By Parrish Alford
OXFORD – The light goes on early for some college baseball players. For others, it takes a while.
Whatever the reason, Ole Miss coach Mike Bianco is glad to finally see the Josh Laxer he thought he’d signed two years ago.
Laxer’s performance was critical as the Rebels held on to beat Arkansas-Little Rock 2-1 in 10 innings on Friday night, setting the stage for the third sweep of the season.
Laxer, a junior right-hander, went four innings, allowing only an unearned run on one hit with no walks and seven strikeouts.
That sparkling control has been a constant this season and is far different than the player who had a strikeout-to-walk ratio of 39-to-27 over his first two seasons.
“This is the Josh Laxer that we saw in high school at Madison Central, the kid that we signed. He hasn’t been that guy since he’s been here,” Bianco said.
Laxer has walked just one batter this season while striking out 17 in 112⁄3 innings.
He picked up his first win of the season Friday but only because there was contact between two UALR outfielders, and a routine fly ball dropped to the ground with two outs in the ninth and left open a window of opportunity for the Rebels (14-2).
“It would have been a tough one to swallow, 1-0 on an unearned run,” Bianco said.
Instead, it’s Laxer who’s been tough, showing the power you expect from an arm on a 6-foot-2, 210-pound frame that could just as easily belong to a strong safety.
Laxer entered the game in the seventh and immediately began filling the strike zone with fastballs in the low 90s.
“I’m just out there with confidence right now. That’s the main thing. I just feel good. I just keep pounding the strike zone, and that’s really doing it for me,” Laxer said.
Throwing strikes is one thing, locating them is another. Sometimes the other team hits your strikes. Laxer began the season with a career opponent batting average of .262. He allowed 67 hits last season, 20 going for extra bases, four for home runs.
Right now, his opponent average is .128, best on the team among pitchers with at least 10 innings.
Bianco says Laxer is “dripping” with confidence. It’s been confidence manufactured through off-season work in addition to early success as Bianco and assistant coach Carl Lafferty have fine-tuned some things with Laxer’s mechanics.
The relief role is somewhat different for Laxer. He was always a starter in high school, and 13 of his 24 appearances at Ole Miss have been starts.
Coming out of the pen with less time to think might be a blessing, he says.
“I could say that’s helping me out, but I don’t know what it is. I just feel good out there,” he says.
Bianco sees no need to over-analyze Laxer’s fast start. He just wants to embrace it and hope it continues.
“Sometimes it just clicks for guys at different times in their careers,” he said. “You’ve got guys like Phillip Irwin who didn’t figure it out until Year 4 or Will Kline in Year 3 or 4. People find it at different times. We’re certainly glad Josh has found it.”