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.
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.
Ole Miss held its annual Grove Bowl on Saturday, marking the culmination of spring football as the team breaks for the summer until the resumption of fall practice. On a wet and chilly afternoon inside Vaught-Hemingway Stadium, the defense held the offense to 21 points and won the scrimmage as it was spotted 27 points to begin the day.
Several players were held out as a precaution to some minor but nagging injuries and the coaching staff was able to get a look at some younger and inexperienced players. Here are five takeaways from the game and Ole Miss' spring football season overall.
1. Newcomers at running back
Matt Luke admitted on Saturday that he feels a great deal better about the running back position at the end of the spring than he thought he would at the beginning. Scottie Phillips and Isaiah Woullard are a pair of newcomers that have stood out throughout the entirety of the spring as this unit tries to replace the likes of Jordan Wilkins, the program's first 1,000-yard rusher since 2009. Phillip is a shifty back who has flashed breakaway speed at times during the spring. He had nine carries for 40 yards in the scrimmage and the top-rated junior college back in the country looks poised to become a heavy contributor next fall.
"They really stood out starting in the first week," Luke said. "You saw some flashes of Scottie out there today. You saw his burst. You saw some toughness from Isaiah Woullard. He is a smaller guy but he always falls forward. I am really pleased with the running backs."
It will likely be replacement-by-committee to some degree in terms of replacing Wilkins. D'Vaughn Pennamon - who did not participate in spring ball due to injury - and Eric Swinney are the most experienced backs on the roster. Armani Linton is continuing his transition to the offensive side of the football and Phillips and Woullard have been stood out.
"I have been really impressed with the running back room this spring," defensive end Ryder Anderson said. "They really have blown everyone away. They have shown a lot of really good things."
It will be interesting to watch to see if anyone emerges as a bell cow-type back for the Rebels and also how the carries are divided next fall. Phil Longo has some intriguing and versatile options there.
2. Jordan Ta'amu Being "The Guy"
Though we didn't see a lot of the receiving corps in this scrimmage, Ta'amu's chemistry and timing looked pretty good for the most part with his wide receivers. He hit D.K. Metcalf on a 53-yard deep ball for a touchdown that resembled many of the team's quick-striking scores a year ago and then found him again on a short, back-shoulder fade a couple of drives later in the back right corner of the end zone.
"Our timing is becoming great," Metcalf said. "Jordan is a leader and a quarterback that can handle anything."
Ta'amu says he's taken an active role in trying to become more of a leader as he enters the fall knowing this is his offense and his team.
"I know this team has my back," Ta'amu said. "I want to be a leader and an example for other guys out there, being a vocal leader. It is going well for me right now."
Ta'amu was 12-20 for 190 yards with three total scores with the final one coming on the ground with a 10-yard keeper in the second half.
3. Tight ends
Dawson Knox sat out the spring as he nurses a foot injury that plagued him early last year. It opened the door for Ole Miss to try to find a second or third option there and Octavious Cooley has been a name the coaching staff has repeatedly spit out as a guy who has impressed this spring. Luke said Cooley has gotten control of his weight and has had as good of a spring as anyone on the team.
"I love Cooley," Ta'amu said. "He is a big target and is a great blocker. I am glad to have him alongside Dawson Knox."
Luke and Longo have both hinted at using more two-tight end sets next year as Cooley continues to emerge. Longo would like to see his conditioning improve so he can be on the field for a longer stretch of time in an an offense that hinges on tempo.
"Cooley is a bright spot from the spring," Longo said. "He has done a lot to get himself going. I think he made a lot of plays this spring. He is a big boy making a lot of plays this spring. He is a great blend of physicality inside the box. I think both he and I would tell you he needs to get in better shape so he can handle six, seven or eight-play drives. When he gets tired he is not the same player. I think he feels the same way. He is a heck of a football player."
Gabe Angel and Alex Faniel also caught balls from this position in the scrimmage. Cooley had three grabs for 46 yards.
4. The linebackers
The coaching staff has been vocal all spring about the need for this position to mature and younger guys have started to make some plays. Mohamed Sanogo led the team in tackles with five on this day. Josh Clarke had a sack as did Donta Evans, Willie Hibbler and Brendan Williams.
Detric Bing-Dukes is an older player who the staff says has taken strides forward this year and he will most certainly be tasked with being a primary contributor at linebacker this fall.
