Matchup: Ole Miss (16-12) vs. No. 17 Southern Miss (24-5)
Date: April 4
Location: Pearl, Miss.
Venue: Trustmark Park
Radio: Ole Miss Radio Network
David Kellum, play-by-play
Keith Kessinger, analyst
Live Audio: OleMissSports.com
Series: Ole Miss leads 72-50
Last Series: April 5, April 13, 2016
Series split 1-1
Final: 6-2 Ole Miss, Pearl, Miss.
Final: 5-1 Southern Miss, Oxford, Miss.
– Ole Miss is 9-6 versus ranked teams this year.
– Trustmark Park is one of four professional baseball ballparks that the Rebels have or will play in this season; Trustmark Park is home to the Mississippi Braves, Double-A affiliate of the Atlanta Braves.
– Ole Miss pitching leads the SEC in opposing batting average (.215), fewest hits per nine innings (6.93), strikeout-to-walk ratio (3.77), WHIP (1.07) and fewest walks allowed per nine innings (2.66).
– The Rebels rank top 10 nationally in six different pitching categories: fewest hits allowed per nine innings, shutouts, strikeout-to-walk ratio, fewest strikeouts per nine innings, fewest walks per nine innings and WHIP.
– The successful pitching staff is young with 76 percent of innings this season coming from freshmen and sophomores.
– Offensively, 58 percent of the Rebels’ at-bats have been taken by freshmen and sophomores.
– As the 2017 Major League Baseball season begins, five Rebels are currently on MLB rosters.
PROBABLE PITCHING MATCHUP
TUESDAY, 6:30 P.M.
Southern Miss – Taylor Braley, Jr., RHP, 3-0, 4.05 ERA, 26.2 IP
Ole Miss – Greer Holston, Fr., RHP, 0-2, 2.28 ERA, 23.2 IP
– Pitched 5.1 scoreless innings in his last outing versus Little Rock (March 28)
– Has made nine appearances, including three starts
– Against Furman (March 10), pitched a career-long 7.0 scoreless innings and allowed only two hits to go along with a career-high six strikeouts
– Posts a 2.45 ERA as a reliever (7.1 innings) and a 2.20 ERA as a starter (16.1 innings)
– Out of high school, named the best right-handed pitcher in the state of Mississippi by Perfect Game
– Attended IMG Academy as a senior, going 6-2 with a 1.02 ERA and hitting .360 at the plate
– Named 2015 4A Player of the Year in Mississippi after leading Saint Stanislaus to a state championship and posting a 12-1 record with 99 strikeouts as well as a 0.91 ERA over 72.0 innings
SCOUTING SOUTHERN MISS
The Golden Eagles enter Tuesday’s in-state matchup on a six-game winning streak, including a three-game sweep at Western Kentucky over the weekend. Southern Miss holds an impressive 24-5 record this season, ranking as high as No. 17 in the national polls. USM is an impressive team offensively, ranking 11th nationally and leading Conference USA with 318 hits on the season (11.0 per game). The Golden Eagles have also belted 44 home runs, which is the fifth-most in the nation. Taylor Braley does it all for Southern Miss, hitting .343 with eight home runs and 26 RBI. He also boasts a 3-0 record on the mound and will get the start against Ole Miss. As a team, Southern Miss leads its conference with a 3.38 ERA. The Golden Eagles are led by ninth-year head coach Scott Berry.
A LOOK AT THE SERIES
The Rebels and Golden Eagles have been meeting on the diamond since 1916, and the teams will face off for the 123rd time on Tuesday. Ole Miss leads the all-time series, 72-50, but the two teams split the series last year. Ole Miss and USM have squared off at Trustmark Park for the past 11 years with Southern Miss holding a 7-4 advantage in those neutral site contests.
LAST YEAR IN PEARL
Scoring all six runs in the first four innings and behind six scoreless innings from starter James McArthur, Ole Miss claimed a 6-2 win over Southern Miss the last time the two teams met at Trustmark Park (April 5, 2016). McArthur allowed just four hits and struck out five to earn his fourth straight victory in as many starts. The six innings of work was a career high at the time for the tall right-hander as he kept the team with the nation’s ninth-best batting average off the scoreboard. Ole Miss tallied 11 hits throughout the night behind multi-hit games from four Rebels. Ryan Olenek led the way, going 3-for-4 with two RBI and one run.
