The Ole Miss Rebels came up one game short of a College World Series appearance dropping a deciding game against the Arkansas Razorbacks nearly one year ago - finishing the 2019 season with a 41-27 record and failing to make it to Omaha.
This season clinching loss came despite the No. 1 recruiting class from 2016 expected by many fans to lift the Rebels back to the CWS.
Fast forward to this Friday and the Rebels are back at it at Swayze Field for its opening weekend against the No. 1-ranked Louisville Cardinals and former Mike Bianco assistant Dan McDonnell. This year’s team is full of intrigue and new names that are sure to see plenty of peaks and valleys, but first they must deal with an ACC team with loads of talent and experience.
McDonnell’s club lost four every day players but return six players who logged at least 130 at-bats and hit at least .280 a year ago. In 2019, Louisville averaged 7.4 runs per game (good enough for 18th-best in the nation) and are sure to come close to matching or surpassing that with the return of Henry Davis (.324/.422/.440), Alex Binelas (.291/.383/.612), and Zach Britton (.288/.368/.470). Danny Oriente returns as the expected designated hitter (.332/.404/.435), rounding out a strong lineup for the Cards.
Louisville has premium arm after premium arm locked and loaded on the mound. You could argue McDonnell has the best weekend rotation in the country. Reid Detmers is a returning first-team All-American and the reigning ACC Pitcher of the Year who is a sure-fire top-30 pick and can touch mid-90’s from the left side. He also has a wicked Barry Zito-esque curveball that breaks as many ankles as Jerrion Ealy does on the Saturday gridiron.
Bobby Miller and Luke Smith combined to go 13-2 a year ago and both sport impressive command on the mound. Miller can flirt with triple digits on the radar gun, and Smith emerged as a starter late last year during Louisville’s run to Omaha. Both have secondary stuff good enough to give lineups fits and should really test a young, unproven Ole Miss lineup this weekend at The Sway.
Another bonkers stat from Louisville’s 2019 season: the trio of Detmers, Miller, and Smith allowed just five runs in 18.1 innings in Omaha last year. Seems pretty good.
Overall, McDonnell teams are always well-coached and can beat you in a number of ways. This year’s team figures to be one that will have flexibility in how it beats you whether it be with the long ball, winning a pitcher’s duel, or playing small ball and utilizing their team speed. Louisville always puts pressure on defenses with its baserunning (second in the ACC and 37th nationally in steals per game in 2019), and I think they will continue this trend against Carl Lafferty’s staff this weekend. Freshman phenom Hayden Dunhurst versus the Cardinal baserunners figures to be a match-up to watch this weekend.
Ole Miss is going to have its hands full this weekend and taking one-of-three would be considered a big-time victory in the grand scheme of things. This Cardinal ball club is absolutely Omaha or bust in 2020 and are an early favorite to win it all.
3 things to look for this weekend
Doug Day has a new day.
Doug Nikhazy will now to move to the Friday slot now that Will Ethridge has moved on to the big leagues. Last year’s Saturday starter was a spark plug for the 2019 ball club, inciting bursts of energy and swagger with his mound presence and ability to dominate late in games. Can he replicate that on Friday? The atmosphere and feel to a game one on a weekend is very different than a game two, swing game vibe on Saturday.
This will be paramount for Ole Miss’ success this year as he is the one truly proven returning pitcher outside of Gunnar Hoglund who was up-and-down last year.
Who will emerge from the 2019 class?
The incoming class was yet another top-five one for Mike Bianco and Carl Lafferty but transitioning to SEC baseball as a teenager is easier said than done. But, someone has to step forward and be an impact guy due to so many playing early on, right? An easy pick would be catcher Hayden Dunhurst. Despite being the third-highest rated signee, he is most likely to be the freshman with the most playing time. The No. 42 overall player has TONS of arm talent and can really swing it from the left side.
Another name to know is obviously Jerrion Ealy (No. 29 overall). He will be starting on opening day and has all the tools to be a Freshman All-American. Infielder/outfielder Peyton Chatagnier (No. 246 overall) is another candidate to get ample opportunities to play after an impressive spring at the plate and Derek Diamond (No. 50 overall) and Wes Burton (No. 476 overall) both figure to factor into the weekend rotation on Sunday.
Cold water sandwiches a.k.a. beer is now available at Swayze Field. It took a minute, but Ole Miss joined the legion of alcoholic beverage servers in the conference for 2020.
SEC Baseball General Admission Beer Sales— PodKATT (@valleyshook) February 12, 2020
Aub (beer garden consumption restriction)
Florida (doing the premium beer garden thing)
Of course you can still slam some cold beer in right and left field, but now you can also do that in the grandstands with vendors meandering around the concourse now.
Drink responsibly and be kind, y’all.
How to watch
Friday: 4:00pm CST
Saturday: 1:30pm CST
Sunday: 12:00pm CST