Mississippi State and Texas A&M are at Swayze respectively.
Dust off the Navy cap with the red “M” on it. It's just about time to get ready. Baseball season is six weeks away.
A repeat of the 2014 campaign would be welcomed. The road to Omaha, like always, will prove challenging.
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