At the halfway point of the 2017 regular season, it’s clear that Ole Miss is a young baseball team. On the mound, 76 percent of the innings pitched have been by freshmen or sophomores, including 35 percent by freshmen only. Offensively, the underclassmen (freshmen and sophomores) have taken 58 percent of the team’s at-bats with a freshmen stepping up to the plate 32 percent of the time.
THE YEARLY GAUNTLET
The Rebels are 9-6 versus ranked teams this season, which includes sweeps of both No. 6 East Carolina and No. 23 UNCW in three-game series at Swayze Field. Ole Miss also won a series over No. 15 Vanderbilt to start SEC play. Last season, the Rebels won 12 games against ranked teams which included series victories over No. 2 Louisville, No. 8 LSU and No. 21 Arkansas. Ole Miss also topped No. 2 Texas A&M, No. 4 South Carolina, No. 5 Mississippi State and No. 18 Coastal Carolina, which went on to win the national championship, in games last year. In 2015, the Rebels made the NCAA Tournament after having the nation’s No. 1 strength of schedule.
PLAYING IN PRO PARKS
Trustmark Park, home of the Atlanta Braves Double-A affiliate Atlanta Braves, will be the fourth professional ballpark that the Rebels will play in this season. Ole Miss competed in the prestigious Shriners Hospitals of Children Classic at Minute Maid Park, home of the Houston Astros (March 3-5). Then, Ole Miss traveled to the Mississippi Coast for the first time in 106 years, facing Nicholls at MGM Park, home of the Biloxi Shuckers. The Rebels also traveled north to Memphis to play the Tigers at AutoZone Park, home of the Memphis Redbirds. Along with facing Southern Miss at Trustmark Park, Ole Miss will battle Mississippi State at the ballpark for the annual Governor’s Cup (April 25).
The 2017 Major League Baseball season is now underway, and five former Rebels earned spots on big league ballclubs: Zack Cozart (Cincinnati Reds), Lance Lynn (St. Louis Cardinals), Drew Pomeranz (Boston Red Sox), Seth Smith (Baltimore Orioles) and Stuart Turner (Cincinnati Reds). For the second consecutive season, Cozart began the season with a hit in his first at-bat and also scored the Reds’ first run of the 2017 campaign. He is in his sixth season as the starting shortstop for the Reds. Lynn will make his 2017 debut Wednesday (April 5), returning to the mound after missing the entire 2016 season due to Tommy John surgery. Another MLB Rebel pitcher, Pomeranz begins the season on the disabled list due to a forearm flexor strain; however, the southpaw is scheduled to be back to start the April 9 game. After getting traded from the Seattle Mariners to the Baltimore Orioles during the offseason, Smith will debut with his new American League team. The newest Rebel to make a Major League roster is Turner. In December, the Reds picked the catcher in the Rule 5 Draft from the Minnesota Twins. Turner hit over .400 during Spring Training to earn a spot on the 25-man roster and will begin the season as the team’s backup catcher.
ON THE MOUND
The Ole Miss pitching staff has been efficient on the mound this season, leading the SEC in several categories and ranking among the best in the nation.
|Stat||National Rank||SEC Rank|
TWO-OUT HITTING PRODUCES WINS
Two-out hitting has been the deciding factor in the Rebels’ last two wins. Facing No. 19 Kentucky, (March 23), Ole Miss recorded seven consecutive hits with two outs to plate six runs in the sixth and build an eight-run lead on its way to the series-opening victory. In Tuesday’s win over Little Rock (March 28), the Rebels scored all five of their runs with two outs. Throughout the game, the Rebels hit .357 when they were down to their final out of each inning.
