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Rebels Return Home For Four-Game Week

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With an eight-game road trip in the rearview, Ole Miss plays its next nine games in the state of Mississippi with back-to-back weekends at home to jumpstart the second half of SEC play.

The Rebels dropped two of three to both Mississippi State and Vanderbilt the last two weekends with the last three losses coming on one-run fashion in the final at-bat. Ole Miss held a lead going into the ninth inning--or the seventh in the case of the last two in a rain-shortened doubleheader in Nashville--in each of those contests, but were unable to close out the game.

Much focus is put on the bullpen in close situations like that, but on Tuesday the Rebels were quick to point out they have to be better as a team in those situations.

"We have to be better," head coach Mike Bianco said. "The takeaway really is in the eye of the beholder. We obviously have not been good enough. Each of our last three SEC losses we have had opportunities to close it out and we didn't. But prior to that people were talking about this being the best bullpen we have ever had. The glass-half-full side of it would be that we've seen it, we just haven't executed well. It is a combination of a lot of things. The biggest thing is guys doing their jobs."

To Bianco's point, Ole Miss is 7-4 in one-run games and before a six-hour span on Sunday afternoon that mark was 7-2. It's not as if this is a theme with this team, but the Rebels would like to make sure it doesn't become one.

"You can't blame the bullpen or just one guy," Ryan Olenek said. "One pitch can change the whole game. We are just trying to work to get better as a team. It is not necessarily the bullpen or one thing, it is a couple of mistakes we need to tighten up."

Some of it is merely the ever-teetering fortune that comes with the game of baseball. A ball finding a hole or a pitcher being squeezed on a close ball-strike call can alter the outcome greatly in close-game situations.

"Some of it is just baseball," Bianco said. "Some balls have found holes and made it more difficult. How to change that fortune is to make better pitches."

Ole Miss sits at 8-7 in league play at the halfway mark and right in the thick of things in a crowded SEC Western division. A large reason for that is the torrid pace Ryan Olenek is on. The junior outfielder is hitting .508 in league play with seven extra-base hits, two home runs and 11 driven in. Olenek has been consistent for the Rebels throughout his career. He's always been an aggressive hitter at times to a fault. This year, he thinks he's been able to harness that aggression without helping the opposing pitcher out.

"I made it kind of hard on myself sometimes the last couple years by swinging at bad pitches," Olenek said. "This year I have had better pitch selection."

Bianco's watched Olenek grow from a budding freshman whose hot bat he couldn't take out of the lineup down the stretch in 2016 to one of the best hitters in the conference. Olenek is second in the SEC with 56 hits on the season, just one knock off of the league lead, and 30 of those have been in league play.

"He's always been aggressive, but he's been able to get better pitches (this year) and to be overly-aggressive chasing pitches out of the zone," Bianco said. "If you pitched him really tough I think sometimes he would get himself out by being overly-aggressive. I think that is one thing. The other is that he feels good about himself and is playing with confidence. When you dod that you tend to barrel up a lot of balls."

True freshman Tyler Keenan isn't far behind. He's hitting .350 in conference play with four home runs. He has been as consistent as one can be as a freshman in this league.

"I go up there looking for one pitch and if I get it I am going to swing," Keenan said. "If not, I am going to fight until I do."

A lot of newcomers fall victim to the uptick in velocity and the quality of breaking balls, but he's plunged forward through the slew of adjustments pitchers have thrown his way and the different ways he's been pitched too. This past weekend, it was the Commodore staff hurling more off-speed stuff at him and trying to jam him inside. Keenan hasn't missed a beat.

"A lot of freshmen a don't freshmen don't play like they are capable of and the reason is the mentality," Bianco said. "They make the game different and more difficult than it has to be. There is a lot of pressure playing in front of large crowds, and they let it affect the way they play the game. Tyler is a great competitor, enjoys the game and those moments. The guys who are really good figure that out quickly.

Ole Miss hosts Arkansas State on Wednesday and will hand the baseball to freshman lefty Jordan Fowler. Bianco said he'd like to save Houston Roth to come out of the bullpen this weekend to add some depth as well as get Fowler more extended outings. First pitch is slated for 6:30 p.m. CT.

Dillard's Three-Run Blast Helps Ole Miss Notch 10th Comeback Win

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As Southern Miss' left-hander Adam Jackson jogged out of the right field bullpen in the 7th inning in a 5-4 game his team led, Thomas Dillard switched his grip and hopped over to the right side of the plate for the second time in the game.

Golden Eagles' skipper Scott Barry played the numbers game with Dillard once before in the fifth when he called on southpaw Mason Strickland to face Dillard in a two-on, one-out scenario. The Rebel left-fielder came into the ballgame hitting just .179 from the right side, a number due more than anything else to the fact he only had 32 plate appearances and 28 at-bats from the right side compared to 75 and 60 on the left.

"I started off kind of slow right-handed and I have been picking it up lately," Dillard said. "I don't blame them for playing the matchup."

