After sweeping No. 10 East Carolina, the Ole Miss Rebels (3-0) welcome in the undefeated Arkansas State Red Wolves (4-0) to kick off the 2017 midweek season. The Rebels, powered by their No. 1 recruiting class, handled the opening series with some serious grit and incredible poise. It certainly was impressive to see a team that lost its Friday starter, closer and was starting four true freshmen handle a top-10 team that threw two All-American starters at them along with a veteran lineup that was 90-feet away from Omaha in 2016.
Freshmen Thomas Dillard and Cole Zabowski are both hitting over .400 after the weekend, Grae Kessinger closed out the finale by going 3-for-4, Chase Cockrell is right behind Dillard and Zabowski (.364) and Cooper Johnson flexed his muscles on the defensive end picking off two runners and throwing out another trying to steal. Now, for an encore, the Rebs welcome in Arkansas State who are coming off a sweep of their own.
The Red Wolves blew out the New York Institute of Technology to the tune of 35-12 over the course of the weekend. Junior catcher Justin Felix was the key cog over the weekend, hitting .455 and driving in nine runs. ASU will start junior Bo Ritter who struggled at times throughout the weekend and only tossed 1.1 innings. The Red Wolves usually play Ole Miss tight and are very aggressive on the base paths. But, they may think twice about it if they saw film of Johnson from the weekend.
2 big questions
1. How will Will Ethridge look in his first collegiate start?
Another true freshman who is making his 2017 debut, the right-hander from Georgia has generated plenty of buzz during the fall and early spring. Ethridge is another big (6’4) pitcher who sits comfortably in the low-to-mid 90’s and has a hammer of an off speed pitch to go along with it.
Depending on what happens on the weekends, you could very well see Ethridge lock down a midweek starting role if all goes well. He may not be ready for the weekend rotation just yet, but his ceiling his certainly high enough to eventually get there. You can expect him to challenge ASU early with his fastball and work on developing his third pitch.
2. Can Chase Cockrell lock down the DH role?
He’s not a freshman but he is in his first year in Oxford. And the JUCO transfer from Hinds Community College had a fantastic first weekend at Swayze. After three games, Cockrell is hitting .364, slugging .455 and is sporting a .417 on-base percentage. All of that coming against a top-10 team that threw three All-Americans over the weekend.
One thing Cockrell will need to work on is his strikeout numbers. He was punched out five times against ECU and will need to make adjustments to put the ball in play more. One thing is certain though, despite it being his Division 1 debut, the 6’3 sophomore looked comfortable and not phased at all at the plate and in the field. As long as he flashes that power potential and cuts down on the strikeouts, I would expect to see more Cockrell in the DH slot.
How to watch
First pitch: 4 p.m. CT
Online streaming: WatchESPN.com
Game-time weather: 64°, showers, 35% chance of rain
Ole Miss: RHP Will Ethridge (first collegiate start)
ASU: RHP Bo Ritter (0-0, 6.75 ERA)