Rebel baseball moves toward season opener

The Diamond Rebels had two extensive scrimmages this weekend, and the players and coaches continue to feel good about how things are progressing.

The weekend of preseason intrasquads was another successful one for the Ole Miss baseball team as it heads toward the season opener, now less than two weeks away. Saint Louis University and the Rebels play three games in Oxford Feb. 17-19 to start things up.

The Rebels continue to swing the bats well, although the pitching appears to be improving with each weekend. Obviously those are general assessments, and when teams are divided and matched against each other, it's hard to really get a good feel about one aspect or the other.

For example, it was good to see redshirt freshman outfielder Logan Power blast the baseball into the left field terrace Saturday. But it obviously came at the expense of his own teammate, senior RHP Stoney Stone, who in spite of that launch from Power had a good outing, allowing no more runs or even hits.

"I'm seeing it better and hitting it," said Power, another of the Hillcrest guys from Jackson. "I've had a good preseason so far. I felt I hit the ball good (on the home run). The wind was blowing in, so I didn't know for sure. I just ran it out."

Power, who had a pulled hamstring in the fall and missed all those drills, also had a single in Sunday's scrimmage.

Senior RHP Tommy Baumgardner continued his solid pitching Saturday. Junior RHP Nick Hetland had his first live action of the preseason Sunday. He didn't pitch last weekend because of an abdominal muscle strain. Sunday, Hetland said he was feeling just about normal.

"Coming back off the injury, I felt good out there today," said Hetland, who pitched three innings with four strikeouts, no runs, one hit and one walk. "This was my first time to step on the mound this preseason. Everything felt good and I had no aches and pains. I would say I'm about 90 percent right now."

Here's going out on a limb for you. There's only one more weekend before the season starts. Coach Mike Bianco says he will name starters for the first weekend on Monday, Feb. 13, which is five days before the season's first pitch. My guess on weekend starters as of right now would be Baumgardner in game one against the Billikens on Friday at 3 p.m., and the following two days for the 1:30 matchups, Hetland and freshman RHP Cody Satterwhite, in whatever order the coaches decide.

Again, that's my best guess after having watched them this preseason and listened to the coaches and players on who they think might be ahead at this point in the race for weekend starters.

Hetland says he really doesn't feel he's behind after having missed some time on the mound and in the bullpen to heal up.

"I was really glad to be out there today," said Hetland, who pitched at Clarendon (Texas) Junior College the past two seasons and was an impressive 17-1 during that time. "I'm really focused on the season now that it's almost here. I haven't been so much worried about speed. I just wanted to set them up with a first-pitch fast ball. I just wanted to hit spots. My curve ball was on today and felt real good. I pride myself on hitting spots. I was doing real well today. Everything seemed to work."

It was a cold, 40-degree day for baseball in north Mississippi. Hetland, a Minnesota native from Apple Valley, said he felt right at home.

"It was beautiful out here," he said smiling. "Very comfortable. I hear a lot of complaints about the cold. But this isn't Minnesota cold. It was a perfect day to me for baseball."

On Sunday, freshman RHP Lance Lynn pitched 2.67 innings, allowing five hits but just one run with one walk and two strikeouts along with a wild pitch.

Satterwhite pitched three innings Sunday, allowing no runs on two hits with three strikeouts while throwing several pitches again in the mid-90s.

Also on Sunday, sophomore second baseman Justin Henry went 2-for-6 with a double and an RBI; junior outfielder Mark Wright was 3-for-6 with an RBI; junior catcher Miles Cabeceiras was 1-for-3 with two walks, a home run, and three RBI; freshman infielder Zach Miller was an impressive 3-for-3 with two walks and an RBI.

Freshman utility player (outfield, shortstop) Evan Button continues to hit the baseball well. Although he only got one hit Sunday, it was his second triple of the weekend to go along with a single on Saturday as well. Sunday's 3-bagger cleared the loaded bases for his team.

"In the fall I struggled," said Button, a native of the St. Louis area. "I'm just being more patient now. I worked real hard over the winter on my hitting. Just being more patient has helped."

Button said sometimes things just begin to fall into place.

"I'm feeling pretty good about it, and I got a couple of lucky breaks," he said of his weekend's hits. "I hit the ball pretty hard. I just went up there and tried to get the job done."

An infielder by trade, the Rebel coaches have him playing some outfield so far this preseason as well.

"I haven't played in the outfield since probably seventh grade, so it's different," he said. "One day I'm in the outfield, one day in the infield. I just want to show them that I can play."

Button says he will know some of the Billiken players when they come to town.

"I've got like four friends on the team there," he said. "That will be a good series. We gotta beat ‘em."

Other multiple hitters Sunday were junior first baseman C.J. Ketchum 2-for-6, junior catcher Justin Brashear 2-for-4, and redshirt freshman outfielder Brett Bukvich 2-for-5. Redshirt freshman Cody Overbeck continued his fine hitting in the preseason going 2-for-4 with a double and an RBI.

Also on Sunday, freshman RHP Jesse Simpson went three innings and was perhaps a little more inconsistent than his first outing as a Rebel last weekend. Simpson gave up no runs on three hits with a walk and a hit by pitch but had four strikeouts. Freshman RHP Rory McKean finished the day with two innings pitched, allowing no runs or hits.

Bianco said he thought the Rebels got a lot done in the two scrimmages.

"We swung the bats well again, but we also pitched well," he said. "Tommy (Baumgardner) pitched well Saturday, as did Garrett White. Stoney pitched well and so did Craig Rodriguez.

"On Sunday the two big freshmen (Lance Lynn and Cody Satterwhite) pitched well along with Hetland. He (Hetland) didn't pitch last weekend, and he made it look easy out there today in three shutout innings. That was good to see. He appears to be back on schedule."

Rodriguez, a left-handed juco pitcher from Pearl River (Miss.) CC and Sugarland, Texas, has begun to show signs of real improvement.

"He's really stepped up," Bianco said. "His stuff's always been good. He's hitting more spots and throwing a little bit harder, also with a good breaking ball. That was good to see."

Bianco said he is pleased to see some of the players who might sometimes slip under the radar screen begin to shine a bit as the preseason moves ahead.

"Guys like Cody Overbeck and Logan Power and (redshirt freshman infielder) JoJo Tann – they've all played terrific for two weeks in a row," he said. "Miles Cabecerias continues to swing it well. We're beginning to see a lot of different options."

Rebel baseball notes:

Visitors to the park this weekend were former players Matt Tolbert, Stephen Head, and Cooper Osteen.

The Rebels will have three intrasquads this coming weekend – on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday with times to be announced sometime this week.

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