Strickland extinguished Dillard with a whiff on a breaking ball in the fifth. Jackson did not have the same experience. Dillard demolished an 88 mph fastball deep into the left-field seating for a three-run shot. It gave Ole Miss a 7-5 lead and marked the end of a comeback that saw the Rebels score seven unanswered runs to erase a five-run deficit for the first time since May 14, 2016.

"I think people are looking at the numbers," Bianco said. "Especially with (lefty Cole) Zabowski behind him, I think it is sometimes easy to go to the left-hander. I don't know if it is more Thomas or it is the combination of turning him around and going left-handed with Zabowski too. We all know Thomas can hit right-handed. The numbers may not stand out right now, but last year it was the opposite. So it is not one of those things. I think by year's end it will probably even out."

Dillard knew it off the bat as the ball sailed well over over the 365 sign in left field.

"It felt really good," Dillard said. "I think that was the first ball I have hit out of here to left field in my career. It felt good to hit it out there."

The sophomore slugger has clubbed seven home runs this season and has worked hard on hitting from the right side recently. It was his second from the right side this season.

"It is getting a lot better," Dillard said. "That at-bat I was sitting towards the right side of the field and then the first pitch I got a foot down later. I told myself to try to get my foot down and hit it over the batter's eye. I got the head out a little earlier than I wanted but still put a good swing on it."

The swing propelled Ole Miss in front, and after surviving a tight situation in the ninth that Parker Caracci slipped out of with a fly ball to strand men at the corners, the Rebels notched their 10th come-from-behind win of the season with a 7-6 decision over 14th ranked Southern Miss.

Each of the 10 comebacks have had their own anatomy, but each one keeps building toward an attitude and a confidence that's morphing into an identity.

"With this team, we always have that bullet in the gun like Coach B says," sophomore pitcher Houston Roth said. "Seventh inning we put up a four-spot. We are never out of a fight, ever. There is never a moment where we are beaten, down or defeated."

Roth ate up five innings in relief of starter Jordan Fowler who struggled when the Golden Eagles blitzed him for four runs in the first inning. He scattered six hits and gave up just one run.

"Stuff happens," Roth said. "Fowler gave up a few hits. I knew going in I was going to have to go a long way and act like a starter. It wasn't going to be one inning and shut it down. I knew that. I have starts under my belt. I just went out there and did what I did."

He mixed a lot of changeups and breaking balls to keep Southern Miss off balance.

One thing that has delighted Bianco is how these comebacks have come to fruition. It's come from all over and taken a multitude of guys.

"I think we just continue to fight," Bianco said. "They've all been different things. One, you obviously have to have a good offense. Once again, we put a couple of big innings together with three and four-run innings tonight. You also have to be able to pitch out of the bullpen. We have been able to do that with a lot of different guys."

Tonight, Chase Cockrell's two-out, 2-RBI double in the fifth helped spark the three-run fifth Bianco alluded to. Greer Holston then put together 1.2 innings of shutout ball to pave the way for Dallas Woolfolk and Caracci to preserve the game in the eighth and ninth.

The ability of Ole Miss' bullpen to come in and immediately cease further offensive carnage makes it a hard team to put away. It's what has helped breed the air of the confidence this team exudes even when it gets in a hole like the 5-0 deficit on this night.

"Our pitching staff, no matter what they've done early in the game, they will come back and shut it down," Dillard said. "Our hitters have done a great job of keeping with the at-bats no matter what the score is. If you just chip away, chip away you will have that one big inning. We will go ahead eventually and the pitching staff will hold it."

Ole Miss returns to action on Thursday against Arkansas. First pitch is slated for 6:30 p.m. CT.

SIDEBAR: Rebel Bats Bury Governors

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Thomas Dillard demolished a pair of fastballs in the second and third innings of Ole Miss' 11-4 win over Austin Peay on Tuesday night and nearly singled handedly gave Houston Roth a 5-1 run lead by collecting those  four RBIs.

The first of the two shots was a solo job to the left-center gap that got out of the stadium quickly on a low trajectory. The second was a towering club over the railing and well into the student section in right field. He rebounded from an 0-12 weekend by doing damage to Governor Starter Kyle Wilson's line early. 

"It's always nice to bounce back," Dillard said. "You're going to have those weekend sometimes where everything isn't going right for you. You just have to try to focus on the next. Fame and the next pitch to try to help your team out as much as you can."

Dillard was more pleased with the former home run, the shorter one, because of what he tried to improve on in what was a productive offseason for the sophomore outfielder.

"I was a little more proud of the opposite field one because I have been working on that all year," Dillard said. "Hitting it out that way was cool."

Roth waded through the first four inning with relatively little trouble and entered the fifth with a 5-1 lead. Austin Peay strung together four connective two-out hits after a walk and chased Roth from the game after plating three runs. Will Stokes took the baseball from there, escaped a two-on, two-out jam by freezing Malcolm Tripler with a 1-2 breaking ball. He thwarted all Governor momentum and put up two more scoreless frames after that to preserve a one-run lead into the eighth inning.

"Stokes didn't pitch this weekend and I do not know the last time he did not pitch on a weekend," head coach Mike Bianco said. "I knew he could come in and come in early whenever there was a threat. He was as sharp as he has ever been. We needed that."

