First pitch is set for 6:30 p.m. at Oxford-University Stadium.
Well documented in today’s Oxford EAGLE here (Tigers running into SEC Opener), was the fact the Tigers (10-7 overall) are a very savvy team on the base paths and lead the nation (NATION) in stolen bases (50 in 67 attempts).
The Rebels essentially plan to counter their base-stealing ability by throwing over a lot, changing the time it takes to deliver each pitch and possibly pitch outs.
Also in today’s EAGLE, Baseball America’s national baseball writer Aaron Fitt discusses the Rebels.
Below is the complete transcript from that interview where Fitt discusses Ole Miss and the SEC in general:
General thoughts on Ole Miss heading into SEC opener:
I think it’s pretty clear that Ole Miss has a pretty explosive offense. That showed up (Wednesday) against a pretty good Louisville staff that’s pretty darn good. I really like that Louisville staff and that’s why we ranked them in the top 25. They used some good arms (Wednesday) and just didn’t have any answers for that offense. I think Mississippi could score a ton of runs. I think they’ll do that in conference play as well.
Surprised by pitching staff?
We kind of thought the staff was going to be good enough to get this team back into a regional. We had them as a preseason top 25 team because we figured (Bobby) Wahl was going to be up to the challenge for being a legit Friday night guy. We knew they were excited about (R.J.) Hively and (Mike) Mayers and so far those guys have been pretty good. Certainly that was the question mark coming into the year and that’s probably why a lot of people tempered their expectations for this team, but we thought they would be a solid pitching staff with a pretty good bullpen. In conjunction with that offense I thought it would be a fairly balanced team.
On Cliff Godwin:
That’s something that probably doesn’t get enough attention. I think Cliff Godwin is one of the best offensive coaches in college baseball. He did it at UCF and LSU. Offensively, they were structured kind of similarly to this Ole Miss offense. It’s the power hitting team. Three guys have most of the home runs, but he likes to build teams around power bats. That’s how they do things and UCF and LSU as well. They have that now with Kirksey emerging finally and I think his development is probably a real testament to Cliff Godwin’s influence. He’s a guy that has had all kinds of talent and never really put it together until this year.
On Alex Yarbrough:
He is a guy that came in with a reputation as having a nice stroke from both sides and a guy that was a bat first and the other tools were just OK. And I think he has developed into a really nice second baseman. He’s not a burner on the basepaths, but I think he picks his spots and has good baseball instincts. This is a guy who had a great summer in the Cape Cod League last year. We had some reports from scouts up there who thought he was one of the better bats in this upcoming draft. He’s not going to be a big-time draft (pick) because he’s not a big-time power hitter, but he does have some pop and his swing is really nice and he’s got a great approach. I think he’s one of the most underrated players in college baseball and with the hitters in the SEC, I sometimes think his name gets overlooked. The guy is off to a great start and I think he’s going to start getting more notice as the season progresses this year.
It’s something that they talked about last year with the new bats and that they were changing the way they built their team. Certainly because of their ballpark I think they have always built their teams around power hitting, but with these bats — even in a small ballpark — it’s not a successful way generally to build a team. Some people would disagree. I know at Central Florida, for instance, they still build around power bats. John Pawlowski last year said they were going to change the emphasis and go for more athletes and more speed, but I’ve been a little surprised at just how much they run and how aggressive they have been on the base paths. It’s not like Creede Simpson, who has 14 stolen bases, is a real speed merchant. He’s a veteran guy who knows what he’s doing on the base paths. Jay Gonzalez is a guy who has really good speed. There’s a player that has come into his own a little bit as a sophomore. It’s not surprising that he’s stealing bases, but some of these other guys… I’m just a little surprised at just how ambitious they have been on the base paths.
…I do feel like they ran an aggressive offense (at College of Charleston) as far as jumping on fastballs early in the count and swinging for the fences and also as far as taking chances on the base paths. I think it’s fair to say that’s a staple of John Pawlowski’s offenses.
