Rebels Finding Success with “By Committee” Approach During Tim Elko’s Absence
Ever since Tim Elko went down with a knee injury vs. North Alabama, the biggest question for Ole Miss has been how to replace his offense. So far, the “by committee” approach has been working well for the Rebels.
OXFORD, Miss. — When Tim Elko went down with a torn ACL knee injury on April 5th vs North Alabama, the Ole Miss fan base held its collective breath, hoping and praying for good news. Elko, the team captain, and arguably the hottest hitter in college baseball at the time, has been an integral part of the Rebels success this season.
After somewhat of a slow start in February, Elko went on an absolute tear in March, destroying every baseball in sight.
In the first five games of the month, he clobbered five home runs, collected 10 hits, and 13 RBI. His average climbed from .172 at the beginning of that week all the way up to .310, and he was named Collegiate Baseball’s National Player of the Week. After the Sunday win vs. Belmont — where Elko went 2-3 with two home runs, three runs scored and four RBI — his average climbed even higher, topping out at .358 at one point.
The Captain was hitting .350 following Ole Miss’ series loss to Florida as he collected five hits in Gainesville. When he went down vs. North Alabama the following game, Elko was hitting .340 with nine home runs, 36 RBI, a .660 SLG %, and a .444 OBP.
Head coach Mike Bianco later revealed that Elko tore his ACL on that awkward play at first base vs. UNA; however, he did not rule out a possible return for the third/first baseman.
Although he will need surgery at some point, Elko could potentially come back, according to Coach Bianco, if the swelling goes down and Elko is able to move with a brace. That might be optimistic thinking, but Elko is a tough kid and the leader of this team.
If he can return at all and contribute to the Rebels’ Omaha campaign, you better believe he will.
Replacing Elko By Committee
With the hottest hitter in the nation on the bench for at least the next few weeks, the biggest question has been how to replace Elko and his incredible production.
With no bats like his just lying around, the answer to that question has been replacement by committee.
The return of Cael Baker (hand injury) and Trey LeFleur (mono) provides immediate replacement defensively at first base. Offensively, Baker notched a career night on Tuesday vs. Austin Peay, going 4-4 with a home run, a double, 6 RBI, and 2 runs scored, which is very Elko-esque.
However, it was the 1-5 hitters in Ole Miss’ lineup who provided the committee help over the weekend.
Versus Arkansas this past weekend, Ole Miss had its best offensive weekend of the season. Over the three game series, the Rebels scored 30 runs and tallied 46 hits.
The 1-5 hitters in the Ole Miss lineup — Jacob Gonzalez, Justin Bench, Kevin Graham, Peyton Chatagnier, and Hayden Dunhurst — did the majority of that work. Those five knocked in 20 of the Rebels’ 30 runs, scored 21 of the 30 runs, tallied 33 of the team’s 46 hits, and 2 of the 3 home runs, for an astounding combined .458 average.
A Glimmer of Hope
On Tuesday night vs .Austin Peay, the story was similar. Although Bench sat out with lower back pain, the other four mentioned above tallied 6 hits, 5 runs, and 4 RBI.
Cael Baker did the majority of the rest, which is exactly what we had hoped to see. Since Elko’s injury, Baker has started four games and is hitting .454 in that span, with 7 RBI, 2 BB, and 5 R.
So far, the committee approach is working well for the Rebels, which is a true testament to the depth of the bats on this Ole Miss team.
Although there is no true replacement for Elko and his video-game numbers, Baker, Gonzalez, Bench, Graham, Chatagnier, and Dunhurst have done everything in their power to make sure that the Rebels offense is still producing.
With that injury coming right before the biggest SEC series to date, the production we saw this weekend against Arkansas offers more than a glimmer of hope, given the gauntlet of SEC play that will continue weekend after weekend.
Although the Rebels lost the series to Arkansas, the committee-style offense that we saw over the weekend is definitely a positive.
If you were ready to give up after Elko’s injury, don’t….because this team sure has not and most definitely will not.
(Feature image credit: Josh McCoy, Ole Miss)