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Rebel Bats Eager For Challenge of Texas A&M Arms

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This weekend's series at Blue Bell Park between Ole Miss and Texas A&M will feature two teams that mirror each other in a lot ways.

Both clubs pitch it well and are one and two in the SEC in team ERA with the Rebels carrying a slight edge at 2.19 to the Aggies' 2.32. Both teams are also hitting exactly .300 as a team through 22 games and one weekend of conference play.

Two veteran rotations will square off against each other beginning with sophomore lefty Ryan Rolison facing junior Aggie right-hander Stephen Kolek, a four-pitch guy with a good fastball and a wipeout slider. Kolek made 10 SEC starts a year ago for the Texas A&M, going 2-4 with a 4.55 ERA.

"It's always fun getting into SEC play facing the best arms," Thomas Dillard said. "These are the things you look forward to when you commit to Ole Miss."

Friday will feature Brady Feigl, Ole Miss' junior righty, who has been consistently dominant through the first month of the season. Feigl scattered four hits and one run over 6.1 innings in a win over Tennessee last Saturday to move to 5-0 on the year. He'll square off against lefty John Doxakis, a big 6-foot-4 frame who can hit 94 with good secondary stuff. Doxakis is 3-0 with a 1.27 ERA in 27.1 innings this year.

James McArthur and Mitchell Kilkenny will round out the series on Saturday. Ole Miss faced Kilkenny out of the bullpen a year ago, and he's been dominant for the Aggies this season with a 5-0 record and 1.32 ERA in 34 innings.

"We have all heard about their arms," catcher Cooper Johnson said. "They've got three really good ones and it is going to be a challenge. As a catcher, I definitely respect that, a good pitching matchup.

This will likely be a tight series with two teams that have a lot of arms. The Ole Miss staff surrendered just one run over its final 20 innings of baseball last weekend after dropping the series opener to Tennessee. Pitching was thought to be the core strength of this team going into the season, and it has certainly shown the ability to lock opponents down for extended stretches over the course of a weekend.

"With the three guys we have on the weekend, it is a pretty reassuring feeling," Johnson said. "You only have to score a couple of runs. Obviously, you want to score nine runs every time, but with the level of competition we face, it is tough to do that. It is definitely reassuring to know if we string a couple innings together and score some runs, our starters will take us deep into the game and we have a lot of guys in the bullpen who can come in and shut it down."

This will be the first time the Rebels will enter an SEC road environment this season =. Mike Bianco thinks his team is eager for the challenge.

"They're very similar to us statistically in the sense they do a lot of things well," Bianco said. "They pitch it well. All three of their starters are really good and it should be a good challenge for us. Going on the road and the first tough environment for us. There should be good crowds with a top-10 matchup. I think these guys are excited."

Ole Miss last won a series in College Station two trips ago in 2014, when it clinched the SEC West on its way to Omaha. First pitch on Thursday is set for 6 p.m. CT and will air on SEC Network.

"They're a good team like and have played good competition like we have," Johnson said. "I think we are just focused on playing the game and ourselves, taking it day-by-day and competing."

SIDEBAR: Rebs Sweep Green Wave with 6th Inning Deluge

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The timely hits just keep coming for No. 9 Ole Miss. 

A Thomas Dillard walk loaded the bases one at-bat after Ole Miss had chased Tulane starter Keegan Gillies who had turned in six innings of one-run ball scattering four hits to that point. Senior center fielder Will Golsan dug in and laced a 1-1, 90-mph offering into left field for a two-RBI base hit that gave the Rebels their first lead of the day.

"I was just trying to stick to my approach and keep finding solid contact," Golsan said. "One finally fell. You just have to stay within yourself, tell yourself it is going to come and keep competing up there."

Two batters later Cooper Johnson lifted his second home run of the weekend into the left field bullpen to blow the game open at 6-2. It was the second day in a row Ole Miss put up a five-spot in the sixth inning and let its bullpen seize control of the game the rest of the way. This team has frequently found the timely hit when needed through the first seven games of this season and Sunday was just the latest piece of evidence to back it up.

