Ole Miss head coach Mike Bianco gives likely opening-day lineup and looks ahead to the 2024 season
OXFORD, Miss. — Ole Miss baseball head coach Mike Bianco met with the media on Friday as the team prepares to start the 2024 season. The Rebels open on February 16 out in Hawaii for a four-game series against Hawaii.
“I have always felt that media day is the unofficial start to the season,” Bianco said. “I know that the first pitch will be on February 16th.”
On Thursday, Ole Miss released the stadium expansion plans for Swayze.
“We wanted to mention how excited we are as a staff, players and everyone,” Bianco said of the renovations. “I saw the renderings and have been a part of that process along with the administration. I know Keith (Carter) is super excited about it.”
Bianco added that it is something that has been in the process for a couple of years and he is extremely excited about it.
Coming into the 2024 season, the ticket office has sold another 8,000 season tickets.
“(This is) the first time in a few years that we haven’t broken a season ticket record,” Bianco explained. “But it is to this point the second-most season tickets we have sold, second only to last year after winning the National Championship. We are super excited and more seats are on the way for the fans that want them and continue to show up.”
Ole Miss is heading into its second season since winning the championship.
“What a difference a year makes,” Bianco said. A year ago I stood in front of you as the leader of the defending national champions…A lot of reflecting, after last year. As we sat as a staff, we went over so many different aspects and areas of the program and where do we need to improve and what do we need to do to and get back to the program that we’ve always been here for 22 years here.”
Coach Mike Bianco on the difference bewteen 2022 and 2023
He also talked about how small the margin is between being a national contender and not even being in the postseason.
“It’s not a surprise to us how razor thin being good or not being so good in our league is. That’s what makes the SEC the No. 1 baseball conference in the country. From being good to not being so good, there’s such a fine line to where an injury here or there, a tough year here or there, a couple of pitches that don’t go your way, a couple of plays that don’t go your way…In our league it can cost you a conference championship or even a chance to get to post season.”
Likely opening-weekend lineup
This season, the team has 23 new players on the roster.
“That’s a lot on a 40-man roster,” Bianco said. “Kudos to Carl Lafferty our pitching coach and recruiting coordinator and to (assistant coach) Mike Clement.”
Across the roster, the Rebels have about the same number of players in each class, freshmen to seniors.
“We don’t feel particularly young,” Bianco said. “We’ve got guys either from junior college or who have done it at the Division I level and had success.”
Coach Bianco gave a rundown of the potential lineup for opening weekend. It’s as follows:
C: Campbell Smithwick/Eli Berch
3B: Andrew Fischer/Judd Utermark
SS: Luke Hill/Brayden Randle/Ethan Lege
2B: Raegan Burford/Ethan Lege/Brayden Randle
1B: Jackson Ross
LF: John Kramer/Ethan Lege/Judd Utermark
CF: Ethan Groff
RF: Treyson Hughes
Note: If no backup is listed at a position, it is because Coach Bianco did not indicate one.
As for the pitchers, when Ole Miss takes the diamond out on the island in Hawaii, JT Quinn will take the mound on Friday night. In the double header on Saturday, the first game will have lefty Gunnar Dennis as the starter, followed by Grayson Saunier in the second game of Saturday. On Sunday, the Rebels will have Riley Maddox on the hill. Ole Miss’ projected 2024 starter Xavier Rivas is out following a torn UCL suffered in an intrasquad last week.
“(Quinn) is one of the returning SEC starters from last year,” Bianco said. “He has had a tremendous fall and early spring.”
“(Dennis) is a left-handed junior college pitcher from Meridian Community College,” Bianco said. “Not taking anything away from any of the other pitchers from the first intrasquad to last weekend, he has pitched better than anybody on the staff. He has earned this role and I’m excited for him.”
Coach Bianco also talked about sophomore Saunier who, like Quinn, started 12 games for the Rebels last season. “Last year, as painful as it was, guys gained valuable experience and Grayson is one of those guys,” Bianco said. “He has changed his body and put on about 20-pounds. He looks terrific and has had another great fall for us with two intrasquad games this spring and has not given up an earned run.”
“(Maddox) is a guy that we didn’t think till mid-to-late fall that could be a weekend starter for us,” Bianco said. “Riley is a guy that came back from an injury last year and pitched at the very end of the season. It was a lot to ask from where we were in the season and a win-loss standpoint, and he got thrown to the wolves. With that, we were hopeful. As tough as it was on him, he wanted to help us….”
Ole Miss and Hawaii are set to open the season on Friday, February 16 at 10:35 p.m. CT.
Adam Brown joins The Rebel Walk as the Managing Editor after being on the Ole Miss beat as a Sports Editor for over 11 years. He is a lifelong Oxford resident. Brown graduated from the University of Mississippi with a bachelor’s degree in journalism.
Prior to The Rebel Walk, Brown was the sports editor of HottyToddy.com covering every Ole Miss sport and local high school sports in the community.