Hotty Toddy and welcome to 2021! The year of 2020 went exactly to plan. Ole Miss shocked #1 Louisville in the back half of a weekend series, the middle infield went viral for their unique celebration, and the Rebels won 16 games in a row.
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Ole Miss was in the driver’s seat of the SEC West heading into the first weekend of conference play at home against LSU when the season got postponed and eventually canned. You can’t get much more Ole Miss than that.
With 2020 behind us now, it is paramount for all the Rebel fans out there to not let last year’s success put too much pressure on 2021.
I love my Diamond Rebels more than anything in the world and I loved seeing the success they had last year, but it might be time to take a step back and curb our expectations. The pitching is our strength coming into this year. Gunnar Hoglund looks to be a 1st Rounder and is poised to have much of the same success Ryan Rolison had a few seasons ago in that ace position. Behind him we have Doug Nikhazy who never seems to let a game get out of hand against him which could be crucial in conference play. On Sunday you might see a bunch of outings from Derek Diamond who impressed us all last year in the very short, abbreviated season. Diamond is not somebody to put your life savings on just yet, but he will get to pitch in the powder blue uniforms and “Powder Blues Don’t Lose.” Aside from the weekend starters, Ole Miss has one of the deepest and most experienced bullpens in the conference. Miller, Cioffi, Holston, Broadway, Forsythe, etc. It doesn’t end. If anybody gets into trouble early the Rebs’ bullpen will be able to bail them out and keep the game under control.
The bats are the question mark this season. There is plenty of raw talent on the team, but with so many guys not having a ton of experience, Ole Miss might run into problems in March when the conference schedule gets going. Veteran Tim Elko will look to be the steadying force for the Diamond Rebs at the plate. His .354 batting average last year shows that he has the talent, but with 2 previous seasons struggling to stay above the Mendoza line there is obviously concern that last season was just a product of 17 non-conference games. For this team to live up to the lore of the 2020 season there needs to be a step forward for Van Cleve, Graham, and Bench. All of these guys have the potential to rake in the SEC, they just need it to happen. In addition to the experienced bats, newer Rebs like Chatagnier and Baker need to keep their 2020 momentum. If the 2 beloved Gridiron Rebs, Plumlee and Ealy, feel like catching fire in the batter’s box as well, then the sky is the limit for this team.
If 2020 had not been cut short by the pandemic, I firmly believe this team would have been a top 8 national seed. With LSU and Arkansas starting slow in 2020 and being on the Ole Miss schedule in March, the SEC West was a strong possibility and probably the outright regular season title in reach with the schedule toeing us around Vandy and Florida. This 2021 team is as good, but the schedule is much harder. Louisville at home to start 2020 is tough, but the State Farm College Baseball Showdown is tougher. A non-conference series with UCF is a strong 3-day grind as well.
Before March is ever over, the Rebels will have to play at the 2020 SEC surprise team in Alabama. April doesn’t get easier. Arkansas and LSU are at home (Thank God), but opening the month with a weekend at the preseason #1 Florida and a trip to The Dude to face the in-state rival is never easy. After a short reprieve the Rebels host Vandy in the penultimate weekend of the season. If they survive April, this is their chance to make a push for a regular season crown or at least a 2 day bye in the conference tournament.
This team has all the talent in the world, but I have been an Ole Miss fan for a long time. I know something bad is going to happen. 2018 we win the SEC Tournament and get bounced from the Oxford Regional, 2019 we blow the craziest lead to Vandy in the SEC Championship then get ousted by rival RazorBacon, 2020 a pandemic stops us from finally breaking through. Thank goodness we have 21 year veteran Bianco to lead this young team to the promised land, but if the DiamondRebs somehow fall short of Omaha again don’t say I didn’t warn you.