The Ole Miss baseball team has had the Coast surrounded for years. The Diamond Rebels have played at South Alabama in Mobile, Tulane in New Orleans and Southern Miss in Hattiesburg.
Although Ole Miss has a strong alumni group in South Mississippi, the Rebels never had somewhere to play.
As the famous “Field of Dreams” line goes: If you build it, they will come.
Tuesday, the Rebels will face Nicholls State at MGM Park, which is set for its third season as the home of the Double-A Biloxi Shuckers. First pitch is at 7 p.m.
“We've been to Mobile a few times and always had a good following there; and of course we've been to New Orleans a few times. There just hadn't been anything on the Coast,” Ole Miss coach Mike Bianco told the Sun Herald on Monday. “There wasn't a stadium or draw for us to get us there. Since they built the park there, we've been trying to get there ever since.
“I think it's good for college baseball and for recruiting. The more we can get around the state and other areas, it's good for everybody.”
With recruiting in mind, Bianco sees Tuesday’s game as an added opportunity to play in front of some of the state’s top prep products. Former St. Stanislaus ace Greer Holston is currently on the Rebels’ roster. Ole Miss has also had success recruiting the Coast in years past, signing players like Biloxi’s Hawtin Buchanan and Pascagoula’s Senquez Golson and Chase Nyman. Ole Miss currently has a commitment from Pearl River Central sophomore Hayden Dunhurst and has interest in several other Coast products.
“When you're in sight and people see you and feel the energy, I think that's always good as far as recruiting,” Bianco said. “There's some very talented players down there who will get to see us play that normally don't get to every day.”
The trip was made possible, at least in part, because the Rebels are on spring break. While Bianco couldn’t commit to the Coast game being an annual occurrence, he said he hopes it becomes a regular schedule stop.
“There’s so many positives to being down there,” Bianco said. “... To be able to play in a really nice venue and get out of your norm and comfort zone of playing Tuesday night at your ballpark, it’s a good trip for us.”
The Rebels (11-5) are fresh off of a three-game sweep of Furman. Holston helped the Rebs pick up the important sweep, pitching seven scoreless innings in just his second collegiate start Sunday. Holston struck out six against just two hits and two walks before giving way to Andy Pagnozzi and Dallas Woolfolk to keep the 1-0 shutout intact.
In six appearances this season, Holston is 0-1 with a 2.45 ERA. He has held opponents to a paltry .196 batting average and has struck out 16.
Ole Miss will send 6-foot-2 freshman Ryan Rolison to the mound Tuesday. The Southpaw out of Jackson, Tenn., is 2-0 with a 2.38 ERA. He was a 37th round selection in the 2016 MLB Draft by the San Diego Padres.
“He was one of those high-profile guys in the (signing) class where he’s going to throw it 90-93 and even touch 94,” Bianco said. “He has a real good curveball and a good changeup.
“One of the things that makes Ryan special is he’s not your typical power guy in the sense that he’s not a giant at 6-foot-5. Growing up in high school he didn’t always have that big fastball, so he always had success because he was a really good pitcher and then the velocity came later in his high school career. He’s one of those guys who learned to pitch before he had the ‘stuff.’ Usually when you have that, and your stuff improves, you have something special.”
The Colonels enter Tuesday’s test with a 9-6 record, fresh off of taking 2 of 3 from Northwestern State. The Colonels have won 5 of their last 6.
Former Gulfport standout Justin Holt has started in 12 of Nicholls States’ games and is hitting .233 with four RBIs, two doubles and a .353 on-base percentage. He also leads the team with four stolen bases in five attempts. George County’s Daniel Goff has made an impact out of the pen. In eight appearances, he’s 1-1 with a 4.86 ERA. He boasts a robust 12-to-1 strikeout-to-walk ratio.
As a team, Nicholls is hitting .246 with seven homers and a .354 on-base percentage. The team’s pitchers also sport a 3.68 ERA.
Ole Miss vs. Nicholls State
When: 7 p.m., Tuesday
Where: MGM Park, Biloxi