Ethridge put up another zero in the eighth, setting the table for the offense to blow the game open in the later innings as it seems like has happened quite often this year. Ole Miss hung six runs in the eighth inning to put away the Governors and it came in a variety of different ways. Cole Zabowski started it with an RBI base hit to center field that plated Will Golsan - who had a second consecutive multi-hit game. Chase Cockrell smoked a double down the left field line as part of a 3-3 evening with an RBI. Tyler Keenan then stepped in and launched the Rebels' second three-run homer of the game to open the floodgates. 

"Our pitching is always talked about, and rightfully so because I think we have the best pitching staff in the country," Dillard said. "But our hitting has just been awesome. One through 17 or 18 there is not let up. For us to show up every time through 12 games has been great and I think it is going to continue."

He had a two-hit night as well. Ole Miss' offense has come from all over through 12 games, and on this night hit a lot of balls hard as the wind gushed out to right-center.

"That's kind of been us," Bianco said. "I think that's why we have been so good offensively is that it has come from a lot of different sources. It isn't just one guy that is out of this world with six or seven home runs. It just seems like every night there is a different contributor offensively, and in a big way."

Ole Miss hits the second leg of a five-game homestand on Wednesday against Little Rock. First pitch is slated for 6:30 p.m.

SIDEBAR: Kessinger and Fortes Team Up to Top Tigers

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Sitting atop the Ole Miss lineup and the first to dig into the batter's box, a conscious effort to be aggressive early in counts from shortstop Grae Kessinger has led to a productive beginning to his sophomore campaign. And on this day in particular, it netted a 4-for-5 day at the plate with three runs scored in an 8-6 win over Memphis.

"I'm just trying to be aggressive," Kessinger said. "That's really all it is. Let the swings take care of itself. Don't overthink it and just play ball like I have my whole life."

Kessinger tattooed the first pitch he saw in the game to left field. His second at-bat he laced a double early in the count that put Memphis in a second-and-third situation with no one out.

"He's getting a lot of good swings off,"  head coach Mike Bianco said. "I even said that in the first two games when he didn't necessarily get a ton of hits but was getting good swings off. That has really been the difference this year. Last year, he looked like a freshman at times. This year he is getting a lot of hits like tonights and getting some really good swings off."

It isn't just fastballs either in the leadoff slot. He got inside a breaking ball for the extra-base hit and took it the opposite way down the line in right.

"First-pitch breaking ball he hit well tonight," Bianco said. "He is really seeing it well."

The benefit of Kessinger's production as the leadoff hitter? Nick Fortes for starters. Kessinger's first hit set the table for Fortes to demolish a first-pitch fastball over the left field fence and give starter Houston Roth an early cushion.

"It was a fastball right where I like them," Fortes said. "I knew that one was out."

The junior catcher made Memphis' second-and-third predicament in the third inning prove costly as well when he clubbed a changeup into the Ole Miss bullpen for his second home run of the night. It blew the game open at 5-0 in favor of the Rebels in the third.  Fortes was 3-for-4 with six RBI.

"I kind of needed that breakout game," Fortes said. "I needed a night like tonight to get me going."

Ole Miss plated four runs total in the third, and it was enough for Roth to leave the game after four innings with a 6-2 lead. Roth struck out six in his 77-pitch outing, and his lone blemish came in his final inning when he left one up in the zone to Tiger hitter Kevin O'Keefe, whose two-run shot put Memphis on the board. The sophomore righty battled through some long innings when the Rebels were scoring runs and Memphis was changing pitchers to earned the win in his first career start.

"I felt good," Roth said. "I wasn't fatigued as the game wore on."

Memphis slowly clawed its way back into the game to a degree with a run in the fifth to make it 8-3 and one more in eighth to shave the deficit once more. Will Stokes took the ball from Greer Holston in the eighth and inherited a two-on, no-out situation with the Tigers trailing by four. The senior righty whiffed O'Keefe--who had already homered in the game--for a big first out and then induced two fly balls to allow Ole Miss to escape the jam.

"I really thought that was important," Bianco said. "If you're going to have a good bullpen, guys have to come in and put that fire out. Come in with runners on when the fire is hot and deliver some pitches. Will did that."

Memphis threatened with two more in the ninth, but All-American closer Dallas Woolfolk relieved Stokes in his second inning of work and put out the last necessary proverbial fire to preserve the team's fourth win of the year. 

It's the third time in four games Ole Miss has recorded double-digit hits. With the well-documented struggles at the plate in 2017, this has certainly been a positive sign for Bianco in the early stages of the season.

"We think we have a good offense," Bianco said. "What I am really proud of is we've done it with a lot of different people. It hasn't been the same guys every night."

Fortes described the early success at the plate best, attributing it to guys getting experience under their belt and growing as hitters as they get deeper into their careers.

"We are a little more mature," Fortes said. "We are not letting at-bats early in the game get to us late. We are learning and adjusting as the game goes on and I think that has been the biggest difference."

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.

    in post Late Mistake Spoils Chad Kelly's Historic Performance

    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

    in post Heisman House Tour Heads to Oxford for Ole Miss-Georgia

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