Mike Bianco (Associated Press)

Taking a look, and posing some questions, about the season ahead for Ole Miss baseball

Ole Miss baseball opens the 2017 season this afternoon against No. 10 East Carolina. First pitch is set for 4 p.m. Inside we take a look, and pose some questions, about the season ahead that will be answered this weekend and over the next three months.

1. On June 21, 2014, Ole Miss was eliminated from the College World Series in Omaha. Four days later Rebel assistant coach Cliff Godwin was named head coach at his alma mater, East Carolina. This weekend in Oxford, the Pirates are in town for three games to open the 2017 season. Godwin brings a program on the rise to face a youthful and talented Ole Miss team, his troops last year having advanced to a Super Regional at Texas Tech, winning game one but losing the next two. 

Question: Will Cliff Godwin’s intimate knowledge of Ole Miss, the Rebel baseball system, and Oxford-University Stadium/Swayze Field be an asset for him this weekend?

2. East Carolina isn’t a new kid on the NCAA Tournament block. Starting with the 2001 season, which was the year of Mike Bianco’s first Ole Miss team, the Pirates have been to 12 NCAA Tournaments. Ole Miss has been 14 times during that span. Both of Godwin’s ECU teams – 2015 and ‘16 – have advanced to NCAA tourney play. 

Question: Will the Pirates’ success the past two seasons in postseason play help their comfort level with the anticipated large crowds and NCAA Tournament-type atmosphere in Oxford this weekend?

Mike Bianco (Associated Press)

3. This series, according to Ole Miss athletics media relations, is the only one in Division I baseball between Top 10 teams this weekend. The Pirates’ highest ranking in the polls is No. 6 currently (Baseball America), while the Rebels are at No. 8 in their highest poll (Perfect Game). This is the first time Ole Miss and East Carolina have ever played in baseball. 

Question: Will we know more after this three-game series if either or both of these teams truly are Top 10 squads, or will it take a few more weekends to determine that?

4. ECU has a TBA for its game three starting pitcher this weekend. Godwin has announced his first two starting pitchers are both left-handers, so how the Rebel hitters handle that situation could determine a lot this weekend. Both the ECU starters announced are veteran seniors. Last year Evan Kruczynski was 8-1 with a 2.01 ERA in 116.2 innings pitched. He is the scheduled starter today. Jacob Wolfe, scheduled for Saturday, was 7-7 in 2016 with a 3.07 ERA in 88.1 innings. 

Question: Will the Rebel offense be effective against ECU’s starters, the only two named so far being left-handers?

5. The Rebel coaches brought in the top-ranked recruiting class in all the land last summer, according to most experts. Several of those will play and as many as four of those could potentially be in the starting lineup, according to Ole Miss head coach Mike Bianco earlier this week. Don’t be surprised if true freshman Cole Zabowski is at first base, true frosh Grae Kessinger is at shortstop, another true freshman is behind the plate in Cooper Johnson, and yet another Rebel right out of the high school ranks, true frosh Thomas Dillard, may be in left field. 

Question: Since so many will contribute, play regularly, and even start, how will the Ole Miss freshmen perform in their first weekend of college baseball games?

6. Four pitchers that will appear prominently on the mound this weekend and in future weekends for Ole Miss all have much experience at the college level. 

Question(s): How will junior closer Will Stokes perform game in and game out as the role now appears to be his alone with the departure of Wyatt Short? And how will the trio of UM starters - junior LHP David Parkinson, sophomore RHP James McArthur, and redshirt sophomore RHP Brady Feigl - pitch this weekend? Will they all still be the weekend starters in a month or in May? Time, and their performances, will tell. 

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