Ole Miss Baseball Begins Season Friday vs. Charleston Southern; Rebs’ Weekend Rotation Set
OXFORD, Miss. — It’s almost time! Ole Miss baseball opens the season Friday against Charleston Southern. First pitch is set for 4:00 p.m. at Swayze.
The Rebels, entering their 22nd year under head coach Mike Bianco, finished 45-22 overall (18-12 SEC) last season — one game short of Omaha, losing in game three to Arizona.
This season Ole Miss, ranked No. 5 in D1 Baseball’s Preseason Top 25, is poised to make another deep postseason run.
Sophomore Encore: Jacob Gonzalez and T.J. McCants
Two of the key pieces of this year’s group are shortstop Jacob Gonzalez and center fielder T.J. McCants.
Gonzalez was named Freshman of the Year (D1Baseball) for 2021. He hit .355 last season with 12 home runs and 55 RBI — a rare feat for a freshman in the SEC. He also ranked sixth in the nation last year with 93 hits and finished fifth in runs scored with 73.
The Glendora, California native has raked in quite a few pre-season accolades, as he was named First-Team All-SEC, Second-Team All-America by D1Baseball, and Third-Team All-America by Baseball America. On Tuesday, he was named to the Golden Spikes Preseason Award Watch List, another prestigious honor.
There is no argument that Gonzalez is expected to be one of the best college baseball players in 2022, but the humble sophomore doesn’t pay attention to the awards coming his way.
“It’s just writing it on a piece of paper. It really means nothing,” he told us last week.
The Rebels return every major piece of the hitting lineup, so it’s hard to imagine Coach Bianco’s squad being any better offensively than they were last season when they finished with the SEC’s highest batting average (.288). However, Gonzalez believes they can.
“I think we will be much better than last year. We cut down on strikeouts in the fall so hopefully that will make our offense that much better.”
Ole Miss shortstop Jacob Gonzalez
Gonzalez made it clear what the goal is for this year’s team:
“I think the main goal for us is to make it to Omaha and win it all; that’s everyone’s goal, and I think we have the team to do it…”
Another name to watch this season is T.J. McCants. The converted outfielder burst onto the scene in 2021 after Tim Elko’s injury caused some defensive shuffling that necessitated moving Justin Bench to third base. The move left an empty spot in center, and McCants stepped up and took it.
He appeared in 60 games, including 56 starts (46 in center field, eight at second base, one at third base, one in left field), was named Freshman All-American (D1Baseball), and earned SEC All-Freshman honors.
McCants finished with a .300 batting average, 47 runs scored, 10 doubles, two triples, five home runs, 35 RBI and 11-of-13 stolen bases. He impressively elevated his game in conference play with a team-leading .351 batting average in SEC games. All his home runs (5) came in SEC games.
McCants was asked what he worked on in the outfield during the off-season.
“Just the mental part,” he began. “Taking angles, balls off the wall, things that will become better with more reps off the bat.”
Big Shoes to Fill on the Mound
The Rebels enter this season after losing three big-time 2021 pitchers to the MLB Draft as starting pitchers Doug Nikhazy and Gunnar Hoglund and closer Taylor Broadway are now on to the pros.
Nikhazy, Hoglund and Broadway were top five in innings pitched on last year’s team, while the other two in the top five in innings pitched were Derek Diamond and Drew McDaniel, who are expected to be the Friday and Sunday starters, respectively.
Two other pitchers to keep an eye on are transfers Jack Washburn (Oregon State) and John Gaddis (Texas A&M-Corpus Christi).
Gaddis, expected to be the Saturday starter, explained what made him choose to come to Oxford.
“Getting every hitter back was a huge part of my decision. Playing in the SEC and all that atmosphere that was also a huge part in my choosing to come to Ole Miss.”
Pitcher John Gaddis
As mentioned above, reports suggest that in addition to Diamond as the Friday-night starter, Coach Bianco will start Gaddis on Saturday and McDaniel on Sunday.
He was asked what he is looking for out of the Saturday and Sunday starters. “Consistency, guys that have gotten better and continue to improve,” Bianco explained.
Ole Miss and Charleston Southern begin action at 4:00 p.m. Friday. First pitch on Saturday is set for 1:30, while Sunday’s game is also set to begin at 1:30. The games will be streaming on SECN+
(Feature image credit: Josh McCoy, Ole Miss)
Nick Filipich was born and raised in Biloxi, MS. He is an Ole Miss alum with a degree in Sports and Recreation Administration. A sports junkie with a great passion for all things Ole Miss, Nick played baseball and football in high school — which is where he discovered his love for sports. He is an avid Braves and Saints fan, and in his free time enjoys spending time with family, friends and his black lab, Dixie.