By Parrish Alford
HOOVER, Ala. – In the age of information, some college baseball observers slipped right on down the highway without a clear picture of Ole Miss.
That was the overriding factor in the lack of preseason attention for a Rebels team that has an SEC West title in its pocket and hopes to play its way into a national seed beginning in today’s second game at the SEC tournament.
The No. 2-seeded Rebels meet Arkansas at approximately 1 p.m. as the tourney moves to a double-elimination format after a round of play-in games on Tuesday.
The Rebels (40-16) will pitch either freshman Evan Anderson or junior Chris Ellis.
Ole Miss returned just one 300-plus hitter from 2013, a season that ended with a third-place finish in a four-team road regional. SEC coaches responded in February by picking the Rebels to finish sixth in the Western Division.
“It’s nobody’s fault. Baseball preseason polls, unlike football and basketball, the media, coaches and everybody just know a lot less about who you are at the start of the season,” Ole Miss coach Mike Bianco said.
What opposing coaches did know was that Austin Anderson hit .310 a year ago, Auston Bousfield .253 and Will Allen and Sikes Orvis less than .240.
There were unknowns with the pitching as well with Chris Ellis set to become the staff ace.
“Ellis, we knew he had great stuff, but he hadn’t really proved himself until this season,” Anderson said.
Seeing what the prognosticators had to work with provides a little understanding. That doesn’t mean Ole Miss players accepted their lowly predicted status.
“At the beginning of the year that was definitely in our minds,” Allen said. “We weren’t going to say anything in the media. We just wanted to go out and do our plan and let that speak for itself.”
Bianco did not evaluate his team on the statistical mediocrity from 2013 of some of its most experienced players.
He believed they could play better, and his upperclassmen have made significant gains. Bousfield was named the top college baseball player in Mississippi. Allen begins the week hitting an SEC-leading .359, 128 points higher than he finished last year.
Bianco knew he needed key contributions from newcomers, and he’s had that from outfielders Braxton Lee and J.B. Woodman, shortstop Errol Robinson and left-hander Christian Trent, the Rebels’ Saturday starter.
“The same reason we liked this team now is why we liked it in the beginning,” Bianco said. “We thought it had a great mix of older and younger guys. (Success) has not been a surprise, but I don’t think it was a surprise to be picked lower than we wanted to be.”
PROBABLE PITCHING MATCHUP
Ole Miss RHP Chris Ellis (9-0, 2.12) vs. Arkansas RHP Chris Oliver (7-4, 2.63)
NOTE: Oliver earned the win as Arkansas defeated Ole Miss 11-1 in the third game of the Rebels’ May 2-4 series win. He walked three but allowed only one run on five hits in seven innings.