Ole Miss baseball opens season

Ole Miss opens a scheduled 14-game homestand against Saint Louis University Friday at 3 p.m. Today, there will be a doubleheader with the second game starting 30 minutes after the completion of the opener.

The Ole Miss baseball team opens its season this weekend with a three-game series against the Saint Louis Billikens beginning with the first game at 3 p.m. on Friday at Oxford-University Stadium/Swayze field on the campus of the University of Mississippi.

There will be a doubleheader today beginning at 3 p.m. The second game will begin 30 minutes after the opener is completed. Bad weather predicted for Oxford has caused the change. There will be a single game Saturday at 1: 30 p.m. to complete the series, weather permitting. If they cannot get tomorrow's game in,they will try to play the third game of the series Sunday.

"We're very excited to get out on the field and play some baseball this weekend," said Ole Miss head coach Mike Bianco. "I know the guys are ready to take the field and see someone else on the other side besides each other. We've been waiting a long time to get back out here and play some ball."

The Rebels will see a lot of familiar faces run out on the field Friday, but some of the big names fan may remember from a season ago are gone, as seven players were drafted in the MLB draft over the summer. Returning to lead Ole Miss in the 2006 campaign are a solid core of veterans who helped anchor a defense that was tops in the Southeastern Conference and 10th in the nation last season.

Chris Coghlan and Mark Wright both earned preseason All-America honors and will be relied on heavily to help lead the Rebels on the diamond. Coghlan, who was recently named one of the top draft prospects in the Southeastern Conference and Best Defensive Third Baseman in the league by Baseball America, hit .364 a season ago and is the second leading hitter returning from last year's squad. Wright finished among the top of the conference in home runs in 2005 as he belted 13 out of the park to go along with 51 RBI. He and Coghlan both combined for more than 100 of the Rebels RBI a year ago.

Joining the duo are Zack Cozart, a Freshman All-America from last season, and team captain Justin Henry, an All-SEC Freshman Team selection. Cozart was one of the top defensive players in the conference as a freshman, while Henry is the top returning hitter from a year ago, as he hit .374 playing primarily in the designated hitter position.

The Rebels pitching staff took a major overhaul in the off-season with nine new pitchers added to the roster, but a pair of familiar faces return to help lead the team after finishing strong in 2005. Tommy Baumgardner (Sr., LHP) closed out his junior season with a big win over Florida in the Southeastern Conference Tournament, helping the Rebels advance to the championship game and eliminating the defending regular season champions from the tournament. Joining him in the bullpen this year is fellow senior Stoney Stone, who earned the save in that same game against Florida to propel Ole Miss to the final game of the Tournament.

Newcomers who should see time early on the mound include junior college transfer Nick Hetland (Jr., RHP) and freshman Cody Satterwhite (Fr., RHP). Hetland compiled a 17-1 record in two years at Clarendon Junior College before joining the team at Ole Miss. Satterwhite earned Gatorade Player of the Year honors for the state of Mississippi his senior season and is expected to make some noise on the mound this season.

Saint Louis enters the weekend with the Rebels being the first action of the season for the Billikens as well. The team, who is playing in its first season in the Atlantic 10, is coming off a 13-40 season a year ago and is in its 18th season under head coach Bob Hughes.

The Billikens will lean heavily on senior outfielder Johnny Sweeny, who led the team at the plate a season ago with a .340 batting average as he drove in 30 RBI and scored 26 runs. His 30 RBI was the second highest on the team in 2005.

On the mound for the Billikens, junior Ryan Bird will be counted on as a key to the pitching staff. The right-handed pitcher led the team in ERA and wins a season ago with a 5-5 record and a 3.49 ERA. He allowed 49 runs on 90 hits and struck out 76 in 98.0 innings of work for Saint Louis. Also expected to see time on the mound are juniors Eric Rohr (2-5, 6.02 ERA) and junior college transfer Nick Hewitt, the conference Player of the Year at Trinity Community College in Texas.

Ole Miss and Saint Louis have faced off three times before with the Rebels holding a 3-0 lead in the all-time series. All three games were played in Oxford, with the Rebels winning the last two games in 1994.

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