By Parrish Alford/NEMS Daily Journal
OXFORD – Replacing a .380 hitter at second base is one question facing Ole Miss coach Mike Bianco this fall.
Part of the answer is returning a left fielder who hit .359 last year.
Not that Tanner Mathis is about to move to the infield. Bianco, though, says the production Alex Yarbrough provided at second base will likely be done by committee.
The Rebels were 37-26 last season. They knocked off host Texas Aamp&M in regional play but were unable to close out TCU in the College Station Regional where the Rebels’ season ended.
Yarbrough left to begin his pro career. Mathis did not.
“Oh, it’s huge to have him back,” Bianco said. “When you look at our losses from last year, he was one of our best offensive players if not the best offensive player. After losing Yarbrough, (Matt) Snyder and (Zach) Kirksey, it’s a big thing for us to have one of the guys remaining at the top of the lineup.”
A number of different players are in the mix to repalce Yarbrough on the field, junior college transfer Lance Wilson and sophomore Jake Overbey among them.
Two weekends into fall practice offensive production is a story line. For now, though, it’s about getting newcomers pointed in the right direction as much as anything else.
“Our goals are like every year, to get the system in, get in all the fundamental work and what we do as a program. It’s different from what the newcomers have done before,” Bianco said. “We just want to get them comfortable with the drills they’ll be doing on a daily basis.
“And there’s evaluation, find out where we are. When we get back in the spring (semester) there are only three weeks before we get on the field. (Fall) gives us a better idea of where we stand.”
Middle of the order
Early evaluation leads Bianco to believe that sophomore Sikes Orvis had a good summer of qualty at-bats and is on track to secure a spot in the middle of the order and step into Snyder’s role at first base.
Orvis hit .232 in 56 at-bats as a freshman but had some big hits in the postseason.
The presence of junior college catcher Stuart Turner could take some pressure off Will Allen, who caught most innings of most games last year because of a lack of depth at the position.
“I thought last year Will kind of underachieved offensviely, and some of that was because we put so much pressure on him behind the plate,” Bianco said.
While the search for offense is important, the search for pitching has a head start.
Bobby Wahl (7-4, 2.44) was among the SEC leaders in earned run average, and Mike Mayers (6-3, 2.50) showed steady improvement through the season.
Both are right-hander juniors.
Brett Huber, currently tied at the top of the school’s career saves list, is back for his senior season. Huber is on the mend from minor surgery and is expected to be throwing off the mound next week.