No. 3 Diamond Rebels Take Business Trip to Gainesville to take on No. 15 Gators
The No. 3 Ole Miss Rebels have rolled into Gainesville and will be just the second SEC opponent to help break in the brand new Florida Ballpark, home of the No. 15 Gators.
Florida (16-8, 3-3 Southeastern Conference) is looking to improve on its young season — one that found them ranked as high as No. 4 and selected in the preseason as the best team in the SEC for 2021. However, the Gators lost their first home series to No. 21 Miami and were swept last weekend by the South Carolina Gamecocks in Columbia.
Regardless of its tarnished record thus this season, Florida will be a tough opponent. The Rebels should expect nothing but the best from the home team this weekend and you can bet it will be a hard-fought battle.
Diamond Rebs head coach Mike Bianco appears to have the formula for winning. In an interesting note, this week Coach B. will face an opposing coach who is either trying to shake up his club mentally — or one that is playing a bit of gamesmanship — as Gators head coach Kevin O’Sullivan has changed his pitching lineup for this series.
#Gators making a big change to the weekend rotation for the Ole Miss series. Tommy Mace and Jack Leftwich won't start against the Rebels.
Thursday – Franco Alemán
Friday – Christian Scott
Saturday – Hunter Barco
— Nick de la Torre (@delatorre) March 31, 2021
Formula for Winning Game One: Gun Show
On Thursday night, Gunnar Hoglund (3-0) will take his position atop the hill at Florida Ballpark. The Rebs’ RHP is a Hudson, Florida native and will use that to fuel his outing against the Gators’ RHP Franco Aleman (0-1).
Gunnar Hoglund has been brilliant this year.
He has 65 strikeouts to just eight walks in 37.2 innings so far 😳
— Baseball America (@BaseballAmerica) March 30, 2021
It was announced yesterday that the 6-foot-6, 230 lb. Aleman, who owns a 94 mph fastball, would get the start over Tommy Mace (Florida’s Friday night starter for the last two years) to begin the series.
Scouting Franco Aleman
During his career at Florida, Aleman has mostly been used out of the bullpen. Batters are hitting Franco at only a .222 average; however, his ERA is 4.58 in 17.2 innings pitched.7
Aleman locates his fastball well, but his curveball has been a work in progress ever since he arrived in Gainesville. Be on the lookout for an early hook on Aleman if he starts to falter. That is when Coach O’Sullivan will tip his hand: If he brings in Mace, his game has been exposed.
Paying attention to the analytics
The important thing for the Rebels to do — and do it quickly — is to look fastball the way they have all year. On RebTalk, Coach Bianco explained how analytics come into play with every hitting and pitching situation.
The data shows that the average first pitch to a new batter is a fastball 67.2% of the time. So, if a hitter goes up to the plate on a first pitch and looks for a breaking ball, that is typically not in his or the team’s best interest.
Scouting Tommy Mace
If Florida does decide to bring the normal weekend starter Mace into the game, he will be a tough out. His record is 2-0, and he has a full four-pitch repertoire with a tight curve and a devastating slider.
Regardless of the games being played by the Florida coaching staff, Gunnar is going to come onto the field and do what he does best. This is Gunnar’s game, and I look for it to be game over for the Gators.
Doing Doug Day in the Sunshine State!
Doug Nikhazy LHP (2-1) will make his debut, and perhaps his only showing, at Florida Ballpark. He completed a fantastic 5.0 innings last week at Alabama and only allowed one hit during the game in his return to the mound after injury.
Imagine being a hitter facing @Dougnikhazy.
— Kyle Malzhan (@KyleMalzhan) March 30, 2021
He looked more like the Doug of old as he powered through the opening couple of innings and put his nose down and bulldozed the Crimson Tide lineup for three more innings. He will look to do the same against the Gators who will start RHP Christian Scott (0-1).
Scouting Christian Scott
Scott is a 6-foot-4, 205-lb. sophomore who lives on the fastball. He has a 3/4s arm slot and throws a mid-90s fastball with good life through the strike zone.
Scott has been working on making his changeup more of a weapon since joining the Gators, but he does have a curveball and slider with tight spin. His slider is his go-to breaking ball.
Much like Doug, Scott is a downhill pitcher. He has pitched 20 innings and has a 1.35 ERA. It will be important to keep the heat on him so that he can make an early exit.
Cali meets Florida: Diamond on mound in Game 3
Derek Diamond RHP (3-2) heads to the warm climate of central Florida to bring a little West Coast to the East Coast. Derek, a Ramona, Calif. native, is not bringing the music or the beaches — instead, Doc is bringing a cannon to Florida Ballpark, and he expects to shine.
— Ole Miss Baseball (@OleMissBSB) March 27, 2021
Diamond reached 94 mph on last week’s gun, and his location was superb as always. He’ll need more of that in Gainesville. His competition is Hunter Barco (3-2).
Scouting Hunter Barco
Barco is a 6-foot-5, 220-lb LHP who has a mid-90s fastball. He has a mid- to low- 3/4s arm slot and has late running and sinking life to his fastball as well. He also throws a quality changeup with similar life to his fastball. Barco’s breaking ball is a slider with more of a cutter break. His weakness is that he throws the slider into contact on a left-handed hitter who can easily knock it over the outfield fence.
Look for Ole Miss to come out hot with another Florida native, Tim Elko, to begin the weekend series.
Tim has been getting the timely hit, the doubles off the fence (and almost through the fence in the Auburn series), the dingers, and is helping this club pump on all cylinders.
OFF THE SCOREBOARD!
— Ole Miss Baseball (@OleMissBSB) March 27, 2021
The Rebels’ odds of winning two games or getting the sweep are reduced the more they allow this talented Florida team to hang around and think it can beat a team in the Top 5. Bianco and company must (and I believe they will) hold the Gators down, and this is no easy feat in a new stadium with a crowd that will be begging for a reason to break into a frenzy.
In the end, this will come down to which team performs the best under the pressure of an SEC game. Remember, Florida was picked over Ole Miss to be the regular season winner of the SEC. How nice would it be to walk out of that stadium, get on the bus, and celebrate a series win over the “No. 1 team in the SEC”?
Game One is Thursday night at 7:00 p.m. (CT) in Gainesville. The game will be televised on the SEC Network. Friday night’s Game Two is set for 5:30 p.m., with Saturday’s contest scheduled for Noon.
(Feature image credit: Josh McCoy, Ole Miss)