Ole Miss baseball’s amazing 2016 run ended with an 0-2 showing in the Oxford regional. Here’s a review of the season and what to expect in 2017.
This season was full of ups and downs for Ole Miss baseball. From starting the season out 17-1 in out of conference play, to getting swept by South Carolina at home. The Rebels had high hopes for this year, with a trip to Omaha in their sights.
Led by veteran starters J.B. Woodman and Errol Robinson, the Rebels stormed through a tough out of conference schedule, losing only one game at the hands of second-ranked Louisville.
Baseball was abuzz in Oxford, it was back. After a disappointing season in 2015, with a team that was full of young, budding stars, and aging veterans, Ole Miss fans were yearning for another season like the magical 2014 Omaha run.
The Rebels brought the town of Oxford to life early on. After sweeping FIU to begin the season, the Rebels prepared to take on the Louisville Cardinals, led by future first round picks Corey Ray, Brendan McKay, and Kyle Funkhouser. We, as fans, had no clue what to expect.
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Well the Rebels showed up to Swayze Field on that brisk weekend and played immaculate baseball. After running Kyle Funkhouser off of the mound on Friday, the Rebels scored six runs and won the opener to the series.
The second game was another story all together. Starting pitcher, and cleanup batter, Brendan McKay shut down the Rebel offense and spearheaded the Cardinals’ offensive attack.
In the rubber match of the series, Mike Bianco trotted Sean Johnson out to the mound. The Rebels faced Drew Harrington, who went punch-for-punch with Johnson. Both would go 5.1 innings. Harrington allowed four earned runs, compared to Johnson’s two. This was the ball game. Both bullpens pitched shutouts to end the game.
This is one memory Rebels fans should not forget. This series win was one of the biggest of the season.
Player of the Year:
This is a tough category for me to decide on. How do you decide who was better for the team? Who is the most valuable Rebel? Well, this season, I would award the honor to junior center fielder J.B. Woodman. It was a breakout year for Woodman, who led the team in home runs, RBI’s, and was second in batting average. After being named a freshman all-american in 2014, he was named 2nd-team all-american by Baseball America today.
Woodman put on a show against LSU this season, throwing out multiple runners at the plate to conserve a lead. He also hit multiple home runs against the Tigers, sinking Bayou Bengals in Alex Box Stadium.
Woodman is draft eligible and is expected to sign a major league contract after the upcoming MLB draft. He has given everything he had on the field this season and even at times, willing the Rebels to victory. Woodman will be a great baseball player wherever he goes, and he will always be remembered as a Rebel.
Most Improved Player:
This one was easy and the answer is Henri Lartique. He entered the season with a .225 average in 33 career games played. This season, he led the team with a .353 average and hit four home runs, including a walkoff home run against Kentucky to seal a sweep over the Wildcats.
Lartique is another junior that is eligible for the MLB draft. Will King Henri sign a MLB contract after the draft, or return to Ole Miss for his senior season? That is still unknown. But I think I can speak for every Ole Miss fan and say that we hope he stays at Ole Miss.
Freshman outfielder Ryan Olenek earns this OleHottyToddy award for breakout player of the year. Olenek was relatively unknown before this season, but every Rebel fan knows him well by now.
He hit .265 with two home runs this season. In right field, he was a defensive star. We have a few more seasons of Olenek left before he is MLB draft eligible. Rebel fans should look forward to watching him bud into a star outfielder.
Ole Miss baseball fans have a lot to look forward to in the coming seasons despite the disappointing end to the 2016 season. In 2017 the Rebel rotation and bullpen should be stacked, along with the lineup staying relatively the same.
With some highly ranked high school stars invading the roster, as long as the MLB draft does not deplete the class, the Rebs will have talent to add to their returning base. The signing class is headed by Oxford high school pitcher Jason Barbour and Houston Roth, who will both fit well with Bianco’s already talented pitching staff.
On offense the Rebels will welcome catcher Thomas Dillard and short stop Grae Kessinger from Oxford high school, as well. Dillard and Kessinger are both MLB draft prospects, but there is a chance they pass up the opportunity to sign with a professional team and decide to come to Oxford seeking to carry the Rebels to Omaha.
This season was fun to watch and fun to write about. This Rebel squad was fun one because they were a team that loved to play for one another. In one of Bianco’s best coaching jobs to date, he took a team that, on paper, shouldn’t have won 30 games, and managed to tally 43 wins. This season was an amazing testament to his coaching ability and his ability to get his players to buy in.
This was one of the most fun years for Ole Miss baseball, despite going two-and-out in their own regional. Sometimes, baseball is the cruelest sport around, and sometimes, it is the most rewarding. Here’s to looking ahead to 2017.