For starters, Ole Miss is in the midst of a difficult skid in which the Rebels have lost six in a row. During said skid, the Rebels have scored a nine runs (six of which came in a 7-6, 11 inning loss to No. 2 Vanderbilt). Ole Miss has tried a variety of things to snap out of its current funk, spanning from moving guys up and down the lineup to plugging in several players at new positions (third/second baseman Christian Helsel at first base and middle infielder Lance Wilson in right field).
From a local angle, former Oxford Charger and Northwest Mississippi C.C. Ranger Charley Sullivan will be taking the mound for the Crimson Tide tonight when the two teams square off at 6:30 p.m. As was documented in today’s EAGLE, Sullivan isn’t in the ace role just because he’s a senior. The former Charger has earned perfected his slider, allowing him to put up ace-like numbers.
In eight starts, Sullivan is 10th in the SEC in strikeouts (45) and innings pitched (50). Sullivan’s 1.29 ERA in the league is ninth-best amongst his counterparts. Overall, Sullivan is 3-2 with a 2.52 ERA. Opponents are hitting .266 off him.
Below are Q&As with Alabama head coach Mitch Gaspard and Sullivan for today’s article. Much of the conversations did not appear in the print edition of the EAGLE:
MITCH GASPARD on Ole Miss:
We’ve played them before so we’re familiar with a lot of those guys. I know they’re awfully good. Lately they’ve had some struggles but we expect a really challenging weekend for us. I’ve played against Mike’s teams long enough to know they’re going to play well and they’re going to play really hard.
What does Sullivan bring to the team?
We were extremely young last year and for one thing, Charley gives us that older presence on the staff. One of his best qualities is he’s a great competitor. Our young pitching staff is a year older and a little more experienced. Charley, even though he’s a senior, has really grown with them but he’s really been the leader the last two years and really that’s one of the big reasons he became the Friday night starter. We know we’re going to get a consistent outing on Friday because within the staff he’s one of our top competitors and I think as much as anything else, the team as a whole really trusts him. He has a lot of really good qualities about him.
On Sullivan’s slider:
When Charley came to us he had a good fastball, but he was a guy that was upper 80s, would touch 90 miles-per-hour and his changeup was probably his best secondary pitch. His slider didn’t have any depth to it and definitely was not a swing-and-miss pitch. It was evident last year that he had to have that slider to be effective. He spent a lot of time with that in the bullpen. It started out as a cutter and really went from a cutter into a pretty good slider now. It has really made the difference for him. He had good command of his fastball but now he has two pitches and the changeup. He’s a command guy; he has to command all three pitches and he’s just that type of pitcher. His fastball most Friday nights is going to get in that 93 range. It’s enough fastball to get by you, but with the ability to throw that slider for a strike and with the changeup he has become really effective.
Sullivan’s velocity jumped?
He is a guy that really prepares. He works at it between starts and all fall. He takes every bullpen, every weight room session, every scrimmage. It’s all high priority for him and has helped his development.
Sullivan seemed to earn his spot as the ace:
Obviously he was a guy we thought enough of last year that he was a weekend starter, but he’s much, much improved over the last couple of years. … We trust him. He’s that guy that you know what you’re going to get when he takes the ball. You’re going to get great effort and a competitive guy every Friday. What I like about Charley is if the game gets to the middle and we take the lead, he has the ability to really tighten his belt and gets even better as he starts to sniff out a win. He gets it. All the little stuff you have to have, he understands how the game works in particularly in this league being a Friday night guy and how important it is for him to take us to the seventh inning.
With the velocity jump and improved slider, is Sullivan a draft guy?
I think so. He’s certainly a senior sign type guy if he can show he can maintain the way he has been pitching. There have been a few scouts that have shown interest in Charley. We certainly hope that for him. He’s pitching well enough to get that opportunity.
On the team, youth:
We have a good mix of some talented freshmen that have been consistent with what they’re doing and we also have older guys like Charley and Brett Booth and Kenny Roberts and Austin Smith, some guys who have been in the program. They have really taken that next step as well and been very consistent players and they’ve been very helpful to the young guys. It’s a good team. I’m not saying we have gone out every night and dominated our opponent, but they work hard at it and it’s really important to them. We have found a nice recipe to have success. … It has been a combination of a talented young group that has been pretty consistent and then some older guys who have been kind of erratic over the last couple of years but are also playing really consistent. From an offensive standpoint, it seems like a different guy every night that gets that big hit. … It has really been a combination of youth that’s talented, but I really give a lot of credit to our older players. I think it was really important to them, particularly after having a difficult year last year. They wanted this team to be good and they have really helped the young guys get comfortable and show them the way.