On the SEC?
It’s interesting. I think that Vanderbilt certainly has been a surprise with how much they have struggled. We figured heading into the year that it was a little bit of a feast or famine team. They had a lot of upside, but it all depended on whether or not those young arms would get it together and so far they haven’t. (Kevin) Ziomek has been up and down, Sam Selman really has been pretty poor, Tyler Beede didn’t even stay in the rotation. Those are three guys with a ton of upside and risk as well because none of them have done it in a weekend rotation before. Selman is a junior and never has had success there. I think Vanderbilt struggling is a little bit of a surprise. Certainly Mississippi State’s injuries, that’s not something you can really plan for. I’ll be curious how long they can keep it together as banged up as they are right now. It’s gotten a little bit ugly for those guys. I think Alabama, Auburn and Tennessee are the three teams that feel a little bit behind the rest of the conference. We’ll see if that plays out as the season goes on, but that’s my early impression.
On Ole Miss’ non-con. a good test?
I think it was a pretty solid non-conference schedule and honestly if you’re in the SEC I think it makes a lot of sense to schedule this way. They played programs that are generally considered good, solid programs and one really, really good program in TCU. Eventually I think TCU will look better because as they get healthier they’ll begin to win more games. That series was a nice road test early on. UNC-Wilmington, Miami (Ohio) are really solid mid-majors most years. Most of the time those teams aren’t going to hurt your RPI and sometimes they’re going to be really nice RPI series. Houston is a program that’s on the rise and I think that was a really nice program to schedule as well.
…I think it makes sense to schedule winnable games certainly. When you’re in the SEC you want to try to pad your win-loss record in the preconference because wins are going to be hard to come by, but I don’t think it makes sense to play a Kentucky schedule either, where you’re playing really soft northern teams the first three weeks and then you have a little bit of a wake up call and that drags your RPI down as well. I think Ole Miss did a good job with the balance. They tested themselves without making it too difficult of a test.
AUBURN TIGERS (10-7, 0-0)
RF Jay Gonzalez (.324 BA/.434 OBP/.471 SLG)
2B Creede Simpson (.439/.513/.545)
CF Ryan Tella (.410/.554/.492)
LF Cullen Wacker (.333/.456/.481)
1B Garrett Cooper (.298/.469/.426)
DH Justin Bryant (.000/.000/.000)
SS Dan Glevenyak (.373/.415/.475)
3B Zach Alvord (.277/.382/.362)
C Blake Austin (.268/.318/.415)
RHP Derek Varnadore (1-1, 5.55)
No. 12 OLE MISS REBELS (14-3, 0-0)
LF Tanner Mathis (.349/.494/.365)
SS Austin Anderson (.303/.410/.485)
2B Alex Yarbrough (.471/.526/.706)
1B Matt Snyder (.410/.471/.623)
3B Andrew Mistone (.286/.333/.375)
CF Auston Bousfield (.273/.380/.303)
DH Zach Kirksey (.410/.468/1.154)
C Will Allen (.308/.349/.385)
RF Senquez Golson (.244/.286/.289)
RHP Bobby Wahl (3-0, .1.96)
———SCORING SUMMARY ———
OLE MISS 1, Auburn 0 (B2): With the bases loaded, sophomore catcher Will Allen came through for the Rebels with a one-out single up the middle, scoring senior first baseman Matt Snyder without a play.
AUBURN 1, Ole Miss 1 (T3): Auburn retaliated in the next frame when second baseman Creede Simpson recorded a one-out single, advanced to third on a pickoff move in the dirt and scored on a sacrifice fly to right field by center fielder Ryan Tella.
OLE MISS 2, Auburn 1 (B4): Freshman center fielder Auston Bousfield led off the bottom of the fourth with a line-drive double that hit off the top of Ole Miss’ bullpen. Bousfield then scored on a single up the middle by senior designated hitter Zach Kirksey.
(March 16, 2012)