TEAM CAPTAINS STEPPING UP TO THE PLATE
When the Rebels got off to their fast start to the 2017 season, winning their first seven games, newcomers and a couple veterans were leading the way offensively. Team captains Tate Blackman and Colby Bortles took several games to find their swing, but now they have it. After only the first five contests, Blackman and Bortles were hitting .118 (2-for-17) and .062 (1-for-16), respectively. Since then, Blackman holds a .312 batting average, while Bortles boasts a .324 average during the current span. Through the entire 2017 campaign thus far, Bortles leads the Rebels in batting average (.278), home runs (4), RBI (18) and slugging percentage (.456). Blackman is just behind his fellow captain in batting average (.277) and RBI, while leading the team in triples, (2), on base percentage (.389) and walks (14).
Sophomore Dallas Woolfolk, whose fastball ranges from 93-95 mph, has been nearly unhittable this season. The Southaven, Mississippi, native holds a team-low 0.92 ERA over a team-high 14 appearances. Along with tallying 23 strikeouts and issuing only two walks, Woolfolk boasts six saves as the team’s primary closer. In 19.2 innings, he has only allowed six hits and is holding opposing hitters to a .092 batting average.
FINISHING THE JOB
Over the past few seasons, Ole Miss has been lights out when holding a lead after the eighth inning. In fact since March 15, 2014, the Rebels are a blistering 103-1 in games they’ve led heading into the ninth. The lone loss occurred during the 2016 NCAA Regional when a Tulane two-run homer shocked Ole Miss at Swayze Field. This season, the Rebels hold a 15-0 mark when ahead through eight innings of play.
Although he has only made four starts this season, redshirt-sophomore Michael Fitzsimmons has come through in clutch moments for the Rebels. The Eads, Tennessee, native is hitting .300 with runners on base, including a .400 batting average with runners in scoring position. As a pinch hitter, Fitzsimmons is 3-for-9 (.333) on the season, driving in the game-winning run on two of those hits. Against Furman (March 12), he came off the bench to knock in the game’s only run to help the Rebels secure the shutout victory. Last week, Fitzsimmons was called upon in the bottom of the 10th; he ripped a single to left field to give Ole Miss a walk-off win over Little Rock. The big hit prompted teammate Nick Fortes to nickname Fitzsimmons the #PinchHitPrince on Twitter.
With 15 freshmen as part of the nation’s No. 1 recruiting class, some of the newest young Rebels are making an impact right away. Ole Miss has started four freshmen in the majority of games: LF/DH Thomas Dillard (25 starts), C Cooper Johnson (19 starts), SS Grae Kessinger (25 games) and 1B Cole Zabowski (18 starts). On the mound, five freshmen have made their presence known as well: Jason Barber (two appearances), Will Ethridge (eight appearances), Greer Holston (nine appearances), Ryan Rolison (12 appearances) and Houston Roth (eight appearances).
GOLSAN LEADS THE WAY
Junior Will Golsan has been the most consistent Ole Miss hitter this season, leading the team in hits (28) and runs (17). He’s shown his versatility in the field as well, starting in his third different position in as many seasons. Golsan won the starting nod at second base following the beginning of his freshman season before moving to first base last year. This season, Golsan has found his home in right field to better showcase his athleticism. He is the only Rebel to start all 28 games.
THE 17TH SEASON OF THE BIANCO ERA
The 2017 season is the 17th year of Ole Miss Baseball led by Mike Bianco, the program’s all-time wins leader. With 646 wins at Ole Miss over the past 16+ seasons, Bianco is the winningest and longest active coach in the Southeastern Conference. In fact, he’s the conference’s longest active coach among the sports of baseball, men’s basketball and football. He ranks seventh on the SEC’s all-time wins list after passing longtime Auburn coach Hal Baird earlier this season. Bianco is also on pace to leapfrog former Vanderbilt coach Roy Mewbourne, who sits in sixth, this season; Mewbourne produced 655 wins in 24 seasons.
ON THE HORIZON
Following the midweek contest, Ole Miss will host Alabama at Swayze Field for another three-game set (April 7-9). Saturday afternoon (April 8) will feature the football team’s spring game, the Grove Bowl, at 11 a.m. followed by game two of the baseball weekend series at 3 p.m. The series finale will be broadcast nationally on SEC Network, slated for 3 p.m.