Preview: No. 1 Ole Miss hosts Arkansas State in season-opener; a look at the Red Wolves
OXFORD, Miss. — No. 1 Ole Miss opens its home season at Swayze today against Arkansas State. It will be the first game of the season for the Red Wolves after their opening series with Missouri State was postponed.
The Red Wolves finished last season 7-9 and due to COVID-19, they did not get to play any Sun Belt Conference games.
ASU is picked to finish last in the Sun Belt West and has no preseason all-conference picks. Although the Rebels lead the all-time series 87–24, Ole Miss went to Jonesboro last May and left with a 6-5 loss, so the nation’s top-ranked Rebels definitely won’t want to overlook Arkansas State.
The Studs for the Red Wolves
Infielder Ben Klutts led A-State in hitting last season at .364, while senior Liam Hicks paced the squad with four home runs. Jaylon Deshazier drove in a team-high 14 runs and Drew Tipton was a perfect 7-for-7 in stolen bases.
As a team, the Red Wolves hit .254 with 21 doubles, six triples and 14 home runs.
A-State lost its best pitcher from 2020. Of the seven wins ASU had, three were earned by the now-departed Zack Jackson who also had a team-high 18 strikeouts.
It would appear the ace of the staff could be Will Nash. The right handed senior led the team with a 1.32 earned run average.
The Red Wolves had a team ERA of 4.28 with 131 strikeouts.
The Head Man
If ASU head coach Tommy Raffo seems to know his way around Oxford, it is not a fluke. He was a two-time All-American at Mississippi State and was a co-captain on the Bulldogs’ 1990 College World Series team.
Before heading to Jonesboro, Raffo spent 15 years on the MSU coaching staff. During his time in Starkville, the Dawgs won two SEC titles and went to Omaha three times.
In his 12 years at A-State, Raffo has an overall record of 278-288-1.
Either the Red Wolves have a small recruiting budget, or the coaches do not want to spend a lot of time on the road. The A-State roster feature 21 players from the state of Arkansas.
Not so home grown
Arkansas State does have three players who probably suffer from a bit of culture shock. The Red Wolves feature three Canadians on the roster. Hicks is from Toronto, Tyler Duncan hails from Sooke, British Columbia and Andrew Leggo is a product of Windsor, Ontario.
Give Mom and Dad credit
Many players today have names that can be hard to pronounce. Ole Miss broadcaster David Kellum will have no problem with one of the Red Wolves. Kim and Ron Culver took care of that. When their son was born, they took no chances on their kid’s name being mangled and they spelled it out for the world. A-State features graduate senior Sky-Lar Culver.
If fans get a glance at number 10 from the Red Wolves and a minute later think he changed jerseys to number 11, he didn’t. Arkansas State has a pair of twins on the team. Jacob and Brandan Hager made their way to Jonesboro from Festus, Mo., to start their college careers.
Playing the big boys
Although the Sun Belt is one of the best mid-major baseball conferences in the country, the Red Wolves are not afraid to schedule the big schools in their non conference schedule. A-State will play a three-game series at Oklahoma, go on the road to Mississippi State and will make a return trip to Oxford May 28.
Something cool about Jonesboro
Jonesboro, the fifth-largest city in Arkansas, rests next to Crowley’s Ridge. The ridge was formed by the great earthquake of 1812.
Something cool about Arkansas State
The Red Wolves have one of the coolest mascots in college sports, but Arkansas State has not always had that moniker. A-State got caught up in political correctness some years back and changed the nickname from the Indians. The football stadium even featured a tepee just beyond the end line of one of the end zones. That looked pretty cool.
(Feature image credit: Josh McCoy, Ole Miss)