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Rebels Clobber Arkansas State, Remain Unblemished In Midweek

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Unblemished in midweek games in 2018, Ole Miss' maturity and sense of focus surfaced again in the form of seven runs in the first two innings in a 10-3 bludgeoning of Arkansas State to move to 11-0 in such contests this season.

The Rebels picked up their 30th win overall and improved to 22-1 in non-conference games, neither of which are easy feats. It is a testament to this team's maturity and the focus it brings to the park each day. Head coach Mike Bianco thinks it is more than that as well.

"It is maturity, but what does that mean? It means you show up and you're present," Bianco said. "You don't take nights off and you are super focused. Beyond that, it has a lot to do with the offense. The offense shows up. We have talked so much about it, but the offense shows up every day. They don't have a ton of runs one day and have a couple tough games. Every day we put innings together and give ourselves a chance to win."

That offense arrived early and blitzed Arkansas State starter Zachary Patterson and took control of the game in the first two frames.

The Oxford duo of Thomas Dillard and Grae Kessinger homered in this game. Dillard demolished a fastball that curled inside the right field foul pole and sailed into disappearance. Kessinger, three batters earlier, deposited a similar looking fastball over the left field fence. It made for a four-run second inning that put the Rebels in cruise control the remainder of the way.

"I just didn't know if it was going to go foul," Dillard said. "I hit a similar one against Arkansas that went foul but there was a little more wind. I was just hoping it stayed fair."

While Dillard snapped a dry spell with his eighth homer of the season, Ryan Olenek stayed hot, extending his hitting streak to 16 games before exiting the contest in the fifth after fouling a baseball off of his toe. Bianco said the junior right fielder will be fine. Olenek is on a torrid pace in SEC play, batting over .500 with 30 hits. He will continue be a key cog in this offense as the team dives into the back half of its SEC schedule.

Ole Miss also found maturity on the mound from a senior and a freshman.

Jordan Fowler scattered five hits and surrendered just one run in five innings. He picked up his fourth win of the season as his solidly consistent freshman campaign rolled on. The left-hander most always looks composed and in control of the baseball game when he is on the mound. He struck out four.

"We wanted to get him some innings and tonight he was terrific," Bianco said. "He was in the strike zone, a lot of first-pitch strikes, fastball on both sides of the plate, two different breaking balls, a handful of changeups. I thought he was terrific."

Senior Will Stokes gave an inning and two-thirds, allowing just one hit and no runs. Stokes is a veteran presence who has done a little bit of a lot in his career and is an important piece of a bullpen that has been the backbone of this team for most of the season.

"Mindset is always to fill up the zone," Stokes said. "That is what I always try to do is make sure I hit my spots, put it in play and let my fielders handle it."

After yet another midweek win, the Rebels turn back to SEC play. Ole Miss hosts Georgia this weekend. First pitch Friday set for 6:30 p.m. CT.

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: 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.
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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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