By Parrish Alford/NEMS Daily Journal
OXFORD – What the new bats took away at the plate in power, Ole Miss was able to replace with quantity of hits – and patience.
On opening Day at Swayze Field, the Rebels collected 17 hits, drew seven walks and twice scored on bases-loaded hit batsmen in a seven-run first.
The result was a 15-6 win before a Friday afternoon crowd of 8,386 at Swayze Field.
Game 2 is at 1:30 p.m., today.
Wright State won the last two games in a three-game set here in 2007. Ole Miss scored just seven runs that weekend. That wasn’t the case on Friday.
Ole Miss players believe they’ll have a good offensive team in 2011. Even so, the production caught them off guard.
“Fifteen runs would be shocking with the old bats. Fifteen runs is a lot of runs,” sophomore center fielder Tanner Mathis said.
Mathis and senior Matt Smith each had four hits and three RBIs.
Freshman Preston Overbey showed why Rebels coach Mike Bianco named him the starter very early in preseason practice. On defense he had a nifty over-the-shoulder catch and a back-handed stab of a ball down the line. Offensively he was 2 for 4 with three RBIs.
The offense took some sting off less than stellar outfield play early on. Left fielder Zach Kirksey and right fielder Matt Tracy both misplayed fly balls resulting in runs as Wright State (0-1) put up three runs in the top of the first.
The Rebels (1-0) were more solid on the infield, turning four double plays, two of them started by junior college transfer Blake Newalu at short, one by Overbey.
While there were good swings and good contact in the first inning, there was nothing deep until Mathis and Alex Yarbrough each sent fly balls to the warning track in the third. Smith crushed a ball in the fourth, a double off the wall in left-center.
The first Ole Miss home run of the new-bat era went to Miles Hamblin who cleared the right field wall – barely – to drop one into the visiting bullpen. The solo shot made it 15-5.
“We were shaky in the first, and it was like a test to say, ‘Hey, are we going to be the offense we want to be?’” Smith said.
Wright State ace Casey Henn, a right-handed pro prospect who led the Horizon League in earned run average and opponents’ batting average a year ago, didn’t get out of the first inning. He gave up six hits and sent runs home by hitting Kirksey and Hamblin in consecutive bases-loaded at-bats.
Outside the top of the first, it was not a stressful day for Ole Miss starter Matt Crouse. The junior right-hander allowed five runs -only two of them earned – and six hits over six innings.
“I thought the first inning was the difference in the game,” Bianco said. “We didn’t play well, but we handled it. It was a huge day for a relatively young team with new guys in different roles.”