"I knew I had it off the bat," Johnson said. "The vibe in the dugout is that the offense is going to move runners along, get a bunt down or do something. One through nine there aren't really any holes. It's a pretty safe and reassuring feeling. You don't have to do something special every single time. Someone is going to have your back behind you or in front of you. It is pretty special."

Johnson's first two career home runs both came this weekend as a highlight to what has been a much quicker start at the plate for the gifted sophomore catcher.

"It's just confidence," Johnson said. "Hitting before the game and in the mornings, sticking to the process and not trying to do too much. See the ball and hit the ball. Trying to find a fastball early in counts and adjusting to the breaking ball."

His head coach has seen Johnson hit well the last two fall seasons and seen him rebound from some natural freshman struggles from a year ago.

"Last year was a little tough on him," head coach Mike Bianco said. "He plays with emotion and wants to do so well, to fall off a little offensively last year, that hurt him. But he has gotten off to a great start this year and really looks good."

The first five innings the story was on the mound. James McArthur battled through an early run in the first to put up four scoreless frames to match Gillies, whose lone blemish came in the fourth when Dillard demolished a fastball well over the right field wall. McArthur exited the game in the sixth with the Rebels trailing 2-1.  He scattered six hits and yielded a single earned run in an outing stronger than the box score would lead one to believe.

"I thought he was really good today and that is a really good offense over there," Bianco said. "They pressure you in a lot of ways. They get a lot of good swings off and some scary swings. They are very physical in the middle of the lineup. They have six or seven guys in the middle of the lineup that you really have to pitch to. I thought James was excellent."

Jordan Fowler and Greer Holston helped the Rebels strand a pair of runners in two different innings and Dallas Woolfolk's fourth save completed Ole Miss' second consecutive sweep to start the season 7-0 for the second time in as many years. 

"I think you have to take it for what it is," Bianco said. "I think last year they didn't know what to expect.  They had a lot of success in the first couple weeks and with all the accolades coming in I think people kind of anointed us and we didn't handle the adversity when it came. I think guys are a little more weathered than this year, but we will see. I like the way we are playing."

Ole Miss has played well in all three phases early on this season. The rotation has given up just two earned runs in 32.1 innings so far this season and the bullpen has put the clamp down on offenses to follow them in the late innings. The lineup is hitting well from Grae Kessinger--who has 13 hits in these seven games--at the top all the way down behind him. The middle of the order has proved to be physical and was the driving force behind the pair of five-run sixth innings the last two days. 

"I think this has a different feel," Johnson said. "We are a really close team. Just the depth, the defense and offense and with our pitching staff. I have never played on a team like it. It is really special."

Ole Miss returns to action on Tuesday at home against Murray State before hitting the road for the first time this year next weekend with a three-game set at Long Beach State. First pitch on Tuesday is slated for 4 p.m. CT.

SIDEBAR: Ole Miss Takes Two from Tulane

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It was not quite the typical day at the ballpark for No. 9 Ole Miss, but it was certainly an efficient one as the Rebels put two in the win column over Tulane after Friday night's game was postponed in the fifth inning due to rain.

Game one of this series resumed at noon Saturday with Ole Miss clinging to a 2-1 lead. Will Ethridge replaced Ryan Rolison because of the overnight delay and put up scoreless sixth and seventh innings while Cole Zabowski and Cooper Johnson put a pair of 1-0 offerings in the seats in the bottom of the seventh for some needed insurance. Zabowski sent a fastball over the center field wall and Johnson placed a breaking ball in the Ole Miss bullpen in left field as part of a three-run inning that resulted in a 5-1 lead for the Rebels.

Ethridge ran into some trouble in the eighth when back-to-back doubles turned into a three-run shot from Matt Rowland that made it a 5-4 game, but Will Stokes and Dallas Woolfolk put the clamps on the Green Wave rally and secured the final six outs Ole Miss needed for the win.

After a 45 minute intermission between games, Ole Miss put up arguably its most efficient win of the year in which the offense exploded for nine runs and Brady Feigl turned in six innings of two-hit ball on just 73 pitches. Fiegl overcame an unearned run in a first inning that saw him strike out all three hitters and put together as efficient of an outing as he's had during his career.

