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College World Series: Ole Miss Preview

The Hoos first game in the CWS is against a familiar foe in Ole Miss. The Hoos have faced Ole Miss in the post-season twice in the past 5 years (2009 and 2011). The Rebels won the Louisiana Lafayette Super Regional to advance to Omaha for the first time since 1972.

Nathan Kirby will pitch for the Hoos on Sunday, facing the Ole Miss Rebels.
Nathan Kirby will pitch for the Hoos on Sunday, facing the Ole Miss Rebels.
Rafael Suanes-USA TODAY Sports

Facing Ole Miss in the NCAA Baseball Tournament is nothing new for the Cavaliers. In 2009, they faced The Rebs in the Super-Regional in Oxford and took the final 2 games to punch their first ever ticket to the College World Series. In 2010, The Rebs came to town as the 2-seed in the Charlottesville Regional. The Hoos beat the Rebels 13-7 on Saturday of that Regional and the Hoos moved on to the Super Regional. The two teams have no faced each other since that day, June 5th 2010. Those 4 games are the only times these two teams have met in the past 40 years.

Ole Miss finished the season 36-17 and hosted a regional. For the Super Regional, they got sent to Lafayette, to face the #6 seeded Ragin' Cajuns. That's a bit unlucky for the Cajuns, who were the #1 team in all 4 NCAA Baseball polls, and #4 in RPI. The Rebels were #14 in RPI and ranked anywhere from 12-21 in the various polls.

The Rebels path to Omaha was very similar to Virginia. They swept their regional and then, after losing the first game, won the next two with relative ease to advance to Omaha. The Rebels had a bit more trouble in their Regional than Virginia did, as they won a pair of 1 run games over Washington, including an extra innings affair.

On paper, this is a team that leans towards offense. They have 5 guys batting over .300, and that doesn't include arguably their best hitter, junior 1B Sikes Orvis who has 14 HRs, 51 RBI and a 957 OPS. Beyond Orvis, the team's top hitter is senior catcher Will Allen(.345 BA, 7 HRs, a team-leading 61 RBI, 895 OPS). Junior Austin Bousfield actually leads the team with a .349 BA, along with a .395 OBP and .495 SLG. Senior Austin Anderson batted .331 with a .421 OBP and .469 SLG. Both Orivs and Anderson are lefties, which bodes well for the Hoos' two left-handed starters.

Another thing the Hoos must be wary of is the Rebels running game. Bousfield has 17 stolen bases in 18 attempts. Anderson can also run. And leadoff hitter Braxton Lee has 30 steals in 35 attempts. Lee gets on base at a .383 clip, and walking him is basically giving up a leadoff double. As a team, the Rebels are 53rd in the country in steals per game, while the Hoos are 132nd. The Hoos are actually a tiny bit better at not getting caught (76% success rate for the Hoos versus 75% for the Rebs).

The Rebels aren't exactly a patient team, ranking 107th nationally in walks. They also don't strike out much. But they can rake. Of course, those offensive numbers are bolstered by playing in a much smaller stadium than the Hoos. The Rebels stadium, Swayze Field, has fences 10-20 feet closer than Davenport Field. You'd have to think Mike Papi would have hit more than 10 HRs if he played in there. Luckily for the Hoos, the CWS games taking place at TD Ameritrade Park, a stadium much closer to the dimensions of Davenport Field.

If you take into account the stadium effects when analyzing Ole Miss' hitters, you must do the same for their pitchers as well. And that makes an already solid pitching staff look even better.

Their starting rotation is led by junior Chris Ellis and redshirt sophomore Christopher Trent. Ellis was the first of a nation-high 9 draft picks the Rebels have on their roster. (Of course, he went to the Angels in the 3rd round, after 3 Virginia players had been drafted.) Ellis is 10-2 with a 2.45 ERA in 106.2 innings. He has a WHIP of 1.27, which is good-but-not-great. He strikes out only 5.4 batters per 9, which is well below average. Trent was 9-0 with a 2.21 ERA and an outstanding 1.06 WHIP. He struck out 7.05 batters per 9, which is about average. The Rebels third starter is junior Sam Smith, who was 5-4 with a 3.45 ERA, a 1.33 WHIP and 5.02 K/9.

Ellis has been the Rebels #1 starter all season, so the Hoos should see him on Sunday. He was fantastic in the Regional, throwing a CG against Jacksonville state in the opener. He struggled, however, against ULL in the Super Regional, giving up 5 runs (4 earned) in just 2.1 innings. The thing is, Ellis is a righty, while Trent is a lefty. With all the left-handed bats the Hoos have, maybe Rebels Coach Mike Bianco goes with Trent in the hopes of shutting down Papi, Fisher, McCarthy and company.

Where the Rebels really excel is in the bullpen. Their top 4 relievers combined for 127 innings pitched, with a 1.76 ERA, a 1.05 WHIP and 9.9 K/9. The group is led by the closer, junior Josh Laxer, who gave up just 5 ER in 34 innings with a K/9 of 10.6 (it should be noted that he also gave up 8 unearned runs). Perhaps more impressive is RS junior Scott Weathersby, who gave up 8 ER in 36 innings and struck out over 12 batters per 9. The other two are senior Austin Greenwood and RS sophomore Preston Tarkington.

One place the Hoos will have an advantage is in the field. The Hoos rank 3rd nationally in fielding percentage while the Rebels rank 77th. In a game such two closely matched teams, a fielding gaff or two could be the difference in the game.