(AP) Don’t be fooled by Mississippi’s 13-10 start. Coach Mike Bianco expected growing pains after losing key pieces from his College World Series team and starting the season with one of the toughest schedules in the country.
The Rebels took a big step this past weekend by winning two of three against a Florida team that was ranked No. 1 by D1Baseball.com. The week before the Rebels lost two of three at LSU, which now holds down the No. 1 spot in two major polls.
The defending SEC West champ Rebels are tied for third in the division at 3-3. LSU and Florida are among the best teams in the league, and the country, and even though Bianco isn’t satisfied going .500 against them, he’ll take it under the circumstances.
“That team that went to Omaha last year, our lineup was full of juniors and seniors who were in the program for years,” Bianco said Monday. “Contrary to this year, we got off to a tremendous start and got a lot of confidence going. When you look at this year’s team, most of the returnees are freshmen and sophomores. My point in saying that about the youth is that we really like these guys.”
The Rebels lost their top four hitters, 10-game winner Chris Ellis and closer Josh Laxer. Three pitchers who were expected to be contributors are out for the season because of Tommy John surgery.
Two freshmen, left fielder Kyle Watson and third baseman Will Golsan, each are batting .300 at the top of the order. Another freshman, Tate Blackman, is playing second.
The team’s anchor is senior first baseman Sikes Orvis, who batted .421 with three doubles, two home runs and nine RBIs in the first two SEC series.
The Rebels are set with Nos. 1 and 2 starters Christian Trent (4-1, 3.11 ERA) and Brady Bramlett (3-1, 1.54). The biggest issue, Bianco said, is locking down a No. 3 starter.
A look around the nation:
POLL POSITIONS: LSU (21-3) won its road series against Arkansas and is No. 1 in the Baseball America poll for the third straight week. The Tigers took over No. 1 in the D1Baseball.com ratings after Florida’s series loss at Ole Miss. Collegiate Baseball newspaper’s poll is topped by Texas A&M (24-1), which had its season-opening win streak end Sunday at Alabama.
BEARS GOLDEN: California, picked eighth out of 11 baseball schools in the Pac-12, has won its first two conference series and is tied with UCLA for first place. The Bears (18-5) got a big weekend from third baseman Lucas Erceg, who homered in all three games of a sweep at Washington.
CAVALIER CONCERNS: Virginia (14-7), the national runner-up in 2014, has lost six of eight and is last in the ACC’s Coastal Division at 3-6. The Cavaliers are batting just .263, and they’re coming off their first home conference series loss since 2012. The 13-1 loss Sunday to Florida State was particularly ugly, with six Virginia pitchers combining to walk 15.
BIG 12 REUNION: One of this week’s intriguing series has old Big 12 rivals Texas and Nebraska squaring off in Lincoln. The Cornhuskers (17-6, 3-0) are tied with Maryland for first in the Big Ten and have won nine straight going into two mid-week games against Cal State Fullerton. Texas (16-8, 5-1) is alone in first in the Big 12.
MOUNTAINEER’S MONSTER WEEK: Infielder Dillon Dobson went 9 for 12 with two doubles, two home runs, five RBIs and seven runs as Appalachian State took two of three against Louisiana-Monroe for its first Sun Belt Conference series win. Dobson went 5 for 5 in Saturday’s 7-5 win to become the first App State player with five hits in a game since March 2012.