baseball Edit

Rebels in heart of brutal stretch against top pitching prospects

Petre Thomas

OXFORD | Mike Bianco believes the upcoming schedule difficulty isn’t as important as how his team executes on a day-to-day basis.

But as the Southeastern Conference season moves into the second half of league play, Ole Miss is in the midst of a murderous mix of opposing pitchers.

The Rebels (23-14, 7-8) saw LSU’s Alex Lange last week, beginning a four-week stretch of three opening-series starters that are listed in the top 17 Draft prospects by Baseball America for 2017. Lange is at No. 16, and Ole Miss will see Missouri’s Tanner Houck (No. 17) this Friday in Oxford.

Two weeks later, Florida and No. 9 Alex Faedo will start the series in Gainesville. The other three series feature opening night tests from top 75 national college prospect Brigham Hill at Texas A&M, Auburn’s Casey Mize, who has a 1.23 ERA in 58.2 innings and Arkansas’ Blaine Knight, who has a 1.89 ERA in 52.1 innings.

“That’s life in the Southeastern Conference,” Bianco said. “It’s been mentioned before with the Friday night talent and high-end pitching prospects in our league. I didn’t look at it like that, but we know what this league is all about and what this league brings. If you look at the last five weeks they are all good, but it’s hard to choose in our league.”

Ole Miss has the second most difficult remaining SEC schedule in the league. The Rebels’ five opponents are 44-31 against other conference teams, just behind Alabama’s opponent record of 45-30. The next three SEC opponents — Missouri, Arkansas and Florida — are all in the top five in the SEC in earned run average.

“You pick your poison and it’s all about playing well,” Bianco said. “It’s less about who you play. Its easy to look at statistics and say you’d rather play this team or that team, but anyone can play well and beat you. I know that’s boring to hear, but that’s the truth. It’s more about us and improving and playing well.”

Faedo, Lange and Houck are No. 1, No. 7 and No. 8, respectively, in Baseball America’s top 100 college prospect list.

Vanderbilt’s Kyle Wright is No. 5 on that list, and Ole Miss got to him for one run in seven innings but rode a shutout from three pitchers to a 1-0 win. All four of those pitchers are expected to be first round picks this summer.

“We chose and came to play in this league because we see future first rounders and top picks,” Ole Miss captain Tate Blackman said. “It’s fun to compete against those guys and at the end of the day it’s a one-on-one battle. You have to get your mind right for those guys. You know if you come out on top you beat a first rounder."