CHARLEY SULLIVAN on his improved production in 2013:
I think one of the main things is I made a bunch of adjustments in the offseason. I put on 10-15 pounds of weight and really tried to work on my offspeed stuff, which has gotten a lot better.
On the slider:
Last year it was there some of the time. I’d have it one game and not have it the next. This year being able to throw breaking pitches for strikes in any counts (has been important) because my fastball command has always been what I pitched off of. I really worked on throwing sliders for strikes and that two-strike slider to put guys away. It’s just little adjustments like that in the offseason that have made a big difference.
Change grip? Better feel?
It was a slight change in my mechanics and arm speed. A breaking pitch is all about arm speed, that’s what the hitter is swinging at and if you slow your body down, slow your arm down, they’re going to be able to recognize it and adjust to it. It was keeping the same mechanics as my fastball, which was the biggest adjustment I had to make.
Tipping the pitch? A tell?
I did. A couple of different times. Last year, Tennessee was a pretty tough weekend for me. With their new coach they were really good at picking up pitches. I was doing something with my glove where I was swooping it open when I threw a slider. I’d also look down at the ground right before I threw it. They had it from the second inning on. I was going out there every inning trying to change my mechanics and that’s hard to do in the middle of a game, plus throwing strikes and getting people out.
What’s different as a team?
We’re still very young. (Against Alcorn State) we started four freshmen across the infield and one in center. We’re young but it’s the confidence that the young guys have. Georgie Salem, Mikey White and Kyle Overstreet and those guys have played just really good baseball. Mikey White played played for Team USA and the SEC doesn’t intimidate them. They’re ready to go every night just like our seniors are. I think the level of confidence they have in themselves and we have in each other has really carried us.
Confidence the freshmen already had or came to fruition?
I think they had the confidence but they weren’t cocky and big headed. They knew their place and listen really well.
Ole Miss has talked a lot about needing tougher at-bats, is it possible to just get tougher or is that a trait that needed to already be there?
It’s not about having a tough at-bat so you can get a hit. You may see 10, 11 pitches and strike out, but that wears the pitcher down and gives the guys in the dugout and on-deck circle a chance to see the pitcher. That 10-pitch at-bat strikeout might mean the next two guys double. Those long at-bats, it’s all about wearing on the pitcher and giving your teammates behind you an opportunity to get the job done.
Talk to Ole Miss freshman and former OHS Charger Luke Gibbs?
When I was younger going to Ole Miss baseball camps, I’ve known Luke since I was 10 or 11 years old. We’re good friends. I work out with him in the offseason. We haven’t talked much this season. I worked out with him and (Alabama signee) William Elliott all during Christmas and we hung out some then.
Excited to come back to Oxford?
I’m definitely excited to come back and play in front of the home crowd. I have a bunch of family and friends and neighbors that are going to be there. But on the other hand, it’s exciting just because it’s another SEC road game. It’s so important to win on the road in the SEC. It’s exciting to come back home and play but it’s also exciting because it’s another SEC game on the road in a new stadium in front of a pretty hostile crowd. I’m excited for it.
Expect to be any more amped up than normal?
Maybe a little before, but during the game it’s about executing pitches and just taking it one pitch at a time.
Talk about your recruitment:
I pitched a lot my junior year at Oxford and then my senior season the majority I was playing short and DHing so I didn’t pitch a lot. My big recruitment period was the summer between my junior and senior year. I went and played in the state games and that kind of stuff. My senior year I really didn’t have a whole lot of recruitment from anyone. It was pretty much Northwest and some smaller DII schools. My senior year was actually pretty quiet.
Was it because of your (irritated ulnar nerve) injury you were lightly recruited, or fell through the cracks somehow?
I think it was the majority because of the injury. I know it’s easy to have one good season, and I had a good one my junior year; I felt like I could have repeated it and done even better, but it didn’t work out that way. … I knew my primary position wasn’t shortstop or as a hitter, I knew I was a pitcher so that was tough to go through my whole senior season and not be able to help the team as much as I could have as a pitcher. Things happen for reasons and I’m in a good spot. I like where I am, I like the team, the coaches are great. It’s a good fit.
On the injury:
It just hurt like hell when I threw. Nerve injuries are tough to overcome because it just takes time. You can’t really do a whole lot for it.
Former Ole Miss and Alabama assistant Kyle Bunn had a big hand in you ending up at Alabama, correct?
Kyle Bunn and another family friend were the main reasons that Alabama was on the radar. He had a big part in it. He was at Ole Miss all those days I went to camp so that’s how I knew him. Kyle Bunn was at Alabama, they were re-building the pitching staff and needed a right-handed arm and I was willing to come. It was just the right place at the right time kind of thing.”
