Conference Baseball is Back: Ole Miss Hosts Auburn at Swayze this Weekend
OXFORD, Miss. – The Ole Miss Rebel baseball team hosts Auburn (11-5) this weekend in what will be the first conference series since May of 2019.
In a news conference this week, head coach Mike Bianco said he is ready for the Rebs to get back to Swayze Field after suffering the team’s first back-to-back losses in two years. He also noted that many of the players on this year’s squad have not yet played in an SEC series since the coronavirus pandemic shut down college baseball in March of 2020 before league play began.
The Rebels (13-4) are coming off of two disappointing losses, against ULM on Sunday and on the road at Louisiana Tech Tuesday.
Throughout the beginning of the season, Ole Miss has suffered some key injuries and setbacks, such as losing starting pitcher Doug Nikhazy to a strained pec muscle and second baseman Peyton Chatagnier (who has now returned) to a strained hamstring.
Ole Miss has also been challenged thus far its young season because of COVID-related setbacks, such as the cancellation of Wednesday’s game against Louisiana Tech earlier this week.
The Rebels had at least two players out against the Bulldogs because of positive testing, with another two players forced to miss because of NCAA contact tracing rules. Those absences are combined with the injury of first baseman Cael Baker, who will be out for 4-6 weeks with a broken bone in his hand, and the injury to senior relief pitcher Max Cioffi who had his knee scoped last week.
Ole Miss knew this season would be a different one, and the Rebels are working to get back to playing sound baseball while dealing with all of these setbacks.
This team, while young, is extremely talented, and it’s depth is rare. The team needs to rely on its talent and focus on the fundamentals of the game. Unlike other sports — such as football — no team goes undefeated. In fact, losing is quite common in baseball. It’s what keeps a baseball player grounded and humble, and these players know that. They are not going to let these setbacks stop them. They are one of the elite teams in college baseball as their record of 30-5 over the last two years suggests.
The 2021 Rebels own a couple of strategic advantages that are quite beneficial. Coach Bianco revealed this week that pitcher Gunnar Hoglund would start on Friday night, instead of his usual Saturday as he did all of last season. Coach B. explained that the move helps keep most opponents’ lineup in flux and will not allow them to see similar pitchers with the right-handed Hoglund on Friday, left-handed Doug Nikhazy on Saturday, and the right-handed Doc Diamond on Sunday, a move intended to make Sunday starter Diamond even more effective. During Nikhazy’s absence, Drew McDaniel is the Saturday starter.
Coach Bianco and his players are also set to take advantage of another huge weapon this weekend — home field advantage.
The atmosphere inside of O-U Stadium in an average game is unrivaled, and the Rebel faithful are ready to come out and support their team. It is one of the primary reasons Ole Miss Baseball attracts the best players — from New York to California and from Florida to Ohio. You can bet these players will look to harness that energy tonight as Rebel fans look on.
The first pitch is thrown tonight at 6:30 p.m. (CT) and on Saturday and Sunday at 1:30 pm.
(Feature image courtesy of Ole Miss Baseball)