Despite an injury-shortened outing from Will Ethridge, Ole Miss baseball rode a strong performance from its offense to claim the first of its three-game set against the Florida Gators on Friday with a score of 12-4.
Ethridge went 3.2 innings before rolling his ankle in the fourth and aggravating a blister on his pitching hand that plagued him earlier in the year. In his short outing, Ethridge was effective, and although he gave up two earned runs, kept the Gators at bay long enough for Ole Miss to snag a 3-2 lead in the third after falling behind early.
According to Ole Miss head coach Mike Bianco, Ethridge’s ankle appears to be okay, and the reappearance of the blister is what prompted him to make a change in the fourth inning.
“I think the ankle’s okay,” Bianco said. “Certainly, the reason he came out was the finger. The blister popped back up, but the good news is that it didn’t open up. So, (we) put some medicine on it, and hopefully it’ll heal up quickly.”
Ole Miss’ offense had a night to remember, accumulating 17 hits, including a crucial two-out, two-run RBI in the fourth inning by Cooper Johnson who followed with a three-run home run in the eighth, giving him a career-high five RBIs on the night. Every member of the Rebels’ starting batting order garnered at least one hit with six Rebels accumulating multiple base knocks. Thomas Dillard also racked up three base-on-balls in the contest along with two hits.
Johnson’s success at the plate has been a running theme this season, and his performance on Friday moved his batting average up to .310 on the season. Johnson credits a new approach at the plate to his newfound offensive success this season.
“Just being able to adjust pitch-to-pitch I think is the biggest thing,” Johnson said. “In that first at-bat when there’s runners on second and third with two outs, I was just trying to pick a teammate up. Other guys have picked me up all year when I don’t get the job done, and I just wanted to be that guy in the moment.”
The Rebels’ offensive success led to the Gators burning five relievers on Friday which could bode poorly for Florida heading into the final two games of the series. Bianco was pleased with his team’s performance at the plate and traces it back to their performance last weekend against Arkansas.
“(The offensive success) started maybe at Arkansas (where) we swung it like that and looked more like ourselves,” Bianco said. “(Tonight was) a great night for us, and surely Mace didn’t have his best stuff tonight, but even after he was out of there, a lot of good nights for a lot of people in the lineup.”
Although the Gators fell and had subpar pitching, a few members of their offense put together a solid Friday night, especially if their first name was Brady. Brady McConnell and Brady Smith both hit a solo home run off of Tyler Myers in the fifth inning to narrow the Rebel lead, but those were the only runs allowed by Myers in 5.1 innings of work in relief of Ethridge.
Although Myers had little time to warm up after Ethridge’s injury, he performed well outside of the shaky fifth inning and has become a strong part of the Rebel bullpen, entering Friday’s game on a streak of 10-straight scoreless innings.
“I knew I had to come in and throw strikes and locate, and I know that’s what helps me be successful on the mound,” Myers said. “(I’ve) just been trusting my team behind me. I know they make plays for me out there, and I can’t thank them enough, and I’ve also just been locating low in the zone.”
Friday’s win serves as a bounce-back game for the Rebels after dropping a game on Tuesday to North Alabama who ranked 285th in RPI out of 299 teams nationally when they came to Oxford.
“I don’t know if (the loss) was even a factor,” Bianco said. “You hope that it’s not a factor. We played very bad, and that one hurt a lot, I think. Hurt a lot of pride and a lot of ego, but since that day, I don’t really think it’s affected us at all.”
Due to forecasted inclement weather on Sunday, the Rebels and Gators will conclude their weekend series tomorrow with a doubleheader, with game one beginning at noon and game two starting an hour after the conclusion of the first. The Gators have not announced who their two starting pitchers will be tomorrow, and Bianco has not announced who he plans to throw in the series finale after giving the ball to Doug Nikhazy in tomorrow’s first game.