———AROUND THE LEAGUE———
Alabama at Ole Miss, 6:30 p.m.
Mississippi State at Texas A&M, 6:30 p.m.
South Carolina at Florida, 6:30 p.m. (CSS)
Tennessee at Kentucky, 5:30 p.m.
Georgia at Auburn, 6 p.m.
LSU at Arkansas, 6:30 p.m.
Missouri at Vanderbilt, 6:30 p.m.
Alabama at Ole Miss, 4 p.m. (CSS)
Mississippi State at Texas A&M, 12:30 p.m. (SportSouth)
Tennessee at Kentucky, 1 p.m.
South Carolina at Florida, 2 p.m. (ESPN2)
Georgia at Auburn, 3 p.m.
Missouri at Vanderbilt, 4 p.m. (ESPNU)
LSU at Arkansas, 6 p.m. (Cox)
Alabama at Ole Miss, 1:30 p.m.
Mississippi State at Texas A&M, 1 p.m.
Tennessee at Kentucky, noon
LSU at Arkansas, 1 p.m. (Cox)
Georgia at Auburn, 1 p.m.
Missouri at Vanderbilt, 1 p.m.
ALABAMA CRIMSON TIDE (22-13 overall, 8-4 SEC)
CF Georgie Salem (.292 BA/.366 OBP/.312 SLG)
3B Kenny Roberts (.264/.384/.336)
RF Ben Moore (.287/.375/.426)
C Brett Booth (.293/.404/.407)
2B Kyle Overstreet (.276/.359/.333)
1B Austen Smith (.270/.339/.391)
DH Cameron Carlisle (.195/.340/.220)
SS Mikey White (.248/.345/.272)
LF Andrew Miller (.219/.338/.250)
RHP Charley Sullivan (3-2, 2.52 ERA)
No. 23 OLE MISS REBELS (23-10, 4-8)
LF Tanner Mathis (.224/.284/.241)
CF Auston Bousfield (.282/.362/.382)
SS Austin Anderson (.311/.396/.393)
C Stuart Turner (.412/.463/.596)
3B Andrew Mistone (.261/.333/.304)
1B Sikes Orvis (.281/.364/.354)
DH Will Allen (.250/.287/.308)
RF Will Jamison (.240/.416/.320)
2B Preston Overbey (.279/.304/.387)
RHP Bobby Wahl (6-0, 1.57)
OLE MISS 1, Alabama 0 (Bottom 1): Ole Miss got the scoring started against former Oxford pitcher Charley Sullivan in the bottom of te first. Rebel catcher Stuart Turner hit a hot shot down the third base line for a double, scoring center fielder Auston Bousfield, who had been hit earlier in the inning.
OLE MISS 2, Alabama 0 (Bottom 2): Left fielder Tanner Mathis doubled to the left-center gap, scoring DH Will Allen, who doubled to lead off the second.
OLE MISS 4, Alabama 0 (Bottom 3): For the third consecutive inning the Rebels got to Sullivan. First baseman Sikes Orvis singled through the right side on a hit-and-run, allowing Turner to score. With third baseman Andrew Mistone on third, Allen ran swung through another hit-and-run attempt. Orvis got stuck between first and second, but Mistone was able to score during the run down.
OLE MISS 6, Alabama 0 (Bottom 8): Allen hit his second home run of the season, a two-run shot over the Ole Miss bullpen in left field, with two outs in the eighth.
FINAL: No. 23 Ole Miss 6, Alabama 0.
HOW THE GAME WAS WON: Bobby Wahl threw his third career one-hitter to help lead the Rebels past Alabama. After pitching six scoreless innings (although he did walk five), Aaron Greenwood pitched the final three to earn his second save of the season. Both Wahl and Greenwood struck out three apiece. With the win, Wahl improved to 7-0 on the season. … Former Oxford Charger Charley Sullivan fell to 3-3 after surrendering four runs on five hits and one walk in three innings. … During the Rebels’ six-game losing skid, they scored just nine total runs with six coming in the 7-6, 11-inning loss to No. 2 Vanderbilt last Sunday. Against the Tide, Ole Miss executed the hit-and-run several times aiding their six-run effort. Turner and Allen led Ole Miss with two hits apiece. Second baseman Kyle Overstreet and short stop Mikey White had Alabama’s two hits.
Ole Miss and Alabama return to the diamond Saturday for a 4 p.m. showdown on CSS. Ole Miss will turn to usual Saturday starter Mike Mayers.
PARTING VIEW: Below is video of the post-game interview with Wahl.
(For more from Friday’s game, checkout Monday’s print edition of the Oxford EAGLE.) (April 12, 2013)