"I think efficient is not even fair," Mike Bianco said. "He was super dominant against what I consider to be a good offense. It was a tough day to pitch with the wind gushing out and I thought he was electric, maybe the best outing he has had here and that is saying a lot."

The junior righty found his slider in the early innings and mixed the changeup in during the second and third time through the order. Feigl moved to 2-0 on the season.

"A big part of what they talked to me about is attacking the zone and trying to get ahead because it makes things a lot easier," Feigl said. "I think it definitely helped."

Oddly enough, Feigl's exit was due mostly to a long, five-run sixth inning the offense put together that blew the ballgame open. He certainly did not mind.

"When your offense does that it is hard to complain," Feigl said with a grin.

That's been the story in five of the six games the Rebels have played this season. The offense has backed the pitching staff with ample breathing room to operate, and the most encouraging sign to Bianco is that it is coming from all over. It's started at the top of the order with Grae Kessinger's 11 hits in six games. Kessinger homered in the bottom of the first in game two and sent a double off the left-center wall that brought another run across in the fifth. The sophomore shortstop has been as productive as Bianco could possibly ask for in the leadoff slot through six games. 

Kessinger has taken an aggressive approach of jumping on fastballs early in counts and it's paid dividends.

"I am seeing it well and being aggressive," Kessinger said. "My swing feels good and it is all just working right now. Everything is going well and I just want to stick to my approach and keep being aggressive."

He's seeing pitches when he needs to, though. He worked a full count walk in the first game and has only struck out twice in 18 at-bats so far this year.

"I thought him answering in the first inning after we went down was huge," Bianco said. "He has had a lot of big hits for us early on this season."

Zabowski homered for the second time this year and Johnson's was the first of his career. Chase Cockrell went 2-for-3 in game two. He and Zabowski are a couple of batters in the middle of the Ole Miss order that have shown some pop along with Tim Elko and Tyler Keenan, which encouraged the Ole Miss head coach.

"You're expecting that from some of those young guys in Elko and Keenan," Bianco said. "We have some physical hitters in the middle there. He is off to a good start and swinging it well."

Aside from a lapse or two in a couple innings, Ole Miss has defended well this year and particularly this weekend. Thomas Dillard, Will Golsan and Olenek made plays that potentially saved runs in the outfield. Fortes started a huge 3-6-1 double play that got the Rebels out of a slippery spot in a one-run contest in the eighth inning of game one.

"I thought we were outstanding on defense," Bianco said. "One of the things I challenged and we wanted to improve was outfield defense. It's not that we were bad but the great teams have difference makers out there. We have a catcher and two shortstops out there and they make the regular play. Today, they made some great plays with Golsan making a couple of sensational plays as did Olenek, and Thomas made a great play on Friday night. Those change the game."

First pitch for game three is slated for game three is slated for 1:30 p.m. CT on Sunday.

SIDEBAR: Rolison, Rebels Roll Past Winthrop in Opener

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OXFORD, Miss - A dominant summer in the Cape Cod League brought forth some lofty expectations for Ole Miss' Ryan Rolison, something he's never shied away from.

The sophomore lefty certainly lived up to them on opening day as he put together a dominant 12-strikeout performance in five innings of one-hit ball in a 7-3 win over Winthrop.

"I felt great out of the gate," Rolison said. "I was able to find my fastball out of the gate along with my slider."

Rolison battled his way through a 22-pitch first inning and cruised for the final four frames he was in the game. He filled up the zone and went straight at the Winthrop lineup with 55 strikes in 81 pitches.

"I had a little bit of adrenaline in the first inning with it being opening day," Rolison. "But I was able to battle, found my slider and just filled up the zone."

The Eagles put only three balls in play against Rolison, who faced 18 hitters on the night and walked just two. He kept the Eagles off balance all evening with his fastball, slider and a changeup he's worked hard to develop further in the offseason.

"It was kind of boring in left field honestly," sophomore left fielder Thomas Dillard said jokingly. "He struck out 12 in five innings. A guy like that is fun to play defense behind. He stays in the zone and his stuff is just electric. On a Friday night like this, that is definitely the guy you want on the mound."

