By Adam Brown
The time has returned for beer showers to take flight at Swayze Field as Ole Miss opens against Wright State at 4 p.m.
The last official time the Rebels buttoned up the uniforms was eight months ago in the championship game of the Oxford Regional in a loss to Tennessee Tech.
“Players, coaches and fans, I know, are excited to put the uniforms back on and get started again,” head coach Mike Bianco said.
This season, the diamond Rebels return a veteran club that will have junior right-hander Will Ethridge toeing the rubber in the season opener on Friday. Junior southpaw Zack Philips will draw the start on Saturday and Gunnar Hoglund will take the mound on Sunday. They will be hurling the ball to battery mate Copper Johnson. At first base, Cole Zabowski will get the start.
Red-shirt junior Parker Caracci returns as the Rebels’ closer.
During fall ball Anthony Servideo and Jacob Adams battled against one another for the starting job at second. At shortstop, Grae Kessinger will get the start if he is fully recovered from a two-week-old ankle injury.
“If (Kessinger) is not quite ready to take the field, Anthony will draw the start at short and Adams will be at second,” Bianco said. “(Grae) looks to be back quickly.”
Tyler Keenan will be at third base in the opening game. Thomas Dillard will be in left field with Ryan Olenek and Tim Elko in right.
Chase Cockerel will be the starting designated hitter.
Wright State has made the NCAA Tournament three out of the past four years, including a 2018 run during which they put a scare into the number two national seed, Stanford, in a 4-3 loss in 14 innings.
The Raiders won their conference, the Horizon League, by five games last year in the regular season to sweep the league’s tournament.
They have lost several key contributors, including four MLB Draft picks, three out of five pitchers who started for them in 2019 and every relief pitcher who recorded a save in 2019.
Perhaps the biggest loss is that of head coach Jeff Mercer, who parlayed a 77-36 record in two years leading the Raiders into the Indiana head coaching job, where he replaces new Mississippi State head coach Chris Lemonis.
Since 2009, Wright State’s head coach has departed for a new job three times and has been replaced by a Raiders assistant each time. New head coach Alex Sogard, previously the team’s pitching coach, continued this pattern. The school has maintained stability at the often volatile mid-major level by embracing the old adage, “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”
Sogard does not inherit a bare cupboard, despite Wright State’s offseason losses. The team was unanimously picked to repeat as Horizon League champions by the conference’s coaches.
Horizon League Tournament MVP, outfielder Peyton Burdick, is the player to watch on offense for the Raiders. Burdick started all 56 games last season, hitting .347 and recording 74 hits, 60 runs, 65 RBIs and nine home runs.
Swayze Field is certainly no easy place for a new pitching staff to make its maiden voyage, and that already daunting task is made even more troubling by the Rebels’ offensive firepower.
Dillard finished second in the SEC in runs scored with 67, and Kessinger finished tied for tenth in the league with 56 runs. Dillard also finished third in the SEC with 59 RBIs and drew the second-most walks in the league.
Senior left-hander Zane Collins is one of the pitchers tasked with taming the Rebels’ prolific offense. He saw his ERA drop from a glistening 2.83 in 2017 to a more average 4.18 in 2018. Baseball America expects improvement, tapping Collins as its preseason pick for Horizon League Pitcher of the Year. The Rebels, however, will hope Collins and the new Raiders pitching staff are not yet in midseason form this weekend.
First pitch is set for today at 4 p.m.
Hottytoddy.com intern Jackson Sepko contributed to this articleHERE!