Third in a series
The Good: The Rebels swept TCU in a top-15 matchup on opening weekend and went on to win 21 of their first 23 games including a series win at Arkansas to open SEC play.
Stuart Turner was a great find in the singing class, in one season ranking in the top five in the SEC in hitting, making first-team All-SEC and earning spot on the league’s all-defense team.
Bobby Wahl was the most dominant Friday starter the Rebels have had since Drew Pomeranz. He had a sub-2.00 ERA in SEC games until the final weekend in his start at LSU.
Auston Bousfield was an outstanding defensive center fielder, Andrew Mistone a much-improved hitter, and Preston Overbey’s versatility helped fill a hole at second base and gave Mike Bianco options at other positions.
Ole Miss became a very good small ball team, often successful in sac bunt and hit-and-run situations.
The Rebels went 3-3 against the RPI top 10 over the last six regular season games and because of that carried a little buzz into postseason.
The Bad: That buzz didn’t last long. Ole Miss was 1-2 in the SEC tournament. That in and of itself is not a bad things, because the tournament is often a who-cares event. Coaches are careful in the comments they make in order to protect the integrity of the event, but if your best player sits it out to gain rest and routine – as Wahl did – that confirms that focus is as much on the week that follows than the SEC week itself.
Ole Miss didn’t bounce back and right itself in the regional, however. William & Mary was not a slouch opponent, but you’re not going to find one of those when you’re a 2 seed on the road.
Postseason, in fact, was a snap shot of the inconsistency that plagued the team the entire season. As Bianco pointed in his postgame after the Rebels were eliminated in Raleigh, the team was never able to string together wins in the second half of the season – when it finished 17-22 – as it did over most of the first half.
Offense was an issue. Batting average and on-base percentage weren’t terrible, but the Rebels didn’t get around the bases and score enough runs. They were an effective small ball team but didn’t steal enough bases and too often gave up the out to advance the runner.
The bullpen, very good at the start, struggled down the stretch.
Turner was very good with the bat, but he didn’t hit for power often enough and didn’t have enough bats around him all the time.
This was a team that needed several players – Auston Bousfield, Sikes Orvis, Will Allen – to take steps forward on offense, and not enough did. Mistone was one. Anderson was one. Those guys, though, were .300 hitters or a little better. Not enough people in the .330 to .350 range and not enough gap power to supplement Turner.
Most Improved: Andrew Mistone and Austin Anderson: Mistone hit just .243 as a first-year juco transfer in 2012, and Anderson, limited by injury at times, hit just .239. Both delivered in clutch at-bats this season. Mistone finished at .317, the team’s second-leading hitter, and Anderson at .310. Anderson drove in 39 runs – second on the team – and Mistone 35. Both had 12 doubles. Only Turner had more with 15.
MVP: Bobby Wahl. He struggled with walks, a product of a season-long blister at times. Wahl was able to pitch out of jams, however, because opponents had such trouble hitting his slider. When it was on it really had some bite, and he was really good. In his Raleigh Regional win, Binghamton hit Wahl better than most teams did this season, but he battled, kept his walks down and still gave up only two runs over seven innings. Wahl went 10-0, become just the second starting pitcher under Mike Bianco – the first since Pete Montrenes in Bianco’s first year – to win 10 games in a season.
The Bottom Line: There were some bright spots to the season, but this program is far from being judged by bright spots, a message that was clearly communicated by Ross Bjork when he stressed the importance of hosting NCAA regionals and extended Bianco’s contract by only one year.
This team didn’t get enough help from its recruiting class. It’s top three players were lost to the draft, another to grades and another to a personal issue. Beyond Turner this was the same team that played in 2012 minus two great players in Matt Snyder and Alex Yarbrough.
In that regard, it was a good coaching job by Bianco, but it’s a results driven business, and Bianco’s earlier success set the bar high.
The good news for Bianco and Ole Miss is it appears the draft hit will be far less this season, the only signee casualty – probably — being juco left-hander Cody Reed. There are players in the incoming class who can make the Rebels more athletic once on the basepaths. How consistently they’ll get there is still TBD.
It would be even better news of Bobby Wahl chose to return for his senior year. That’s a greater possibility than many would have thought before the draft. A projected first-rounder, Wahl slid to the fifth ground before being drafted by Oakland. Were he to return to Ole Miss and play his way into a first-round pick in 2014, he could make another $1.3 million or thereabouts in bonus money.
My instinct tells me Wahl will sign and begin his pro career, but the turn of events in the draft has certainly given him something to consider.
I reached out to Wahl on Thursday for an update and was asked to check back next week.