Watson’s home run lifts Rebels to 1-0 win in absence of Bortles, Blackman

Posted on Mar 7 2017 - 11:00pm by Brian Scott Rippee

Georgia State pitcher Brandon Barker didn’t make many mistakes Tuesday night. He stifled the Ole Miss offense and allowed just one run on two hits in 5.2 innings of work. But the one mistake he did make was in the second inning, when he hung a 1-0 fastball that Kyle Watson deposited over the left field fence, which proved to be the difference in the game as the Rebels squeaked by the Panthers 1-0 to snap a four-game losing streak.

“I was going down the line telling it to get up,” Watson said. “I just tried to put a good swing on it in a hitter’s count.”

Ole Miss struggled offensively over the weekend in Houston at a tournament in which it went 0-3. Those struggles continued on this night, but the pitchers backed the offense up this time. Freshman lefty Ryan Rolison tossed five scoreless innings in which he surrendered just four hits, and he earned his second win of the season in his first career start.

“I filled the zone up,” Rolison said. “We had a scouting a report on them trying to get ahead with off-speed pitches because they’re aggressive at the plate. So that was kind of our strategy going in. Later on in the game, I was kind of trying to overthrow a little bit and missed some arm side. Next time I go out there I am going to try to get ahead and get contact in the first three pitches.”

Rolison got himself in a pinch a couple times, including a bases-loaded jam in the fourth inning, but he was able to escape each time.

“In the pregame pitching meeting we talked about us not getting out of jams and giving up hits with runners in scoring position and that we need to focus more on getting that pitch to get out of the inning and keep those runs off of the board,” Rolison said. “That was really the key mindset that I went in with, trying to make that pitch and get out of the inning.”

Georgia State actually out-hit the Rebels 5-3, but Ole Miss stranded eight Panther runners on the night. Greer Holston provided two innings of no-hit baseball after Rolison, and then Will Stokes slammed the door with a six-out save. It was Stokes’ third save of the year and his first appearance since the Saturday game against UNC-Wilmington Feb. 25.

“It seems like forever,” Ole Miss head coach Mike Bianco said. “I guess it’s been, like, 10 days or so. Those short guys, it’s like you don’t want them too much, but you also don’t want that long of a break.”

There wasn’t really a situation for the junior closer’s services to be necessary this weekend, seeing that the Rebels trailed in all three games for the majority of the weekend, but Bianco was glad to get him back out on the mound after a long layoff.

“That happens,” Bianco said. “But I thought he was really good tonight. I thought he was sharp and much better than a lot of people that don’t pitch for 10 days.”

The Rebels were without both of their captains in this game. It was announced prior to first pitch that Colby Bortles and Tate Blackman have been suspended indefinitely for “not meeting the standards of the Ole Miss baseball program.”

Bianco was not ready to go into details as to how long the two veteran leaders would be out, but he did add that he had not yet decided on a set number of games for the suspension.

“I haven’t set the number of games, but we will discuss it every day with them,” Bianco said.

The team responded well. Freshman Bryce Blaum looked sharp defensively at second base in place of Blackman and made the most of his opportunity.

“We made a joke tonight that he caught as many ground balls tonight as we’ve been hit there in a couple of weeks,” Bianco said. “It’s amazing. The baseball gods won’t make it easy, and the ball will find you when you haven’t been out there.”

Ole Miss improved to 8-4 on the year and will play Georgia State again at 3 p.m. Wednesday. Will Ethridge will be the starting pitcher for the Rebels.