Rebels entertain school kids with long ball and a victory

Ole Miss hosted UT-Martin for the annual School Day game, and what a hit it was. Some 7,000 school-age kids from across the region? Yep, and more fans than that attended to make it basically a weekend type crowd at Swayze.

By: Jeff Roberson

Oh yeah, the Rebels won 8-2, and you probably figured they were going to win this one; UTM is now 7-14 on the season. But it wasn’t without some early struggles for the home team. Ole Miss was errorless on the day, and James McArthur had a tough first inning with the Skyhawks picking up a couple of runs before the Rebs ever went to the plate to hit.

But the talented Rebel freshman hurler settled down nicely and got through five innings before giving way to Connor Green, Dallas Woolfolk, and Andrew Lowe. Nothing more after top 1 for the visitors.

Meanwhile, the kids were enjoying a beautiful north Mississippi spring day in the mid-60s. A strong wind, blowing out, made for some interesting moments for the hitters and also made for four homers in the contest – three of them by Rebels.

Colby Bortles hit his third round-tripper, Tate Blackman his second, and Cameron Dishon his fourth.

His fourth? I jokingly told Cam before we interviewed him postgame Tuesday that when people asked us where the power was going to come from this season for Ole Miss, we always started with him.

Of course I was kidding, and Cam knew that. But it is terrific to see the senior, who has meant so much to the program for so long, have this type impact, offensively and defensively, this season. Although batting just .241 currently, he’s fifth on the squad in RBI with 14 to date.

“It’s been good,” said Dishon, especially referring to the home runs. “I want to help the team any way I can. Last year I had two. This year I have four already. And I’m going to keep swinging.”

That he will. The seasoned veteran of postseason and a World Series, Dishon has that leadership trait that mostly comes with experience at this level. But in baseball that can often be as early as in year two, and Dishon had it back then in his career. He just didn’t get to play as much as he is now. He’s a big part of the Rebels’ success now and moving forward.

Dishon says the Rebels, although 20-2 and atop the Southeastern Conference West with an early 2-1 mark, can continue to improve in all areas.

“One way we’re going to get better is defense,” he said. “We’ve been kinda sloppy the past few weeks, and we’re going to clean that up. And we battle. This team battles. Everybody might not bring it every day, but somebody is going to come through, a couple of guys are going to come through and get the win. The bullpen has been terrific, and starting pitching as well.”

Blackman continues to show signs of progress from last year when he struggled mightily after entering college with high accolades and a national reputation for stellar defensive play and hitting.

“Give credit where credit is due,” said Blackman describing his home run moment. “The wind got most of it and it just kept going. It was fun BP today. It was a fun day to hit.”

Blackman said the Rebels have more in the tank when it comes to offense. He believes they will only get better and better.

“If I just keep putting together good at-bats, and this team puts together good at-bats, our offense is going to be really good,” he said.

A four-run eighth for the Rebels gave them some cushion late, from a two-run edge to the final advantage of six runs. Much of this day was about playing well and getting a win. But for Ole Miss head coach Mike Bianco it was also about the experience of the School Day game, now in its fourth year at Ole Miss.

“What a neat thing. A lot of credit goes to our marketing and promotions staff. They’ve worked on this for three-plus months,” he said. “One of the things I remember a few weeks ago was when they told me we had 6,000 RSVP, and they wanted to know if we needed to cut it off. I said, ‘No, don’t cut it off. We’ll put them in the outfield.'"

There were school kids throughout the stadium and in both left and right field terraces.

“I’ll tell you, I’ve had a lot of proud moments here, and this was one of those,” Bianco said. “Six to seven thousand kids having a great time. And one of the really cool things about it is, maybe 85 to 90 percent of these kids have never been in this stadium before or on this campus before. What an experience for those kids, and it’s neat to watch the student-athletes that aren’t much older than them playing baseball. Just a neat day.”

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