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Dillard's Three-Run Blast Propels Rebels To Series Win Over LSU

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The pitch was undetectable as it hummed in at 85-miles-per hour out of the hand of LSU pitcher David Fontenot towards an awaiting Thomas Dillard in the bottom of the seventh inning of a 7-6 ballgame LSU led. Fotenot inherited a mess initiated by Caleb Gilbert, who'd let up two runs on a Tim Rowe double and a Grae Kessinger single to pull Ole Miss within a run at 7-6 in this crucial rubber match.

"It might have been a fastball. It might have been a change up. Anything in the zone I was just trying to put a barrel on," Dillard said. "That's one of the things you dream of as a kid, 3-2 count and an opportunity to put your team ahead."

That he did. He demolished the offering into the right field seating for a three-run shot that sent the 12,152 people inside Swayze Field - the largest crowd in the building's history - into a frenzy as the Rebels snagged this late-April series thanks to his thunderous shot that disappeared into the student section in right. He battled back from an 0-2 count to run it full before altering the game permanently with the blast, laying off two high fastballs out of the zone that have enticed the slugger in the past.

"The pitches he laid off were as impressive as the swing and the home run," assistant coach Mike Clement said. "He battles back 3-2 and makes the guy throw something over the plate before doing what Thomas does."

Ole Miss erased a 7-4 deficit on Dillard's first hit of the weekend and largely thanks to the five-run seventh inning that saw a struggling LSU bullpen succumb to the relentless bats of the Rebels in the late innings of the ballgame for the second time in three days. The win vaulted the Rebels to 12-9 in SEC play and 34-11 on the year.

Dillard's theatrics will rightly be remembered for changing the course of this series, but a variety of other efforts saw this comeback come to fruition. Will Ethridge relived Maxwell Cioffi in the third inning after Cioffi tried to hold the game together in succession of James McArthur. Ole Miss led the game 4-1 in the that third inning thanks to a Chase Cockrell three-run home run the second, but the Tigers plated six runs in a third that saw Cioffi and McArthur exit in frustration. Ethridge was having none of that result. He hoisted 5.2 innings of three-hit relief and got the Rebels al the way to the ninth inning before Parker Caracci charged LSU for its final three outs, slipping out of a bases loaded-no outs situation in the process.

"Arguably the most important and valuable in this game," Clement said. "We can't win this game if we don't up a bunch of zeros after the six spot. He did that."

It was Ethridge's longest outing of his career, locating on both sides of the plate an nabbing left-handers on the outside corner.

"I just had to go out there and do my job," Ethridge said. "I was trying to put up zeroes fast and give our offense a chance to put up some runs."

That was really all it needed.

Kessinger battled in a marathon of an at bat in the seventh against Gilbert before stroking a base hit into right-center field to shave the deficit to one. It kept the inning going with one out outs and allowed Dillard to get to the plate after Ryan Olenek fly out and Nick Fortes reaching on an error.

"The two three-run home runs that will get the headlines," Clement said. "Grae got some huge hits. His at bats were huge."

That succeeded Rowe's fifth double in as many days who followed a Keenan double to make it 7-5.

"You could just feel the crowd and the momentum after that and you knew it was going to be hard to stop," Clement said.

The senior delivered an eight-hit week and was invaluably productive in the absence of the team's best hitter in Ryan Olenek, who is slugging .500 in SEC play and returned to the lineup at second base on Saturday after nursing a partially torn labrum in his left shoulder. Rowe's production at the plate merited a fourth consecutive start.

Caracci recorded the final two outs, slipping out of a bases loaded jam mirroring so many predicaments he has solved this season.

"Closers at any level are going to go through adversity," Clement said. "He has responded great. He is the same guy every day."

LSU was a talented yet struggling ball club on the road looking for an opportunity to rectify its season and Ole Miss was having none of it, plating 25 runs in three games to remain atop a crowded SEC West race. It took all hands on deck and this finale was a microcosm of that and perhaps one for a season that's called on so many to do well in clutch situations.

Tyler Keenan had two hits on this day and continues in his pursuit of a freshman campaign as complete and outstanding as anyone Rebel in recent memory. He hit .444 this weekend alone.

Ryan Rolison gave seven innings on Friday night in a 14-3 thrashing. Ethridge nearly matched that in relief on Saturday. Ole Miss hit exceptionally this weekend and pitched it well enough to win two games. The team is in first in the SEC west with three weekends remaining, making this series victory as vital as any in this season.

It was an appeasing result for the more than 32,000 fans that showed up for these three games.

"I've been here four years," Clement said. "This is not normal. This is a football environment in a baseball stadium."

It got behind Dillard before he launched the fateful shot to right field.

"I got behind and then the fans got up and got behind me," Dillard said. "The fans were just insane this weekend. They really fed me in that at bat."

It capped a 4-2 SEC homestand. Ole Miss returns to action on Wednesday against Arkansas Pine-Bluff at 6:30 p.m.