Rolison didn't put his defense to work too much, but that was just fine with third baseman Tyler Keenan, who made a dazzling play on a ground ball in the seventh inning with Houston Roth on the mound.

"Ryan is filthy," Keenan said. "That is all I have to say. He's one of the best pitchers in the country, one of the best in this league. He's just nasty."

Rolison exited after a pair of strikeouts in the fifth, which was part of a pitch-count plan, according to head coach Mike Bianco, given that it is early on in the season.

"There are times where he made it look pretty easy," Bianco said. "That's why he has all the accolades. He has great stuff. He pitched well tonight."

Keenan and Dillard had a productive day in their own right. Keenan's first collegiate hit came in his first at-bat. The freshman third baseman crushed a fastball down the right-field line that plated two and gave Rolison an early cushion.

"They were working lefties inside," Keenan said. "I kind of capped it a little bit, got the first two RBIs to get us going it felt good."

Dillard went 3-for-4 and his trio of hits was a nice start to the year for a guy who is expected to be a productive force in the middle of the lineup this season. It certainly helps for confidence early in the season. Dillard said he saw a lot of off-speed pitches hitting in the four-hole and certainly did well by taking what was given to him. 

"It felt really good," Dillard said. "Last year didn't go how I wanted it to go. I have just been focusing on forgetting about the past and putting the ball in play to help my team out by not striking out. I think I did a good job of that today, but I need to come back and be even better tomorrow."

Ole Miss got the timely hits on this night. All nine Rebels recorded a hit. Keenan and Cooper Johnson got two apiece. Ole Miss was able to put together at-bats with two outs. A pair of two-out base knocks from Dillard and Nick Fortes in the third set the table for senior designated hitter Tim Rowe to demolish a ball over the fence in right-center for a three-run home run and the team's first long ball of the year.

"We were able to get the timely hit tonight, the two-out hit," Bianco said. "We bunched hits together which we did not do last year. We talk about maxing it out. There are so many in-game battles we didn't win last year. We had opportunities and we didn't finish off innings in the field or at the plate. We did that tonight."

After two quick fly ball outs to start the frame, the Rebels forced Winthrop starter Zach Peek to unravel quickly and blew the game open early on. Peek was chased after five innings. He was charged with six runs on eight hits. 

Houston Roth relieved Rolison in the sixth and went three innings in which he let up two runs that were both unearned on two hits. Will Stokes finished the game off in the ninth and the Rebels moved to 1-0.

"We played pretty well tonight," Bianco said. "It was a nice night offensively because it came from some different people."

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    Tiffany J. Moore said:

    This is amazing with what he have done so far! Hope that he'll achieve more in the future!

    in post Evan Engram Hauls in Midseason Accolades

    Fiftyyears fan said:

    How can you have five straight top 25 recruiting classes and look as bad as Ole Miss has this year. Easy lack of coaching fundamentals. Look at Mason at Vandy, nothing but 2 and 3 star recruits out of high school and he developers players that want to win. Hugh freeze has 3, 4 & 5 recruits and he expects them to win because of what they were in High School. Mr. Freeze you have not been teaching the fundamentals of football or winning in life. Mr. Freeze you have quit on your players because you have some false expectations of what they are instead of what you can develop in them. Either do your job or quit. Oh yea, please quit running your smoke and mirrors offense, everyone has figured it out. Run a physical offense that can open up holes for your running backs and then your pass attack want require 12 are 14 four and five star receivers. Mr. Freeze you have problems and you need to know that you are not smarter than the rest of the coaches in the SEC.

    in post Rebels Unable to Send Senior Class Out on a High Note

    Karen Holden said:

    Not every pass can be caught. Too low, too short whatever. Not every Kelly pass is perfect. Records were broken by receivers also. But they sre not going to catch every ball thrown. The loss to Auburn was not one players fault. You win or lose as a team.

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    Trent browning said:

    Hey I was just wandering if these are the only 2 olemiss players signing. If there are more signing please respond to me ASAP. Also wondering if neil everett will sign any autographs. Thank you very much

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