Ole Miss scored eight runs in the last four innings of its series-clinching, four-hour marathon 10-8 win over Vanderbilt Sunday. It was a welcomed barrage of offense, seeing that this team had endured a stretch of nine games in which it only plated 21 runs, a little under two per game. As obviously frustrating as it is for a ball club to go through an offensive drought, it can be especially damaging to the confidence of a young team like Ole Miss. With four and often times five freshman bats in the lineup, it was particularly discouraging.
“It’s more so about the momentum. We’ve got some fight in us. Just going through the emotions of the game, it kind of takes a toll on our approach, and we just stuck to our routine and tried not to do too much,” veteran second baseman Tate Blackman said. “It was weird because at the beginning of the game, balls weren’t really flying, and then you look up and it’s the fifth inning and we score from the fifth through the ninth. It was kind of what we needed because the past couple of weekends we had a good approach, had a lot of hits, but only would score one run.”
Ole Miss was able to overcome its offensive shortcomings and use its pitching to earn a series win on the opening weekend of SEC play, which is all that will be visible in the standings at the end of the day. But the Rebels do hope that spurt of offense was more than a spurt and that it is here to stay as they go on the road for four games this week, beginning with Memphis and then culminating with their first conference road series at Kentucky this weekend.
“We’ve been working on our two-strike adjustments and really trying to hit the ball to the middle or right side – your opposite side of what you hit – because if you do that, you are going to stay on the ball longer,” Blackman said.
“I think one of the biggest things is definitely the velocity,” freshman outfielder Thomas Dillard said. “Facing a guy like (Vanderbilt pitcher) Kyle Wright – a definite first rounder – on Friday was fun to face a guy like that because you know every Friday night in the SEC that you’re going to face a guy like that. But you know, at this next level everybody can throw every pitch for a strike pretty much, so you just have to be ready to hit whatever and be competitive at the plate.”
They’ve also gotten a taste of the SEC and what a lengthy war each game is.
“It’s definitely kind of what I expected it to be. It is a battle,” Dillard said. “Aces on Friday, really good pitchers Saturday and Sunday. You’ve got to scrap to get as many runs as you can and keep fighting. Yesterday some tensions were flaring, but that is SEC baseball. It was a really good experience.”
Ole Miss had some pep in its step following the war it won on Sunday, and with good reason. The team – especially the young guys – gained much-needed confidence at the plate and took a series from one of the preseason favorites to win the College World Series. Head coach Mike Bianco is fully aware of the lengthy grind that is a college baseball season and didn’t think his team had lost confidence, even with its offensive struggles.
“Is that the game that gets you going? Well, you hope so. You hope each game is the game that makes you better and gain some confidence,” Bianco said. “Certainly everyone looks at that game and says that’s the one they needed to get them going. We scored eight runs from the fifth inning on. Certainly it has been publicized enough how we swung it over the last couple of weeks. I think that is more us. I think we feel that, and yes, I think we have been swinging better of late. You need games like that to gain some confidence.”
- An X-ray on Ryan Olenek’s hand showed no bone damage. The sophomore center fielder was struck by a pitch twice in two days on his left hand. He stayed in the game Saturday but was forced to exit Sunday’s contest after being hit again.
- Sean Johnson will draw his first start in more than a year against Memphis Tuesday. The 6-foot-7 senior made nine starts a season again and logged 32.2 innings and a 3-1 record.
- Sophomore pitcher James McArthur will return to the rotation this Thursday against Kentucky. The right-hander had missed his last two starts with a strained forearm. Bianco said he threw a bullpen on Monday and felt good, signifying that he is healthy and ready to go.