Ole Miss opened the weekend series against the Kentucky Wildcats with an 8-2 victory Friday night. The offense struck early and Will Ethridge delivered a gem on the mound.
The Rebels move to 25-10 (9-4) on the season after picking up a sixth-straight SEC win. Junior Will Ethridge provided a prototypical start for an ace. His pitch location and mix kept Kentucky hitters off balance all night. The junior left the game after 7.0 innings and 102 pitches. Ethridge had the Wildcat lineup’s number tallying a career-high 11 strikeouts.
“The fastball command was really good,” head coach Mike Bianco said. “It had to have a lot of movement on it. Especially early, the velocity was able to get up to 95 mph.”
“At about the third inning, I realized that they were swinging and missing on the fastball a lot,” Ethridge said. “I tried filling up the strike zone with that and using the changeup and curveball to keep them off balance.”
The outing was a welcomed sight for Bianco after Ethridge had been dealing with a blister on his throwing hand since his last start against Florida. Ethridge did not take part in his normal bullpen work throughout the week to prevent any issues from arising. With what most would assume would have been a night with a low pitch count, Ethridge was able to last for over 100 pitches.
While the runs did not come at the historic-rate that the Florida series offered, the Ole Miss lineup provided 8 runs, providing Ethridge and Houston Roth with ample support.
Cole Zabowski led the way for the Ole Miss lineup. The designated hitter displayed his power with a three-run, opposite field home run deposited into the visiting bullpen.
Those 3 runs in the first inning would be all that was necessary as the pitching staff stifled Kentucky. He would later collect a fourth RBI on a single in the sixth inning. Zabowski improved his conference batting average to .385 with his big night, second behind Grae Kessinger.
Kessinger continues to be too much to handle for SEC pitching. The junior went 4-5 on the night, improving his conference average to .439. The only time he got out on the night was by a diving-catch worthy of any highlight show from Kentucky left fielder Ryan Shinn. He scored a trio of runs, added a solo home run, and an RBI single. The one word that he accredits to the recent hot streak – confidence.
“I am staying aggressive and having confidence in myself,” claimed the shortstop. “When I am swinging hard and seeing the ball well, it is a good combination.”
Houston Roth was called on to finish the game for Ole Miss. The junior leaked a little oil in the ninth, allowing 2 runs. Roth’s appearance tonight takes him out of the running for the start on Sunday.
Bianco announced Ethridge and Doug Nikhazy as the first two starters of the series, but left Sunday’s slot open. Roth figured to be in the running along with Gunnar Hoglund and Tyler Myers.
Freshman left-hander Nikhazy gets the ball Saturday as Ole Miss attempts to win a fourth series in SEC play.