Baker brilliant in first SEC start

Nathan Baker didn't have a lot of time to worry as he anticipated his first SEC start, and the No. 10 Rebels didn't have a reason to worry while he was on the mound.

The true freshman completed a sterling performance on less than 24 hours notice as he tossed six shutout innings and scattered three hits. Baker (4-1) punched out four Bulldogs and stifled the entire lineup all afternoon for a 9-0 win.

"I didn't find out until about nine o'clock last night," Baker said. "Coach Bunn called me and told me that I would be starting. I said ‘Oh, wow'. I told him that I would do my best and try to fill up the zone."

Head coach Mike Bianco cleared up the confusion moments later as credit for Baker knowing even that soon goes to the coach's wife, Cami.

"I went home and my wife was cooking dinner," Bianco began. "I was having cheese and crackers and ready to eat supper. My wife asked me who was starting tomorrow. I said Nathan Baker, and then thought it might be a good idea to let him know."

Baker fought off nerves early before completely shutting down Georgia as Ole Miss mounted a sizable lead. The left-hander retired 13 straight starting in the second inning. He left in the seventh with two runners on, but reliever Justin Cryer cleaned up the mess and preserved Baker's shutout.

"I was a little shaky at first, but after I struck out the first two guys, I was able to stay comfortable out there," Baker said. "There was a lot of support out there with the guys behind me. The entire day felt really good."

After the win and superb outing, Baker moves his ERA down to 2.90 and ties Kline and Bukvich for the team lead with four victories apiece. He had been the Rebels' preferred midweek starter as he picked up wins over Memphis, Arkansas State and South Alabama.

"It was a little different (than midweek), but when it comes down to it, it's just pitching," Baker said. "Few butterflies in the beginning, but after that I felt good."

The solid effort for now stabilizes the shaky Sunday starting slot for Ole Miss. Brett Bukvich and Craig Rodriguez were the previous two occupants, but Baker's day will place him in the same role next Sunday against LSU at Baton Rouge. The golden opportunity isn't lost on the freshman.

"I would really like to try that," Baker said. "It would be great to be the Sunday guy, especially for a freshman, such a privilege."

The Ole Miss defense also stepped up with an errorless day, and the offense performed well without a lot of pressure. Shortstop Zack Cozart credited Baker with being a catalyst to the solid hitting day.

"He did a great job," Cozart said. "He came in and pretty much shut them down and didn't give them a chance. It gives us a lot of confidence when you just have to score one to win."

Baker was also quick to return the compliment as he discussed how the defense made throwing a lot simpler.

"Everybody was making plays," Baker said. "Cozart had a great day. He had my back all over the place. I just tried to fill up the zone and let them get themselves out."

Baker's first-rate appearance gives Ole Miss the series win over Georgia and is the biggest win of a young and promising career. The promotions have come quick and often, but Baker proved Sunday that he was up to the challenge in the SEC.

"The story of the day is Nathan Baker," Bianco said. "Not only his effort, but we needed to control a game like that. It was great to see a true freshman, who has only seen three SEC series and to come out with an effort like that. I am really proud of him."

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