There was a different feeling Monday at baseball. A winning feeling.
Maybe it was temps in the high 70s and sunshine. Maybe it was because it's opening day (for most) major league teams, so baseball season is officially here for those who play for pay.
But what it was mostly was winning.
Last Monday to this one? Daylight and dark. It's a three-hour bus ride back from Tuscaloosa; nearly seven hours back from Athens. For the Rebels, it seemed like the reverse.
"I think we're definitely back on track," said fourth-year junior Mark Wright. "This team's a lot younger than last year. It took some time. The more we spend some time together, the better we've gotten. Now we're playing good baseball."
Ole Miss, 17-11 overall and 4-5 in Southeastern Conference play, has won four games in a row – a win over Southern Mississippi last Tuesday in Oxford and a sweep over Georgia this past weekend in Athens. Wright agreed that maturity is a key reason for the recent positive developments for this year's squad.
"It took a while for even some of the older guys like myself to get used to being in the spotlight more," said Wright, batting .305 now and leading the team in home runs with six. "It's been a pressure situation, but we've gotten used to it now. And the younger guys are beginning to get used to the SEC. It may have been a shock at first for some of them, but they're doing fine now."
One Rebel who had a big weekend at Georgia and was recognized for it is third-year junior Alex Presley, named Monday as the SEC Player of the Week.
"It's baseball," said Presley of his big weekend after not hitting the ball quite as well lately. "You're going to go through good times and tough times. You just have to stay with it, and that's what I did. It always pays off in the end if you do."
Presley hit .500 (6-for-12) with an .833 slugging percentage on the week as he also drew six walks, scored seven runs and notched three RBI. He was a key offensively on the bases going 6-for-6 in steals as he posted an on base percentage of .667 for the week.
On Sunday against the Bulldogs, Presley went 2-for-2 with a run scored and two RBI on a triple in the first inning to help push Ole Miss to a 4-0 lead. He also went 4-for-4 on steal attempts to get in scoring position on the way to scoring four runs.
Presley said his weekend mirrored that of the entire team as the Rebels played their best baseball to date.
"It feels good knowing we can play that way," he said. "We're just now beginning to reach the point where we knew we could be. We knew we had to win some games since we started out 1-5 (in SEC play). Once you get in a big hole in conference play, it's hard to battle back. We needed to come up with some wins and we did."
Up next, Southern Mississippi in Pearl, at the home of the Braves – the AA Mississippi Braves. The Golden Eagles lost two of three games to Memphis in Hattiesburg over the weekend and stand 21-9 on the season and 4-2 in Conference USA play.
"Whenever we play them, it's usually a close game," Presley said of UM-USM. "It's going to be a great atmosphere down there. I'm sure we'll both come in with a lot of intensity. It's an instate game, a bragging-rights game."
The Rebels haven't played yet in Trustmark Park, where the Atlanta Braves of the future (and sometimes past) play on their way (or back) from Turner Field. Team captain Justin Henry is looking forward to it.
"I'm real excited about playing Tuesday night at Pearl in the new park," he said. "It will be the first time I've been there. Hopefully it will be packed with us playing Southern Miss."
Unfortunately, the Henry family won't all be in attendance.
"Back home, it's Vicksburg vs. Warren Central Tuesday night," said Henry, whose younger brother, Jordan, an Ole Miss signee, plays for VHS. "My Mom will be in Pearl for our game with Southern, and my Dad will be in Vicksburg for the game with Warren Central. The biggest game of their high school season the same night as we play down there. So that didn't work out too well."
But lately everything else has for the Rebels, and they hope the three-hour bus ride back from Pearl is a lot like the one from Athens this past Sunday.
"It's still early and I can't say for sure yet," said Henry of this team finding itself completely over the weekend. "But we definitely took a big step in the right direction. It's one we can build on and one we gained a lot of confidence from."
Baseball Notes: Southern Miss will again send redshirt sophomore right-handed pitcher Barry Bowden (0-1) to the mound for his second meeting of the season against Ole Miss. The Rebels will start sophomore right-handed pitcher Will Kline (0-1), his first start of the season.
The game will begin at 7 p.m. as opposed to the scheduled start of 6:30 p.m. to accomodate TV in the Jackson area.
Mark down Wednesday, April 26, at 3 p.m. in Oxford for a game not on your schedule - Ole Miss vs. Louisiana-Monroe for a makeup game for the Rebels. This one replaces the weathered-out game Ole Miss lost back in the first weekend with Saint Louis when the Rebels and Billikens only got in two of three games.
Ole Miss Coach Mike Bianco said Monday that the rehab of a sore arm for former starter Nick Hetland is coming along. Hetland is closer to pitching again but not quite there yet.
Bianco said juco junior Kyle Mills' progress after arm surgery has been good but that he is likely a month away from being ready to hit or play. Whenever it is deemed he can hit or play again, then a determination will come at that time if he will play the remainder of this season or redshirt.
Bianco also said freshman infielder Zach Miller, who injured a knee sliding into home plate during preseason practice, continues to improve and practice. It was thought Miller might redshirt anyway this season, and as time goes on it will be determined whether Miller will actually play or not this season.
Rebels feeling better about themselves
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