"We saw some big improvement," defensive coordinator Wesley McGriff said. "You can visibly see Bing-Dukes got better. I like his commitment and attention to detail. His communication skills have really gotten better. I think the linebackers have improved a lot. We are young at that position. Josh Clarke is impressive, long and can make plays. I think they have a lot more knowledge of this defense. I think their first year they weren't as sure. I always tell them a great defense is a noisy defense."
McGriff said stopping the run has been priority number one this spring.
"The biggest goal has been to stop explore plays, particularly in the running game," McGriff said. "The second was to take away the deep ball. I think our guys have done a tremendous job of taking ownership in securing their gap and doing their responsibility."
Last spring was a chaotic one in some senses as the Rebels were introducing new coordinators and systems on each side of the football. With both of them returning this spring, the Rebels were already ahead of where they had to start last year. It has made things easier on them and one can sense that with the way Longo and McGriff talk about guys picking up on things quicker and their instincts being better. It stems from not having to think as much about what they are doing and play more freely, something Luke has mentioned a lot.
"The spring this year was a lot different than last year because of the knowledge base," Longo said. "To have 37 players coming back with the knowledge of terminology and fundamentals lets them be able to turn around the guys who don't know it and coach them up. We have a lot of players coaching players right now. The progress has happened faster this year."
Yolett McPhee-McCuin's name consistently trickled into the conversations that Ole Miss Vice Chancellor for Intercollegiate Athletics Ross Bjork had in his pursuit of a new face for his basketball program.
Eventually, she became the frontrunner in Bjork's mind, and on Friday afternoon McCuin spoke with a sense of eagerness and excitement as she was introduced as the Rebels' next hoops coach inside The Pavilion.
"She is a proven winner," Bjork said. "She is a recruiting machine. She develops players. The interpersonal relationships she develops with our players is a must in college athletics."
McCuin, or "Coach Yo" as she as she is affectionately known by many, comes to Oxford via Jacksonville University, where she won an Atlantic Sun championship and took the program to three consecutive postseason births. She owns the most 20-win seasons in the history of the school and the conference title was also the first in program history
"People kept saying 'Have you hear about Coach Yo? Have you spoke with Coach Yo? Yo, have you met with Coach Yo?'" Bjork recalled. "When you do you will be blown away, and that is exactly what happened in the process. This is her calling. She was made to teach and lead."
McCuin has worked in the Big East and the ACC, as well as across the globe overseas.
Her teams are known for their physicality and toughness by her colleagues. She says the product she puts on the floor is a reflection of herself.
"It will be a fun style," McCuin said. "People want to have fun. It will be hard work. It will be gritty and blue collar-like. But we are going to have a lot of fun on the floor."
She has a vision of what she wants to build and says the first step in the process is to assess the roster and then bring in staff to help recruit and pad depth.
McCuin called Ole Miss "prime real estate" between the facilities and the league it competes in. She's long wanted an opportunity in the SEC and now finally has her shot.
"I was blown away," McCuin said. "When Ole Miss opened up I was so excited. This is the SEC. This is the best conference in the country. I do my research, too. Ross is a phenomenal leader, and his vision is infectious. We can do the unthinkable and unimaginable here."
She boasts a 94-63 record as a head coach and knows it will take a lot to build the program back up to a high standard, but she is prepared for it.
"I am a fierce competitor," McCuin said. "If you come to the games you are going to enjoy the product on the floor."
The daughter of a basketball coach and a teacher, Bjork said this is what McCuin was meant to do, and she seemed eager to get to work in her new home.
"I am going to give you everything I have," McCuin said. "There will be no coach in the country that is going to outwork me. I believe there is opportunity here to be successful, but it takes work. Hopefully you can join us for the ride."
Matt Corral's first taste of spring football has gone by quickly. From the natural adjustments any kid going from high school to college has to make, to the amplified speed of the game to trekking across the country from California to Mississippi to start a new chapter of his life, he's taking it all in stride.
"Culture shock," Coral said with a grin. "But I love it here. The people are really nice and I love the football. I don't think it can get better than this."
He even admits it still doesn't all seem real sometimes.
"It was surreal to me at the beginning thinking that I am really in college and in the SEC," Corral said. "This is really happening. That blew over after a couple weeks and then I started to get into the groove of things, getting in the film room when I am supposed to and doing the extra stuff the coaches have asked me so I could have possibility of getting on the field in my freshman year."
The four-star All-American's commitment and eventual signing in December seemingly served as a a firm shove of momentum for Matt Luke's first recruiting class as permanent head coach. He arrived on campus in January as an early enrollee with the purpose of getting a head start in spring football. The first step? The speed of the game.
