djr-2019-06-02-sport-ole-miss--bianco-twp1 (copy)

Mike Bianco

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OXFORD — Ole Miss baseball coach Mike Bianco is well aware of what the storylines will be for his team in the coming months.

Who on earth is going to pitch?

As the Rebels ready for this weekend's scrimmage against Arkansas Little Rock, Bianco said he is still working through that question himself.

He remains optimistic, however, that there are good pieces to work with. Saturday's scrimmage at Swayze Field will start at 1 p.m.

“(That’s) what’ll be talked about, when you talk about baseball, from now to the start, is who are going to be those three (top starters), who are going to be the guys at the back of the bullpen,” Bianco said. “There’s enough guys out there, we just have to narrow it down to see who are going to be those guys.”

Gone are aces Doug Nikhazy and Gunnar Hoglund, both of whom were selected in the 2021 MLB Draft. The Rebels (45-22) came up one game short of the College World Series in 2021, falling to Arizona in the Super Regionals in a three-game series.

Among the players Bianco noted are Oregon State transfer Jack Washburn, Texas A&M-Corpus Christi transfer John Gaddis, Derek Diamond and Jack Dougherty. He also said freshmen Hunter Elliott (Tupelo), Riley Maddox and Blake McGehee “will compete for some type of role on this staff.”

Washburn, a junior, started five games for the Beavers last season (21 appearances) and went 4-2 with a 3.12 ERA. Gaddis is a senior who started 10 games for the Islanders in 2020 (13 appearances) and went 5-3 with a 2.25 ERA.

One thing not in question will be the Ole Miss lineup, which returns all of its firepower from last season. Included is senior Tim Elko, who tore his ACL last season but played through it and finished with a .325 batting average, 16 home runs and 55 runs batted in. Bianco expects Elko to be available in January.

Also back is senior outfielder Kevin Graham, who hit .342 last season with 15 home runs and 56 runs batted in. Sophomore shortstop Jacob Gonzalez was named the D1Baseball National Freshman of the Year and a second team All-American after hitting .355 with 12 home runs and 55 runs batted in his first college campaign.

The Rebels averaged 7.1 runs per game (33rd nationally) and scored 478 total runs, which ranked fifth in college baseball.

“One of the goals is to just not be content, to continue to try to get better, to continue to challenge them,” Bianco said. “One of the focuses, beyond just getting our normal offensive system in, is to cut down some strikeouts, maybe be a little bit better on the base paths, especially from a stolen base standpoint. But it is, it’s a good feeling when you return just the middle of the lineup or some key parts. But when you return as many people as we do, obviously it’s a good feeling. And not just offensively, but defensively as well.”

This article originally ran on djournal.com.

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