A look back at fall baseball

The Ole Miss baseball team wrapped up its fall season recently, and head coach Mike Bianco said it was another productive session for his program. <br><br>

"We got a lot accomplished," said the fifth-year Rebel head coach who has led Ole Miss to three NCAA Tournament appearances in four seasons. "You work in the fall to get ready for the spring. A lot of guys stepped up offensively, especially some of the new guys. And defensively we improved. So I was pleased with what we were able to get done."

Bianco says it is always tough to get a true gauge of your team in the fall because all the competition is obviously against yourself.

"You have half the kids on one team and half on another, so you don't get to see how things really are as a team, with your guys on two separate teams," said Bianco. "You know that Mark Holliman, Stephen Head, Anthony Cupps, Matt Maloney, Jon-Jon Hancock, and Brian Pettway are going to be among your best pitchers. With that many returning guys, you expect to see pitchers dominate. So it was good to see we scored some runs this fall. It's been a good fall offensively."

The Rebels had 11 intrasquad games. Sophomore outfielder Alex Presley led the fall hitters with a .400 average. He also had two home runs, four doubles and eight RBI.

Sophomore third baseman Chris Coghlan was next at .395 with five doubles and three RBI. Sophomore outfielder John Morgan Mims followed that with a .387 average with two doubles, two home runs, and six RBI.

Home run leaders were redshirt freshman Jon-Jon Hancock and true freshman shortstop Zack Cozart with three each.

Cozart, who also had a double and batted .222, was among several newcomers who did well during the fall session. Freshman outfielder Logan Power batted .300 with two doubles. Redshirt freshman infielder Justin Henry hit .286 one home run and a double. Sophomore juco transfer infielder C.J. Ketchum and freshman infielder JoJo Tann batted .250 and .229 respectively. Ketchum had a double and a triple. Tann had three doubles and a home run.

Junior ace Mark Holliman led the Rebels in ERA with a 1.13 in 16 innings pitched allowing only two earned runs on 13 hits with 10 strikeouts and four walks in five appearances, four of them starts. Holliman says he saw a lot of good things during the four-week session.

"The pitchers have done well and the hitters have done well," said Holliman. "I think we're pretty strong in both areas. It's always hard to tell what your strengths and weaknesses are as a team when you are playing against yourself. But everybody comes out everyday working hard, wanting to get better. It all looks real positive again to me."

Junior Stephen Head had a nice fall on the mound. Head, who struggled some at the plate batting .211 with two doubles and a home run, had an ERA of 2.40 allowing 10 hits with six strikeouts and two walks in five appearances and four starts in 15 innings. He was credited with one save.

Among the new pitchers, the best statistically was LHP juco junior Tommy Baumgardner with an ERA of 2.70 in 10 innings allowing nine hits with nine strikeouts and a walk in four games pitched with one start and four appearances.

Pettway, the junior who has played several positions – outfield, infield, pitcher – in his Rebel career, lost weight over the summer and is in the best shape of his career. He says he can tell a difference in his baseball because of it.

"Losing weight has definitely helped," said Pettway, who dropped his weight since last season ended from 225 pounds down to 200. "I'm much quicker. It's been a really good thing for me, and I think it will pay off in the spring."

Pettway, who pitched well this fall with a 2.25 ERA in eight innings with seven strikeouts and a walk and one save, also likes this team and feels they can once again accomplish big things.

"I really feel like this is the best team that I've been on here," said Pettway, who batted .385 this fall with two doubles and two home runs. "We've got guys who can hit for power, and guys who can run. We have guys who can play defense, and we've got a great pitching staff. To have those four things make up our team are tremendous and will win us a lot of games this year."

The Rebels won a lot of games last year - 39 total which was one win shy of the school record of 40 set in 1995. Last season's team did set a school record for SEC wins with 18 on its way to hosting the school's first NCAA Regional.

Returning shortstop Cooper Osteen said he was pleased with his four weeks and also that of the team.

"I had a good fall and I was happy with it," said Osteen, who batted .385 with three doubles and nine RBI. "The fall season has always been a good indication for me of how the season is going to go. Offensively and defensively I felt good. Team-wise I think it's been a great fall."

Osteen says this team has a lot of positives and he feels it's solid throughout to compete in the wars of SEC play in the spring.

"Our pitchers have all gotten a lot better," he said. "That includes the returning guys and some of the new guys. I feel our pitching is real strong. We have a lot of good hitters who have had good falls as well."

Osteen, a newcomer from junior college last season himself, had to adjust to a new shortstop. Sophomore Ryne Porter (.250 batting average this fall with three doubles) and freshman Zack Cozart are in the mix for the position left vacant by the departure of four-year starter Matthew Tolbert.

"It's taken some getting used to," said Osteen of working with the new shortstops, although Porter did see some playing time last season as a freshman. "I loved playing with Tolbert. He was so predictable all the time. He was just automatic. I had a lot of confidence in him. It's better now than when the fall started. We're getting more solid up the middle all the time, and we will still be good there."

Replacements for outfield spots left vacant by the graduated Charlie Babineaux and Seth Smith, who turned pro, are still a bit up in the air with any number of players in the mix – including Pettway, sophomore Mark Wright (with four doubles and a home run in the fall), Presley, senior Miles Franklin (who batted .308 this autumn with two doubles and a home run), Hancock, Mims, and Power among them. All three outfield spots have yet to be decided among those and others.

Catcher is also a strong position with returning senior Barry Gunther, who batted .314 with two doubles and two home runs, and sophomore Justin Brashear, at .257 with a double, a triple, and two home runs.

Bianco said moving the outfield fence in also helped this fall to create more excitement and runs for the Rebels, which was always the intent – along with more wins, of course.

"It's nice to see a few more runs, a few more home runs, and some extra base hits," he said. "But our veteran pitchers also did really well this fall. So we are pleased with that decision and believe it will pay off for the program."

*** Thanks to Ole Miss student and Hillcrest Christian alum Seth Keshel for his help in compiling the stats for this story.

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