The relief exuding from Tate Blackman as he jogged the bases after a second-inning homer on Friday night was damn near palpable. On his first at-bat of the 2016 season, the Ole Miss second baseman channeled the frustration from his disappointing freshman year, blasting a pitch over the left field wall. It was just the beginning of Blackman's monster weekend, which included three multi-hit games (he had just three total in 2015) and fueled the Diamond Rebs to an opening series sweep of Florida International.
When Blackman showed up in Oxford last year, it was a foregone conclusion that he'd be an immediate superstar. He was rated the No. 1 middle infield prospect in the country, had been taken in the 20th round of the MLB Draft and was picked by multiple outlets as the preseason SEC Freshman of the Year. Instead, he hit .197 and started just 36 games, fading into a forgotten backup role by season's end.
Which is why it was so damn satisfying to watch him go 6-of-10 with three extra-base hits, six RBI and six runs scored to start off his sophomore season. His hair got it's own Twitter account. He had Sikes Orvis beer showering in Right Field.
Blackman wasn't the only one with a big weekend at the plate. J.B. Woodman, who's also struggled a bit to live up to his recruiting hype (though nowhere near the degree of Blackman), went 5-of-10 with six RBI and a dinger of his own.
If Woodman and Blackman can consistently produce this season, watch out for this offense.
As a team, the Rebs hit .295 and notched 11 extra-base hits during the three games. You never want to put too much stock into one weekend of baseball -- particularly opening weekend against a non-con opponent -- but keep in mind that all of these numbers came against an experienced pitching staff that made the NCAA Tournament last year.
Scores and highlights
Friday: Ole Miss 9, FIU 2
Saturday: Ole Miss 7, FIU 4
Sunday: Ole Miss 16, FIU 5
1. Starting pitching is still a big question mark.
Brady Bramlett cruised through his Friday night start (six strikeouts and just two baserunners over five innings of work), but things got a little bumpy with the JUCO duo of Chad Smith and Sean Johnson in Games 2 and 3. On Saturday, Smith gave up four hits and three walks and was yanked in the fourth after allowing FIU to rally back to tie things at 3-3*. Johnson struggled with control on Sunday, throwing a pair of wild pitches and giving up four runs through five innings. Still, only two of those runs were earned (they came off a two-run dinger in the fourth) and he did strike out five.
*The silver lining is that freshman Andy Pagnozzi was brilliant in relief of Smith, allowing just one hit over 2.1 innings.
2. It wasn't all offense this weekend.
Check out these defensive gems from Cameron Dishon...
Oh my, Dishon pic.twitter.com/pXlCfYhlUV— Jeff Gray (@Jeff_GraySBN) February 20, 2016
... J.B. Woodman...
JB Woodman gunnin pic.twitter.com/2oCZ348UpX— Jeff Gray (@Jeff_GraySBN) February 20, 2016
... and Colby Bortles.
This dude is 6'5, 245 pic.twitter.com/Mwxcig0VLP— Jeff Gray (@Jeff_GraySBN) February 21, 2016
3. How bout these powder blues?
The Rebs broke out some new unis on Sunday:
I don't dislike this look as much as some folks (there were some hot takes flying around Twitter), but I do hope they're used selectively. Ole Miss has too many sick home options (I'd go red, pinstripes, blue, gray, in that order) to make the powder blues an every Sunday thing.
On the other hand, the Rebs hit .457 with 16 hits on Sunday. If the offense is gonna hit like that while rocking these unis, Mike Bianco can wear them whenever the hell he wants.
- Errol Robinson was held out on Sunday because of a minor finger infection, breaking a streak of 94 consecutive starts. Freshman Ryan Olenek had four RBI and an impressive diving stop while filling in.
- Will Golsan had a clutch bat, coming through with a pair of hits in bases-loaded situations. The team as a whole went 4-for-5 with the bases loaded during the last two games, a promising sign for a club that's struggled with RISP over the last few years.
- Freshman pitcher Brady Feigl struck out the side during one inning of work on Sunday. Keep any eye on this guy.
- Freshman outfield D.J. Miller, who Bianco has raved about in the offseason, drew a start at DH on Saturday, going 1-for-3.
- Yellow Cup got arrested on Sunday.
Tuesday: vs. Arkansas State
Friday-Sunday: vs. No. 2 Louisville