Rebels Notch Series Win Over Fifth Ranked Arkansas

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OXFORD, Miss - Four-innings of offensive infused chaos was extinguished over the final five outs by the right arm of Parker Caracci. A marathon of a baseball game culminated with the sophomore's second multi-inning save in as many nights as Ole Miss was the last one standing in an 11-10 war over one of the best lineups one through nine in college baseball.

"They're definitely one of the best offensive teams we have faced," Caracci said. "You just have to try to hit your spots. If you leave it over the plate they will most likely make you pay for it."

The Rebels secured a series win over Arkansas to cap off a stretch of seven games against top 15 teams at 5-2.

Six innings of grueling from Ole Miss starter James McArthur was largely lost in the haze of the 19 runs scored in the final four and a half innings of the baseball game. The junior right-hander came off the mound in the fifth after retiring his 10th consecutive hitter to a 1-1 tie. Ole Miss plated four runs to give him a cushion and three more in the sixth to hand him an 8-2 advantage. He fought through some errant breaking balls with a heavy dosage of fastballs he kept away from the Razorback barrels and turned in an outing he worked hard for.

"A whole lot of fastballs," McArthur said. "Couldn't really get the breaking ball over. I was able to make some really good pitches with my fastball, get quick outs and have some quick innings."

A solo shot in the seventh inning from Daniel Fletcher ousted McArthur leading 8-3 with nine outs needed to end the baseball game.

"I think you don't understand how good he was until you saw what happened after he left," Clement said. "Now he's out and baseballs start flying all over the yard on a hitter's day to hit. I think that just shows you how good he was. I know it gets lost because it was 11-10, but he was really good."

Chaos ensued over the next three innings as Arkansas plated seven runs off a bullpen that had been dominant all season. The Hogs homered three times to counter a pair of three-run innings from Ole Miss with a couple four spots of their own.

"We owe a lot of our wins to the bullpen this year," Clement said. "If we can pick them up every once in a while we will be fine."

It all led up to Caracci coming in with one out in the eighth inning in an 11-10 game. Aside from a leadoff double in the ninth, Caracci recored five easy outs and sealed a series victory over a top five team.

"Don't let the guy score," Caracci said with a grin when asked about his approach after the double.

Twice this weekend, he put out a fire to seal a pair of wins. He has six saves this season and five of them have come in the last nine days.

"He was spotting up and doing a great job," Olenek said. "He is just a special kid."

Ole Miss needed all hands on deck this weekend, from Olenek's seven-hit weekend with a dislocated finger, to Caracci's back-to-back saves to a quality outings from Brady Feigl and James McArthur against the most dangerous lineup in the conference. Tyler Keenan clubbed a three-run home in the seventh to make it 11-6.

"We just compete," right fielder Olenek said. "The situation doesn't matter. Even if we are up, we had a six-run lead, it is never enough. We keep on scoring."

Ole Miss would need all of those runs.

The Rebels' confidence continues to rise with each win. Ole Miss has shown an advanced sense of maturity that is evident in its 8-2 record in one-run games.

"Toughness is one word," Olenek said. "We know we are a really good team and hard to beat."

Cole Zabowski homered twice this weekend as the Rebels popped 27 hits in an effort to keep pace with the Razorbacks. Ole Miss showed it can win in a variety of ways, salting away a 5-4 win last night and swatting two home runs and ten hits in a slugfest.

"You can start to feel the vibe in the dugout of just how good and tough we are," McArthur said. "We just have to stick together and keep getting better."

The Rebels are 25-4 (6-3) and currently sit at the top the SEC west standings after three weekends. The team took a road series at Texas A&M before taking out the Razorbacks on Easter weekend, two teams widely considered to be the cream of the crop in the western division and in the conference along with Ole Miss. It has back-ended to home series, rebounding after dropping the opening game to Tennessee and the Razorbacks.

"Our confidence was high coming into the year," Olenek said. "We know how good we were and how well we can hit. We have always been pretty confident.

Confidence wasn't lacking before but is continuing to become abundant with each win becomes more tangible evidence.

"Our goal is to keep our head down and keep going," Clement said. "That is the way you have to take it. We just try to keep plowing ahead."

New Hitting Coach Mike Clement Q-And-A

On the transition as new hitting coach:

The transition has been really good. The coaching staff has made it a lot easier on me than what it could be. It's definitely been a whirlwind.

On what he knew about Ole Miss before taking the job:

I definitely had a lot of respect from afar for Coach Bianco and his program. I knew more than I thought I would because Ben Fleming, the strength and conditioning coach, was with me at Kansas State and we overlapped by a year for the 2013 season, and I kept in touch with him, so it was nice to know him through the process. Mike Bianco's work speaks for itself with 14 years and what he's done, continuing to build and getting to Omaha last year. I got to see them play quite a few times. They were a lot of fun to watch and played with a blue-collar mentality and a chip on their shoulder, and that's something I want to be a part of.

