The Ole Miss baseball team kicked off their 2019 NCAA Tournament campaign with a convincing 16-2 win over the Jacksonville State Gamecocks.
“We played really well tonight. I really think that’s a good team, a really good offensive team, but I thought Will (Ethridge) was terrific tonight, maybe as good as he’s been all year,” head coach Mike Bianco said.
Will Ethridge cycled through the Gamecock lineup with precision, retiring 20 straight batters after giving up an early run. The junior ace went seven innings on 78 pitches.
“At about the sixth inning I thought, ‘hey I haven’t given up a hit. If I would’ve just gotten that first guy out I’d be rolling with a perfect game right now.'” Ethridge said.
Tre Kirklin turned a leadoff double into a 1-0 lead in the top of the first. Grae Kessinger made a few tough plays to keep it there in the opening frame.
Thomas Dillard and Grae Kessinger hit Garrett Farmer’s first two pitches to get to first and second. Farmer’s pitches kept finding the dirt in front of the plate leading to a walk for Tyler Keenan. Cole Zabowski singled to left to tie the game. Ryan Olenek hit one deep to bring in Kessinger on a sacrifice fly.
A two-run homer from third baseman Tyler Keenan had all types of beverages flying in the student section during the third inning. Keenan’s 14th bomb of the season snuck just inside the right field foul pole, giving the Rebels the 4-1 lead after three. There were questions as to whether he would be able to play after leaving the SEC Championship with a shoulder injury.
“I felt great. I knew I was going to play in this game. There was no way I was going to miss it,” Keenan said. “That ball felt great off the bat felt really good. It just felt good to get on the board for our team.”
It was the Anthony Servideo show in the fourth as he walked to first, reached second on a balk, stole third and raced home to beat the tag on a grounder to first from Jacob Adams.
The Rebels put up 5 two-out runs in the fifth. Graham brought in Olenek and Zabowski with a double and Johnson plated Graham soon after. Servideo launched his second home run of the season to make it 10-1.
“It was a fastball inside. I just put a good swing on it. Earlier in the at-bat I was kinda late, and I just wanted to make it a point to get my barrel there and got one up,” Servideo said.
Ole Miss found themselves up 15-2 at the end of the seventh after a few RBIs from Adams and Zabowski to go with Dillard’s two-run homer to right field.
The healthy lead gave Bianco an opportunity to get some of the young players on the bench postseason at-bats. Justin Bench, Josh Hall and Tim Elko were able to get some experience. Taylor Broadway came into get the last six outs for the Rebels.
The Rebels walked to first seven times while Ethridge and Broadway gave up zero walks.
The Rebels will face Clemson on Saturday at 6 p.m. in the 1-0 game. The Tigers squared up Illinois to win 8-4 in game one. Jacksonville State will play Illinois at noon in an elimination game.