Ole Miss to hit the road for midweek and weekend series

Let the spring break trip begin. Ole Miss baseball takes its sparkling 15-1 record to date over to Birmingham and then up to Knoxville as the first Southeastern Conference week of 2016 begins.

By: Jeff Roberson

The Rebels have been good, not great - yet. Their record is what it’s supposed to be though. They didn’t play well against Louisville in game two, lost 4-0, faced a near unhittable pitcher in all-everything Brendan McKay, and had three errors of their own.

Other than that, all is fairly well.

Last season UAB came to Oxford and won two games. This week, in a 6:30 p.m. game Tuesday and an 11:30 a.m. game Wednesday at the Double A Barons’ Regions Park in downtown Birmingham, the Rebels get a chance for some revenge. But we all know that’s not what’s on their minds. It’s all about being 17-1 this season when leaving northern Alabama for eastern Tennessee.

“I feel good,” said Ole Miss head coach Mike Bianco about where his team is through four weeks. “We’ve gotta take care of business in Birmingham. The depth of the staff should be able to handle two midweek games. And everybody gets excited when it’s the start of conference play.

“One of the challenges for today was not to get caught up in the wins, and focus on the improvement. One percent better every single day. We’re a lot better team than when we first got together as a team January 15.”   

Because of weekend rains, the Rebels beat Grambling State 15-2 on Friday, got washed out Saturday, and won a couple of games on Sunday by counts of 7-3 and 6-1, both of them of the seven-inning variety. Chad Smith and Sean Johnson have both pitched well this season through four weekends. They’ll have to be better next weekend and for the next several weekends after that.

“Our starting pitching didn’t pitch it well today,” Bianco said. “I just don’t think they had good stuff today. Sean’s velocity was a little down and his command just wasn’t there. Smith, his stuff as far as velocity and what-not, was pretty normal. I just don’t think he was as sharp, meaning command-wise, and sometimes that happens. You can still fight through it and your command can get better, but (Grambling) made both our (starters) really work. We had a pretty rested bullpen, and the bullpen’s been spectacular for us.”

Indeed it has. Wyatt Short, Dallas Woolfolk, Connor Green, and Brian Browning have yet to give up a run. David Parkinson, Will Stokes, Brady Feigl, and Matt Denny one run each. Andy Paggnozzi, with 13 innings, only two. It’s been a solid bullpen, and much of the reason the Rebels have won 15 of 16.

Offensively things are coming around. The Rebels have seven hitters hovering around .300 or more. Ryan Olenek, Tate Blackman, Holt Perdzock, J.B. Woodman, Colby Bortles, Henri Lartigue, and Will Golsan all are at that mark and some well beyond it at this point. And who doesn’t think Errol Robinson, Cameron Dishon, and Kyle Watson won’t hit better as the season moves on, even facing SEC pitchers?

Defensively there’ve been some hiccups and some of those will be costly in league play. But for the most part the Rebels have played cleanly in the field.

Pitchers James McArthur and Andy Paggnozzi will again get starting roles in the midweek since there are two games.

And don’t forget about ace Brady Bramlett. He’s finally healthy after years of fighting through some injuries while at Ole Miss. And in his fourth year he can join the ranks of those special pitchers on Friday (or Thursday) nights. Time will tell and that time is at hand.

This week it’s all baseball all the time. Spring break. When their classmates are on the beach or on the slopes, the Rebels are doing what they love – playing some baseball games. There is no better time, other than the postseason, for a baseball player.

So they head to UAB and UT being focused as they have been and with winning five times on their minds – even though they truly don’t want to get caught up in wins and losses. Just keep playing well and improving.

“We’re really confident going into the 30 games of SEC play,” said tri-captain Colby Bortles. “Our mindset is to come out with energy every day and look for a win. Doesn’t matter who we’re playing, we want to win every day.”

“I don’t think we’ve played our best yet,” Bianco said, his team now on a 10-game win streak. “There were some errors today, and we had some opportunities to score and we didn’t. And some of the pitchers weren’t as sharp. But we’ve done enough to win and sometimes win convincingly. The good news for us is there is room for growth and room to get better.”

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