By: Carver Rayburn
The expectations are the same for the Diamond Rebels this year. Omaha or bust. The latter has been the norm for Ole Miss when it comes to reaching the College World Series.
Will 2012 be any different? Can the Rebels, who return seven defensive starters and field a slew of new faces, get over the hump? Head Coach Mike Bianco believes they can.
“I certainly think that that this team is a little different,” Bianco said. “They’re unique. They’re a team that you hear a lot about in athletics. The team chemistry, the camaraderie, how the players get along and how they associate with one another; this is one of those special teams.”
The Rebels, ranked No. 22 by Baseball America will have no warm up games this year.
Your 2012 version of the Ole Miss Baseball Squad will take the field this weekend for a three game series against No. 10 Texas Christian in Fort Worth, Texas.
The non-conference schedule is not one to be taken lightly. The Rebels enter the season with a strength of schedule ranking of 12, making the Road to Omaha even more challenging. Bianco says the non-conference schedule may be the most difficult the Rebels have faced in his tenure.
“The truth of the matter is, scheduling-wise, I don’t like to play on the road the first weekend—especially against the 10th-ranked team in the country, but it just kind of worked out that way,” Bianco said. “We also have Houston, UNC-Wilmington, Louisville, the two mid-week games down in Pearl against Southern Miss and Mississippi State. This will probably be as big a challenge for us and maybe as difficult a non-conference schedule as we’ve had.”
Ole Miss is coming off a less than stellar year in 2011 that saw the team post a record of 30-25 and miss the postseason for just the second time since 2000. Not the norm for this program. Since Bianco took over the team in 2000, the Rebels have nine post-season appearances including four Super Regionals.
The weekend pitching rotation includes Friday night starter Bobby Wahl (see TLV interview–also on our site), Saturday starter R.J. Hively and Sunday starter Mike Mayers. Returning for closing duties will be Brett Huber.
“Bobby is kind of the total package in a sense that he’s a fastball, slider, change guy,” Bianco said. “His fastball can be super electric. You’ll see up on the scoreboard where he can throw in the mid 90s. He also has very good command. He can work his fast ball on both sides of the plate. Rarely do you see that at this level.”
As for the position players, Ole Miss returns some familiar faces to the lineup. Matt Snyder, Alex Yarbrough, Preston Overby, and Tanner Mathis are all recognizable names for fans and the media alike.
“I think the returners have done a great job as far as welcoming the guys and mentoring the guys on what it takes to be an Ole Miss baseball player and what’s expected out of the program,” Bianco said. “We’re excited that the season is finally here. You’re chomping at the bit at this point. Coach Godwin made the comment last week that they’re tired of practice and it’s time to play somebody else. We’re excited about Friday.”
Can’t make the away games? Head up to The Library Sports Bar and catch at least six road games on the Big Screen. Thursday night games include Georgia (ESPNU) and Vanderbilt (ESPNU); All four contests against TSBU will be televised, including three in Starkville and one in Jackson.
Averaging over 8,100 fans a game in 2011 (Ranks Second Nationally), Ole Miss Baseball has become a must see for the Rebel Fan. Ole Miss will play 12 straight home games after its trip to TCU. Be there for opening day at home on Tuesday, February 21 at 3:00 p.m. when the Rebels take on Arkansas State.