By Parrish Alford/NEMS Daily Journal
The College World Series remains the stated goal of Ole Miss baseball, and as the field of eight elite teams begin play in Omaha later this week, it still does not include the Rebels.
Ole Miss concluded the 2012 season at 37-26 with a 7-4 loss to TCU in the championship game of the College Station Regional on June 4.
It’s the closest the Rebels have been to a super regional since 2009 but not as close to Omaha as they were in 2005, 2006 and 2009 when they played in super regional Game 3s.
“When we played well we could play with anybody in the country, but it was hard for us to be consistent,” Ole Miss coach Mike Bianco said.
The off-season addition of hitting coach Cliff Godwin showed immediate results with the Rebels’ hitting.
They are currently second in the SEC with a .296 team average – some league teams are still playing – but sixth in runs scored, and while the Rebels struck out fewer times than any other team in the league, they were ninth in sacrifice bunts and last in stolen base attempts.
There were a number of hitting success stories. Alex Yarbrough was above .400 until mid-May.
Sophomore catcher Will Allen was more than 100 points above his freshman average of .227 for much of the season before tailing off late and finishing at .302.
Freshman center fielder Auston Bousfield hit .281, drawing comparisons to a rookie Yarbrough, and Tanner Mathis was hot at the end to finish at .359, the team’s second-leading hitter.
DoubleD up … a lot
Staying at first base, though, left the Rebels in position to hit into the double play, which they did a league-high 47 times.
“The stolen bases, part of that is personnel and not having a ton of guys in the lineup who can run,” Bianco said. “We had our flaws at the end of the year, struggling a little bit to score runs. We were able to hit-and-run and bunt much better than ever in the past. It was not the offense overall we thought it would be, but it was a good, solid offense. As far as the hitting and batting average, I think you’d probably grade us a B-plus.”
There were question marks about the pitching experience at the beginning of the year. Bobby Wahl and Mike Mayers developed into very good starters, and R.J. Hively showed his versatility in pitching in a variety of roles: long relief, closer and starter.
Wahl’s 2.55 earned run average currently ranks second in the SEC. Hively had a sub-3.00 ERA until pitching on short rest in his final appearance of the season. Mayers’ ERA climbed steadily to end at 3.50.
Who’s the man?
There was little pitching depth, however. Several in a group of freshmen showed flashes of ability but lacked consistency.
“You would hope for somebody to be more dominant, more of a count-on guy especially at the end of the year out of the bullpen,” Bianco said.
But Chris Ellis, Sam Smith, Hawtin Buchanan and Josh Laxer all pitched at least 20 innings, Ellis and Smith more than 30.
“Thirty innings was all Mike Mayers threw last year,” Bianco said. “Hopefully those guys will continue to mature and pick up their games. Collectively, I think it bodes well for the future.”
Turning to the signing class for quick improvement will be more difficult than it was before the MLB draft, when three of the Rebels’ signees were selected in the first round. Bianco says the class is solid even with the expected departures.
“You roll the dice with guys like that. You never know if one of them might fall out of the first round,” he said. “We will have freshmen who will have the opportunity to step in and play.”