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No Mississippi teams ranked in D1Baseball preseason poll for first time ever

New Southern Miss head coach Christian Ostrander (Photo courtesy of USM Athletics)

College baseball is just around the corner, and for the first time ever, no Mississippi team is featured in D1Baseball’s preseason top 25 rankings.

2023 was a rough year on the diamond for Ole Miss and Mississippi State. Meanwhile, Southern Miss was at the cusp of its first College World Series appearance since 2009, but a coaching change poses a little uncertainty for the immediate future in Hattiesburg.

Ole Miss

The Rebels, going 25-29 and 6-24 in the SEC, did not defend their 2022 College World Series trophy well last season. With a subpar overall record which featured just one series win over a conference opponent, head coach Mike Bianco’s group will look to bounce back this year.

In what looks to be a revamped roster, Ole Miss took to the transfer portal to address key losses and hope for a spark from a team that was dead in the water just one year prior.

On the mound, with left-handed star Hunter Elliott out for the season, returners Xavier Rivas, J.T. Quinn, and Grayson Saunier will have elevated roles. Veterans Riley Maddox and Josh Mallitz, coming off injuries, will be expected to showcase their abilities, likely in a limited role as things get started.

Ethan Groff, the oldest player on the team, is anticipated to be the “glue guy” both in the outfield and at the plate as he always hits early in the lineup.

The biggest shoes to fill this season will belong to transfer shortstop Luke Hill in his pursuit to replicate the offensive and defensive production of first-round draft pick Jacob Gonzalez. Another big loss is Kemp Alderman, who had 19 home runs a season ago before being drafted by the Miami Marlins.

Led by Carl Lafferty’s recruiting efforts, the Rebels dug into the portal to avoid the disaster that ensued in 2023 by adding Andrew Fischer from Duke, a sophomore man who had a .999 OPS with 11 home runs, and infielder Jackson Ross from Florida Atlantic, who ended last season with 82 hits, 58 RBIs, and 14 home runs.

Swayze Field became a graveyard from a fan-attendance standpoint toward the tail end of last season. The Rebels, known to have one of the best atmospheres in college baseball, will try to bring the energy back to Oxford in just under a month.

Ole Miss will begin action in a road series at Hawaii beginning Friday, February 16.

Mississippi State

The Bulldogs, who went 27-26 and 9-21 in the SEC, followed up a below .500 record in 2022 with a slightly better 2023 campaign. However, it was not enough to make any attempt at a postseason run.

To avoid elevating the temperature of a seat that began to get hot last year, head coach Chris Lemonis will rely on a breakout season from his battle-tested team to have one of college baseball’s most historic programs back at the top of the food chain.

With former Bulldog staples Colton Ledbetter, Luke Hancock, and Kellum Clark out of the picture, roles for Dakota Jordan, Hunter Hines, and Armani Larry have amplified. The trio of veterans combined for 158 hits, 39 home runs, and 131 RBIs last season. Their presence was also felt on the defensive side and will be even more vital this year.

On the mound, polarizing switch-pitcher Jurrangelo Cijntje will have an opportunity to use what he learned from his freshman season in which he was put in a both a starting role and a leadership role. Cijntje has plenty of talent to showcase given he pitches above 90 miles per hour with both arms, giving MSU a competitive advantage by being able to limit their bullpen activity.

Incoming additions to the pitching stable that struggled in 2023 include RHP Khal Stephen, a standout transfer from Purdue, as well as former Miami RHP Karson Ligon.

New faces on the mound paired with a rebuffed batting lineup with a lot of power may just be the solution at Dudy Noble Field as Bulldog fans are eagerly awaiting a transformation that yields successful results.

Mississippi State will open things up at home against Air Force on Friday, February 16.

Southern Miss

The Golden Eagles, who went 46-20 and 22-8 in the Sun Bel, had by far the best season of its in-state peers. USM dominated in its Sun Belt debut, earning a conference title before rolling through the Auburn regional and falling just one game short of Omaha after being ousted by Tennessee in the Hattiesburg super regional.

With the departure of long-tenured head coach Scott Berry, new Golden Eagles’ leader Christian Ostrander will be tasked with building on the momentum his predecessor left behind.

Ostrander’s first year as the head honcho will require the pitching guru to have the Golden Eagles competitive on the mound after losing All-American Tanner Allen and clutch reliever Justin Storm to the MLB Draft. RHPs Nikko Mazza and Billy Oldham will be asked to step up and help lead a group of newcomers as they acclimate to the system.

On the offensive side, returning veterans Carson Paetow and Nick Monistere will look to pick up where Dustin Dickerson, Christopher Sargent, and Danny Lynch left off. Last year, Monistere had a .320 batting average with five home runs and 28 RBIs. Paetow slumped a little in his sophomore campaign but still managed to move 36 teammates across home plate.

The newly hired head coach brings in 13 newcomers to his squad and while Lynch will not be a contributor on the diamond, his role as graduate assistant is helping the latest additions to the team learn the ropes at Pete Taylor Park.

Southern Miss will begin the 2024 season with a home series against Marist starting Friday, February 16.

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