Following a strong 7-0 start to the season, Ole Miss baseball has dropped five of the last six games as of the Wednesday afternoon loss to Georgia State at home 2-0 in extra innings. The loss, which brought the series to 1-1, saw the Rebels shut out in their own stadium. Through 11 innings, the Rebels’ offense just couldn’t seem to turn hits into runs, an issue that’s plagued Ole Miss throughout its six-game skid.
To put the issue into perspective, Ole Miss has scored just five runs in the past 46 innings and has been held scoreless in 43 of those innings. The drought isn’t helped by the fact head coach Mike Bianco suspended captains Colby Bortles and Tate Blackman before Wednesday’s game.
As Bianco explained after the game, the lack of production can’t fall on any one individual but should rest on the team as a whole.
“If there was any one [problem], we would certainly fix it or tell them,” Bianco said. “It’s tough. We just didn’t look well the past two days.”
The Rebels certainly have talent and potential to spare, as shown during the initial 7-0 stretch, but the current drought is hard to nail down and may be even harder to fix. Bianco, an experienced collegiate coach, believes it may be a matter of patience.
“You just keep competing. … You just keep fighting. You can all of a sudden get a couple base hits and you’re back,” Bianco said.
If he’s is right, that return to form needs to come sooner rather than later. The hitting, or lack thereof, is counterproductive to even the most impressive pitching. Will Ethridge, in his second start of the year, commanded the flow of the game from the first pitch. He finished the game with 10 strikeouts from 95 pitches and was perfect through his first five-and-a-half innings. Despite giving up two hits later on, Ethridge continued to dominate throughout the game and ended up retiring the first three batters he faced in six of the seven innings he pitched.
After Ethridge was pulled, Dallas Woolfolk started his own reign of terror on the mound. His pitching halted several scoring attempts by Georgia State, including one of the most important pitches of the game – a late in the game, bases loaded, full-count strikeout to keep the game scoreless. Despite Ethridge and Woolfolk’s impressive performances, their efforts would be in vain, as the Ole Miss offense failed to get off the ground.
Following Wednesday’s defeat and the continual offensive drought, one has to wonder: When will the offense start producing? And when can we expect to see Bortles and Blackman back on the field? The answers to these questions may coincide, as Blackman is second on the team in batting average, and Bortles leads in slugging percentage.
Beyond the numbers, the two are respected leaders on the team and both have contributed countless hits in their careers at Ole Miss. While the batting slump started before their suspension, the key to overcoming it could be in their return. If anything, they can’t make things any worse.
With conference play looming in the not-so-distant future, it remains to be seen if Bianco’s men can pull things together in time to make a serious postseason run. Only time will tell.