Photo credits: Ole Miss Athletics
Oxford, Miss. -- - Opening weekend of the 2022 baseball season couldn’t have gone much better for Ole Miss. By the time Sunday’s contest against Charleston Southern came to an end, the Rebels had scored 32 total runs and completed a sweep of the Bucs that included two run-rule victories. By the time the series was over, Rebel head coach Mike Bianco was able to get 11 different pitchers on the mound and get plate appearances from 17 different Rebels. There were a lot of positives to take away from the weekend, but here are my top observations from the weekend.
Derek Diamond showed growth.
At the beginning of last season, Derek Diamond was the Sunday starter and the guy the Rebels were counting on to close out every weekend. Things didn’t go according to plan, with Diamond posting a 6.08 ERA in 10 SEC games. Diamond ended the season coming out of the bullpen. On Friday, Bianco sent Diamond out to start the 2022 season off for the Rebels, and he gave Ole Miss exactly what they needed. In five innings of work, Diamond allowed just two hits, two runs, two walks and struck out eight CSU batters. But the key moment came in the fourth inning. With the Rebels leading 6-0, Diamond issued a one-out walk, gave up a single and hit a batter to load the bases, and then gave up a double that plated two Bucs baserunners make the score 6-2 with two runners still on base and two outs. Last season, these situations are where Diamond collapsed. But Diamond kept his head in the game and got a huge strikeout to leave two runners stranded and preserve the Rebel lead. He then followed it up with a quick fifth inning before being replaced by Jack Washburn. Diamond would get the win for the Rebels to improve to 1-0 on the season.
They are who we thought they were.
This of course refers to the Ole Miss offense. Prior to the season, the Rebels were touted as one of the most dangerous returning lineups in the country, and this weekend they did not disappoint. The Rebels finished the series with 32 runs on 27 hits, 28 RBIs and 5 home runs. They also worked 15 walks. Those numbers look even better when you consider that games two and three ended by run rule, going just seven and eight innings respectively. Speaking of home runs, it just wouldn’t have been right if the first homer of the season came from anyone but Tim Elko, and he delivered with a drive into the right field bullpen in the bottom of the sixth inning of game one that made it 9-2 Rebels. Elko would homer again in game two of the series and he would be joined in the big fly category by Hayden Leatherwood, Kemp Alderman and Kevin Graham.
The Rebels have pitching depth.
One of the big storylines coming into the season for the Rebels was the loss of Doug Nikhazy and Gunnar Hoglund. Despite the loss of the two aces, Ole Miss might have more depth this season than they did in 2021. John Gaddis, the transfer from Texas A&M Corpus-Christi, pitched four innings in his game two start giving up just three hits, one run, one walk and three strikeouts. The Rebels also got appearances from Mason Nichols, Hunter Elliott, Matt Parenteau, Riley Maddox, Mitch Murrell, and Dylan Delucia. But perhaps the best appearance of the weekend came from Jack Dougherty, a fan favorite from 2021. Dougherty pitched two innings in game three of the series, struck out five of the six batters he faced and did not allow a hit. Look for him to be a key contributor throughout the season.
Next games up
The Rebels moved up to #3 in the latest D1 Baseball poll, and their next opponent will be Arkansas State on Tuesday night. Ole Miss will then welome VCU to Swayze Field for the next weekend series.
Austin Eldridge covers Ole Miss athletics for the Sidelines Sports Network, as well as being a play by play broadcaster in North Mississippi and Memphis. Twitter: @SSN_OleMiss, @AustinOnAir1021