OXFORD – Ole Miss coach Mike Bianco knew a lot about his 2020 baseball team, most of it good, when COVID-19 pulled the plug on the season.
After a different sort of fall practice season he learned some things about the next version of Rebels he hopes will make them as successful as the guys before them.
Last year’s Rebels lost on opening day to No. 1 Louisville then won every other game – 16 straight.
It was a team that hit for average (.294) and power (37 home runs) and had solid pitching.
Many roles and positions will still be evolving when players re-start practice in January.
What Bianco learned in fall ball was less about who might be his top hitters and pitchers and more about the team’s psyche.
“The thing we learned the most was how these guys show up every day. This team shows up a lot,” Bianco said. “They play with energy every day. They practice with energy. It’s a fun group.”
Fall ball concluded last weekend with the Pizza Bowl in a matchup of the top two weekend starters. The team managed by Doug Nikhazy defeated the team managed by Gunnar Hoglund 10-7.
It will be a mostly healthy group that reports in January including right-hander Derek Diamond, the No. 3 starter as a freshman last year, who did not pitch in fall practice.
Diamond did something else though, playing second base and in the outfield and showing himself to be competent at the plate.
“By the time we report everybody should be 100 percent,” Bianco said.
The fall report card wasn’t only about the psyche.
Some players made moves that could help them have larger roles in the regular season.
One of those is right-handed reliever Greer Holston, one of four 2020 seniors who opted to come back for the extra year granted by the NCAA.
Holston has struggled with inconsistency much his career but seemed to find a different gear, especially in his last five innings as he faced the minimum over two outings.
“He had a low- to mid-90s big-time slider and a good change-up. He really put himself in the mix,” Bianco said.
Kevin Graham had less ground to cover to find the “mix” given the loss of hitters like Tyler Keenan and Anthony Servideo.
Graham, though, slumped as a sophomore after a strong freshman season. He had something to prove.
Graham played mostly in the outfield.
“He made himself a more complete hitter,” Bianco said. “His strikeouts were down, he handled left-handers and hit the ball the other way. He’s a different player now.”