Offense was the story of the weekend, as Ole Miss bounced back from a shocking midweek defeat to sweep the Florida Gators. Ole Miss won comfortably in the first two games with scores of 12-4 and 16-4. The sweep-clinching victory featured an eight-run comeback, a lightning delay and runs galore. The Rebels brought the brooms out with a 12-10 victory. Ole Miss improves its record to 23-10 (8-4) with the sweep over No. 16 Florida.
First base: Grae Kessinger was a big reason for the offensive outburst.
The junior shortstop has always been a defensive strength for Ole Miss. However, his bat can disappear at times. This was not one of those weekends.
Kessinger went 8-14 over the three games, including a perfect 5-5 during game two. He tallied 6 RBIs and 2 walks. Of the top-five in the lineup, Kessinger can become the forgotten man when Thomas Dillard, Ryan Olenek, Tyler Keenan and Cole Zabowski get going. But even with a productive weekend from all the usual suspects, the shortstop shone above the rest.
Second Base: The legend of Tyler Myers continues to grow.
Will Ethridge exited prematurely after 3.2 innings Friday night. The Rebels’ ace had only surrendered 2 runs, but he was dealing with a blister on his throwing hand and could not continue. Head coach Mike Bianco turned to his in-form long reliever Tyler Myers not only to get out of the fourth inning but to eat innings and save the bullpen. The JUCO transfer did that and more.
Myers finished the final 5.1 innings of the game, improving his record to 2-0 on the season. His scoreless-inning streak ended, but he did what was asked of him. The offense offered him enough cushion to be relaxed enough to focus only on pitching. His final line was 2 earned runs, no walks, 4 strikeouts and 2 hits over those 5.1 innings. The only hits given up by the junior were solo home runs. Once again, the Ole Miss coaching staff has unearthed another gem. Myers has quickly adapted to his role.
Third Base: Cooper Johnson’s defense lived up to the billing.
The junior catcher’s throwing ability lived up to the hype against the Gators. Johnson was a perfect 3-3 on catching runners stealing. As the top-ranked recruit at his position coming out of high school, Johnson’s defensive abilities are his best attribute. The Gators learned about his strength the hard way.
His weekend was cut short, however. Johnson was ejected in the third inning for arguing a called strike. He gestured with his bat where he thought the ball crossed the plate. The argument will cost Johnson a one-game suspension, the standard punishment set by the NCAA rulebook for any non-pitcher arguing balls and strikes with an umpire.
At the Plate: Third starter continues to be a question mark.
The typical Sunday role in the pitching staff was lacking once again this weekend. Gunnar Hoglund has been the third starter in the rotation all year, but Houston Roth got the ball in the final game because Hoglund has struggled with the ability to eat innings. Roth’s start only lasted 3.0 innings, ending after he allowed 4 unearned runs. He did not have much help from his defense, but Florida was squaring up his pitches well.
If it were not for a furious comeback from the offense and Parker Caracci’s scoreless effort over the last 11 outs, Ole Miss would have ended the series with a lopsided loss. Caracci had a typical closer’s mindset regarding his longer-than-usual outing.
“I was hoping it would be for 11 outs,” answered the reliever when asked about being the last pitcher to enter the game. “I love having the ball in my hand.”
Doug Nikhazy’s 6.0 innings in the blowout midseries win show how nicely he has settled into the rotation, and Ethridge has looked good in outings when his blister did not cut his day short. However, Bianco is struggling to find starting pitching beyond those two, with Roth, Jordan Fowler, Max Cioffi and Hoglund not taking advantage of their opportunities.
On Deck: Game three had it all.
The Gators jumped out to an eight-run lead before Cole Zabowski hit a two-run home run. Kessinger hit an RBI-single. Lightning and rain delayed the game for an hour. Ole Miss added seven more runs to conclude an eight-run inning that put them ahead 10-8. Florida answered immediately. The Rebels scored the game’s last two runs. The comeback allowed Ole Miss to pick up another highly coveted SEC victory. Bianco lauded his team’s effort to avoid complacency.
“We challenged the team after the first game (of the doubleheader),” Bianco said. “It is such a mediocre attitude to be okay with winning the first two games. We only get 30 (conference games).”