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Rebels Open 2013 Baseball Season On Friday

It’s been eight months since Ole Miss baseball had its 2012 season come to an end when TCU of the Mountain West Conference eliminated the Rebels at the College Station Regional on the campus of Texas A&M, a member of the Big 12 Conference.

By: Jeff Roberson, OMSpirit.com

Photo Courtesy of Scout.com
Photo Courtesy of Scout.com

Both those schools will play in Oxford this baseball season. TCU is here this weekend to open the 2013 season. The Horned Frogs are now a member of the Big 12 Conference. Texas A&M will open the home SEC season for Ole Miss in late March at Swayze Field, the Aggies now a member of that league.

Mike Bianco, entering his 13th season as head coach of the Rebels, will meet the media today with the preseason press conference. Most likely there won’t be a lot of new questions or answers that haven’t been discussed for a few months now.

You can guess some of the most pertinent ones. One on the minds of most will be the health status of potential starting second baseman John Gatlin, who appeared to have emerged as the replacement for Alex Yarbrough, now in the pros after a stellar three-year college career. As was reported on here over the weekend, it appears junior college transfer Lance Wilson, a junior, will start there Friday when TCU comes calling.

Bianco will likely confirm that today. Or he could name another of the potential candidates there, like sophomore Jake Overbey, or freshmen Christian Helsel and Luke Gibbs.

We’ll want to know more of what he thinks about Stuart Turner, another junior college transfer. He’s a catcher, a junior from LSU-Eunice, coached last year by former Ole Miss catcher Brett Basham. From all indications, he’s got as strong and accurate an arm as has been seen at catcher here in quite some time. He emerged as the likely starter in the fall and preseason.

How will the coaches handle the first base situation? Gone is Matt Snyder, who had solid college career, despite an injury-riddled one. Juniors Will Allen and Preston Overbey, and sophomore Sikes Orvis are all in the mix to play at first base, and some combination of those to DH.

Speaking of Preston Overbey, the time for one of the strongest and most athletic players on the team to have his best season is now. A better Preston Overbey, who can play numerous positions well, could really lift this team.

Who are some other players that might emerge? Big senior right-handed pitcher Tanner Bailey’s time might just be now. After the initial two or three pitchers – Bobby Wahl, Mike Mayers, and Chris Ellis – Bailey should be right there heading up the next group for the Rebels, whether it’s as a first-in reliever or a midweek starter.

Sophomore Auston Bousfield, who is stronger than during his freshman campaign after a year and a half in the weight program, could be an All-SEC candidate in center field. Keep an eye on him.

Pitchers Josh Laxer and Hawtin Buchanan should be better in their second seasons and have looked that way in the preseason. Brett Huber is ready to finish out his Rebel career successfully.

The Rebels have more left-handed pitching options this season, which should help. Austin Blunt, Jeremy Massie, and Scott Ashford, all juco juniors, and freshman Matt Denny are left-handed pitchers on the roster.

Run scoring was one of the Rebels’ shortcomings last season. It wasn’t that the Rebels didn’t hit. Their batting average was second in the league. But they were eighth in runs scored. A second season under assistant Cliff Godwin should be a boost to the Rebels in that area.

Andrew Mistone, back at third, and Tanner Mathis, in left field, are the only other seniors besides Bailey, Huber, and Gatlin. Those five will be a solid group of leaders for this year’s ballclub.

Enough for now. We’ll hear from the head coach and also some selected players later today as the Rebels talk about the upcoming season, which begins Friday. The SEC is strong again, and the Rebels have enough talent on hand to compete for hosting an NCAA Regional. Of course, injuries or the lack thereof, will play a part, as will winning close games, and having a bounce or two of the ball go their way. Some luck, if you will.

Probably as many as eight or nine teams in the league could be host-worthy ballclubs, and only four or five will get the opportunity. Hosting normally gives you the best chance to advance.

But it’s a long time between now and June, and there’s a lot of baseball to be played here and across the conference. So stay tuned and have some fun.

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