On what he looks to add and what he brings from his previous coaching experience:

It's a good fit because I pride myself on the mentality part of coaching. I want a bunch of guys who are going to blue collar and play with a chip on their shoulder, really play the game and outwork their opponent. I pride myself on that as a coach, and I hope our offense is going to pride themselves on that as well. I bring that dynamic to the staff. We have a bunch of good players and a bunch of good recruits, and I feel really good about where the program is right now.

On the reception on the road from fans and recruits:

Things are different when you put the script "Ole Miss" across your chest. That's no disrespect to Kansas State. I was in Atlanta last week recruiting, and I had to call back to the office and ask Andrew Case, our director of operations, what Hotty Toddy meant because I got six or eight Hotty Toddy's the first day I had the shirt on. To be honest, I wasn't sure what they were saying, if they cursing at me, or they were happy, or what they were, so I had to get an education on that. The response has been unbelievable. It's been overwhelmingly positive. People have been very supportive around town for the little bit that I have been here. It's really exciting to get going. It's going to be a great experience for my wife and I.

On summer workouts and talking to current players about the upcoming season:

I have talked to them quite a bit. I have been able to reach out to quite a few of our position players, especially the older guys. The coaching staff and the returning players are really excited about hopefully taking that next step. We want to be the last team standing in Omaha, not one of the last four teams. That's our goal, and that's the goal for a lot of teams, especially in this league. It's a dogfight, and you can't get to that goal without doing your job in the summer and fall. It's an exciting time, and the confidence is at an all-time high, probably, for his program, and that can be attributed to last year's team.

On what's needed to take Ole Miss to the next level:

We're on the right track. We're in a very good spot. It goes back to recruiting and getting the most talented players that you can find. But more so than the talent part of it, the best teams are the teams who can match the talent part of it with guys who are willing to give up a little something of themselves for something greater. That's why it was fun to watch Ole Miss baseball from afar because you could tell it was team and those guys loved playing with one another. If we can keep on that track, the sky is the limit, not only for this team this year, but the program and the future.

On being a former catcher on staff with two other former catchers in Mike Bianco and Carl Lafferty:

When you're a catcher, you're at the only position on the field, where everyone is looking to you. That's important. You're supposed to be a leader. I was not an elite baseball player. I was a pretty average player, and that's OK. One of the good things about that was I had to work pretty hard for everything I got and that helped me in my coaching career. They would say the same thing about being a former catcher. If you look around at the managers in the major leagues and minor leagues, there are a lot of former catchers because of the responsibility placed on that position.

On his younger brother, Jeff, and what he has learned from him and his major league baseball experience:

He's my best friend and we talk a couple of times a week. He had a whole different experience than what I did as an average player. He saw the other end of the spectrum. We talk often and he has a perspective of the Stephen Head's and Seth Smith's of the world, those types of people. He had an unbelievable college career, and he was an All-American and a high draft pick, and he was fortunate and blessed enough to play in the big leagues for parts of four seasons. He provides some valuable advice from his experience, but more than anything, he's really excited that I have this opportunity.

On his relationship and previous work experience with Ben Fleming:

It's important for me in the transition because I can bounce a lot off of him. The one year we worked together, we had a pretty special year at Kansas State and made it to the Super Regional and had the best year in school history. I trust his opinion. He's relentless in the way he works with kids. Coach Bianco really values him and what he does. It's good to have some familiarity with someone in this program getting here. I can't help but have a good relationship with Carl Lafferty. It didn't take long to build that because we were the two guys out on the road and recruiting.

On recruiting and how Carl Lafferty has helped in the transition:

It's a tough transition when you go from one part of the country to another part of the country and trying to land on your feet and hit the ground running. What's made it an easy transition is Carl. He's very gifted on the road. He has an unbelievable ability to know players and know everything about them. He knows who they are, who they play for, and where they're from. When you have someone as gifted as Carl is from a recruiting standpoint, it makes the transition a lot easier, that's for sure.

On the plan for the rest of the summer and preparation for fall practice:

The important thing, as we move forward before school starts, is to build relationships with players. That's what I believe most of coaching is. If I can start to build relationships and get these guys to trust me and what I'm all about and help them understand that I'm willing to work with them, everything will take off from there. I'm confident that will happen. Outside of recruiting, which is the life blood of the program, I want to build relationships with our current players and hit the ground running once school starts in late August.

On what fans should expect from the offense:

We want be aggressive in a lot of different ways. It can be driving the ball out of the yard, driving the ball in the gaps and stealing bases. I want to be really sound in every aspect of our offense, whether that's the ability to hit and run, steal bases and get down bunts. We want to hit the ball in the gaps because if you can do that, balls will go out of the yard and you will be able to do some things offensively. We're going to be uptempo and really aggressive and take the fight to the other team from the offensive side of things.

On the new ball and how it changes the game:

I don't know if it will change my philosophy as a hitting coach, but it will change the game. I trust what the NCAA is doing and there needed to be a change. I think the new ball is going to make a difference. Hopefully, in our ballpark, it makes the difference with a lot more beer showers for our team.

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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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