It would be hard to fathom a scenario in which opening weekend could have gone any better for Ole Miss baseball. From the weather, to a sweep of No. 10 East Carolina, to the way the highly touted freshman class made its debut, it all seemed to come together for head coach Mike Bianco’s team this past weekend. Let’s take a look at some of the high points from the season’s first weekend as well as transition into week two.
- Ryan Olenek was named SEC Player of the Week, and it was well warranted. The sophomore center fielder went 6-13 at the plate with a pair of doubles and two RBIs. Olenek batted leadoff on Saturday and Sunday and looked pretty comfortable. He put down a bunt in game two, and got on base seven times. Olenek isn’t your traditional leadoff hitter by any stretch. He’s an aggressive hitter that doesn’t necessarily take a lot of pitches. But he’s athletic, has speed and is certainly a viable option for a team that really doesn’t have a traditional leadoff hitter on the roster.
“He brings so much energy. He can leadoff. He is a sensational player. He doesn’t take a lot of pitches so he isn’t your traditional leadoff hitter,” head coach Mike Bianco said. “But certainly, he can bunt. He can run. He is aggressive. I like him.”
- Ole Miss showed that it will again have a deep and versatile bullpen. Whether it was Will Stokes’ back-to-back saves in the first two games, Andy Pagnozzi inducing a huge ground ball with the bases loaded at the start of his three scoreless innings in game two, or Dallas Woolfolk’s simply dominant performances in the eighth and ninth inning on Sunday, the bullpen showed out in a big way. It is a heavily right-handed group as Ole Miss has just four lefties on the roster. But it is deep and has a lot of arm talent. Woolfolk was blowing 95-mph fastballs past people. The majority of the 2016 bullpen – which was one of the best in the SEC – is back again and adds the likes of Greer Holston, Ryan Rolison and Will Ethridge from the nation’s top recruiting class. If this past weekend showed anything, it’s that this bullpen can keep Ole Miss in games even if the starting pitching struggles.
- David Parkinson showed that he can be a legitimate Friday night guy in the SEC. He tossed seven innings of three-run ball against a veteran ECU lineup. He overcame a leadoff home run that was part of an 11-pitch at bat to open the season, and settled in to put up a quality start and earn a win.
“He showed why he is the Friday night guy. He was able to make some pitches, and right after that batter he gets a couple of strikeouts and runs off the field and really takes control of the game,” Bianco said.
James McArthur pitched well on Saturday, as did Brady Feigl on Sunday but the two faded around the fifth inning. It isn’t really anything alarming. Part of it was some misfortune and some of it stemmed from East Carolina having a good lineup. Neither one of them let the Pirates take control of the game, and with the bullpen Ole Miss has, that’s really what you’re looking for. Would you like McArthur and Feigl to go a little longer than 4.1 and 5.0 innings respectively? Sure, and they will at other times this year. But for opening weekend, it most certainly could have been worse.
- Ole Miss takes on Arkansas State at 4 p.m.Tuesday before playing three this weekend against a good North Carolina-Wilmington team that returns seven of nine starters from a team that made a regional, and is deep on the mound. Tuesday will be the debut of Will Ethridge, who the Rebels announced will be their starting pitcher for tomorrow’s game. He’s a guy that will sit in somewhere between 88-92 with his fastball that he locates really well. He’s got a hard slider, and a change up as his third pitch that is still developing. He was in the mix for one of the weekend rotation spots during the fall and spring, and could still end up there depending on how the season goes. Ethridge is one of the many talented freshmen arms in the 2016 signing class, and his debut will be interesting to watch.