Today at 1:30 p.m., the fourth-year junior from Tupelo will pitch the Rebels once again toward Omaha and the College World Series in late June. Kline hopes this is indeed "the year" and that he can be one of the reasons.
"I'm ready to start the season," said the 6-foot-3, 215-pound right-hander who didn't gain the title of ace until late last season. As a matter of fact, this time last year he was only searching for innings. But a gem of a performance as a starter in the Mayor's Trophy game changed all that as he led the Rebs to a 1-0 win over Mississippi State, pitching seven ninings, striking out nine, walking none, and allowing just five hits.
After that night, that win, that special moment in time, Kline was never the same. He knows that even more now as a new season begins today.
"It has just given me a chance to take a deep breath and understand what my role on the team is this year," he said of the fact that he's considered the Rebels' No. 1 pitcher on a staff filled with outstanding pitchers. "Last year I went into the season not really knowing what to expect. This year everything is different. Coming off the year we had last year (44 wins, NCAA Super Regional hosts), and knowing that the pitching staff played a large role in that, it's exciting to start the season. With such high expectations, it has made it a lot easier on me to know how to prepare myself. We have a great team and a great pitching staff."
Ole Miss head coach Mike Bianco said sophomore RHP Lance Lynn, in his second season with the Rebels, will start Sunday's game. He also hopes to pitch several Rebels against the University of New Orleans in the two-game set which concludes with a 1:30 p.m. game Sunday.
"Certainly, because of how early it is in the season, several guys will throw this weekend," said Bianco, beginning his seventh season in Oxford. "Brett Bukvich will throw on one of those two days. Craig Rodriguez will throw on one of those two days. Scott Bittle, a junior college transfer, has done the best of any newcomer we have on the mound. He will throw in relief on one of those two days. Nathan Baker, a true freshman from the Memphis area, will throw on one of those two days. In those 18 innings, we are hoping that we will be able to throw six to seven pitchers."
UNO, under head coach Tom Walter now in his third season, arrives to open its season as well. The Privateers have historically had a solid baseball tradition, but last season was their first winning campaign in four years. New Orleans was 30-28 in 2006.
All-Sun Belt Conference right-hander Bryan Cryer of Denham Springs, La., will start for the Privateers today. The 5-9, 195, junior went 7-1 with a 2.72 ERA last year. He allowed three runs or less in 13 of his 17 starts and struck out 108 batters in 109 innings.
UNO will go with 6-1, 190, sophomore RHP Ryan O'Shea on Sunday. The Mandeville, La., product was used as a reliever last year and made 33 appearances with a 5-5 mark.
The likely Rebel starting lineup today should be as follows: sophomore Brett Basham behind the plate, freshman Andrew Clark at first base, junior team captain Justin Henry at second, junior All-American Zack Cozart at shortstop, sophomore Cody Overbeck at third. The three Rebel outfielders should be freshman Jordan Henry, sophomore Logan Power, and juco junior Fuller Smith.
"I think last year's team definitely surprised a lot of people, but not us," Bianco said. "Not the players, the coaches, and the other people in the program. I certainly think this year we are as good as we have been any other year. We are just a different club. We are very similar to last year in that we return about the same number of position players. We lost some kids that had terrific careers here and played some significant roles for the last few years in our success. We also return some outstanding players that will break a lot of records and put their name on the program once they leave."
February 10 marks the season opener this year. How late in June will the Rebels be playing is the question. Answers begin today and continue for the next four months.
Kline leads Rebs into '07 season today
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