Will Ethridge shined and the Rebel bats exploded as Ole Miss opened its 2019 baseball season with a 10-1 win over Wright State.
Ole Miss’ win made the Rebels 18-1 under Head Coach Mike Bianco in season openers. Tyler Keenan and Cooper Johnson both accounted for solo home runs early in the contest, and Johnson drove home a run in the fourth on a single. Bianco was pleased with the showing that Cooper had on Friday and cited his performance in fall and spring practice.
“It’s a shame, but it’s well deserved [that] everybody always talks about his defense,” Bianco said. “He’s worked so hard offensively, and he’s had a really good fall and a really good early spring, so he deserves to have one of these nights on opening day.”
For Johnson, who is expected to help shoulder catching duties this season, this was an offensive breakout as he had a career batting average of .222 before Friday’s game. A focus for him at the plate this season is having an individual plan for each at-bat.
“I think the biggest thing is having a plan this year,” Johnson said. “Going up to the plate knowing what I want to do, knowing what the situation is [and] what’s the best at-bat I can put together for the situation we have at-hand, and that, I think is the biggest thing for me.”
Starting pitcher Will Ethridge, who takes over the Friday night starting role after the drafting of Ryan Rolison last summer, went 5.2 innings allowing just four hits and no runs before a blister on his throwing hand forced Bianco to make a pitching change in the sixth.
Ethridge had a 29-pitch frame in the first inning but settled into a rhythm and put zeros on the scoreboard before his departure.
“I knew I was filling up the zone really well, and I just really started trusting my defense better from the second inning on,” Ethridge said. “Just kept filling it up and letting them get themselves out and keep getting ground balls.”
Ethridge was relieved by Austin Miller who finished out the game on the mound for the Rebels. Miller threw 3.1 innings of three-hit ball, allowed one run and tossed two strikeouts.
“I had a really good feel for everything today,” Miller said. “Breaking ball was really sharp today. It was kind of nice to see him just let me go out there and get in a rhythm and get a feel for everything and just go out there and do me.”
Center fielder Ryan Olenek was hit on the hand in the sixth inning but stayed in the game after a long examination by team trainers to run the bases. After the bottom half of the sixth, however, Olenek was pulled from the game, and Carl Gindl was placed in center field.
After the game, Bianco stated that while he is optimistic about Ethridge’s blister healing before next Friday, he is uncertain about Olenek’s status or if the injury could linger into future games.
“I don’t know about Ryan,” Bianco said. “I know it’s hurting him and numb. That’s why we took him out. Just didn’t want him to go out there and have to throw any balls or anything.”
The Rebels host Wright State again tomorrow at noon and will give junior left-hander Zack Phillips the start on the mound.