By Adam Brown
As the allure of the upcoming baseball season grows, so does the excitement of established returners and fresh faces gracing the 2020 Rebel team.
“The guys, the players, the coaches are all super excited to get started on Friday,” Ole Miss baseball coach Mike Bianco said. “Been waiting for this moment for a while.”
The Rebels are returning 14 players from a team that saw its season come to a close in the Super Regionals last June against the Arkansas Razorbacks. The 2019 team boasted a 41-27 record and were one win away from a return trip to Omaha. This year, they are looking to extend their season even further but with a more challenging first start.
Ole Miss will welcome in the No. 1 ranked Louisville Cardinals starting Friday afternoon in a three-game series.
“A lot has been made of the schedule and how difficult it is,” Bianco said. “Certainly it is a big challenge to open up with a team of that caliber. (They are) super talented, especially on the mound.”
The 2020 roster has 16 freshmen and four transfer players stepping on the diamond, producing the No. 2 recruiting class in the nation.
This season, Swayze Crazy fans will see a lot of new faces around the diamond, including two from the gridiron – John Rhys Plumlee and Jerrion Ealy. Ealy, who was known for his speed on the football field, will anchor centerfield the for red and blue. Plumlee will see action in either right or left field.
Fans will see two returning starters on the bump this weekend as Doug Nikhazy and Gunnar Hoglund take the ball on the first two days of the season.
“These guys have done it and had success in those roles before. You feel a little more comfortable running those two guys out on the weekend,” Bianco said. “Not just as coaches and fans, but I think your team plays with a little bit more confidence.”
On Sunday freshman Derek Diamond will get the nod.
“From the day that he stepped on campus he has been the best guy for that role for us. He struggled a little bit the last couple of weeks, but it was really more we did something a little different that we normally don’t do and thought we needed to do,” Bianco said.
Behind the dish will be freshman Hayden Dunhurst who will see the first duties of action on the season.
“He’s shown a great arm and a great release this fall where he threw out a lot of baserunners. That’s probably caught most people’s attention,” Bianco said.
In the outfield, the Rebels will use a variety of players.
“I just know that the middle infielders know that they can run out there and catch the ball. We’ve done it with a lot of guys,” Bianco said. “If Elko runs out there it might be seven different players that see action.”