"The only adjustment is being smart and knowing what you have to do quickly is all it really is at this level of football," Corral said. "It's making quicker decisions, way quicker than you made in high school."
"I was always taught the game doesn't speed up. Of course guys are bigger and faster but you also have the same number of guys just as big and fast."
Corral thinks he has adjusted nicely to the quickness of the defense and the need for him to process reads quicker. He has some help, too. Corral is benefitting from throwing to one of the more dynamic receiving corps in the SEC. That alone has called for some adjusting on his part.
"It's ridiculous," Corral said. "The first week I was out there in seven-on-seven, my balls were a little off because I am not used to how big and fast they are. That closed-quarter speed they have when the ball is in the air is something I had to adjust to. It wasn't hard."
He's also gained assistance from entrenched starter Jordan Ta'amu, a guy whose 2017 story alone is enough to help Corral understand he must be ready at all times. The old cliché says the back-up quarterback is only one play away, but in reality that is precisely the case. Ta'amu has helped Corral with the playbook among other things, knowing he was once in the freshman's shoes and acknowledging the importance of having him ready next fall.
The uncanny sense of calmness Ta'amu exudes has rubbed off on Corral as well, much like it did to his teammates when Ta'amu was inserted as the starter late last season.
"I do see the calmness in Jordan," Coral said. "He is very poised and the way he carries himself on and off the field shows what type of person he is."
If something were to happen, Corral feels ready enough to step in despite just dipping his toes into the SEC pool.
"I feel comfortable," Corral said. "I don't feel any pressure. If I were starting the first game then I feel like I would be prepared. I know the guys behind me would help me gain that confidence."
That said, he knows there is a lot he needs to improve on and work towards between the spring and the fall.
"It is just a matter of you knowing the playbook like the back of your hand," Corral said. "The playbook is simple. It is good because it works, but it is similar to what I ran in high school. A little different because some concepts don't work in the SEC that do in high school, but it is very similar."
Luke acknowledge his freshman quarterback has made great strides and thinks he could step into game action to run the offense in a limited capacity right now if needed.
"You can see the lightbulb go off a little after eight or nine practices," Luke said. "When you get out there in a game with people watching it is a little different, but the knowledge is definitely increasing.
He's also grateful that Corral will have ample time in the offseason to develop further.
Ole Miss has its spring game on Saturday in which the format will be similar to recent years with the defense being spotted 27 points and the offense trying to catch them. Corral and Ta'amu will see a lot of reps as Matt Luke hopes to get off around 80 or 90 snaps in the scrimmage.
"The good thing is he has two more practices, then a summer and an entire fall camp to get even better," Luke said. "The arm talent is there. It is just more of being able to function without thinking. You don't play as fast when you are having to think. The talent is definitely there and you see him making strides. That is encouraging."
After blazing through a stretch of seven games against top 15 opponents at 5-2, No. 3 Ole Miss is now facing a week in which it will play teams it is extremely familiar with and teams it considers its rival. The Rebels will trek to Memphis Wednesday night for a game against the Tigers at AutoZone Park before heading to Starkville for the weekend set against Mississippi State.
Mike Bianco made a minor tweak to his rotation to begin this week by flipping Ryan Rolison and Brady Feigl to have Feigl pitch on Friday night and Rolison on Saturday. Bianco pointed to Feigl's dominance on the mound through the season's first seven weeks as the reason for the switch.
"Brady has pitched so well," Bianco said. "Ryan hasn't pitched bad, just maybe not as dominant as Brady through the seven starts, and I thought this was the right time to do it, especially with the way the weeks fell to give him normal rest."
The Rebel skipper wanted it known that this is a fluid situation, as are most lineup-related things with any ball club over the course of a 56-game slate.
"Someone asked me this morning if it was permanent," Bianco said. "Nothing is permanent. The rotation is what it is this week, same with the lineup. Ryan understands and Brady understands. To use Ryan's quote from the beginning of a press conference, 'We have three Friday night guys throwing.' We are just trying to win baseball games and put the guy in there who is throwing the best."
Feigl has been lights-out this season, benefitting from improved slider command and being aggressive with hitters. The junior right-hander is 6-1 with a 2.23 ERA and has been good virtually every time he has grabbed the baseball this season.
For Rolison, it's just been a couple of minor mistakes that have led to innings slipping away from him. Bianco didn't seem too concerned with the recent minor struggles of his uber-talented left-hander and thinks he will get back on track this weekend in Starkville.
"Most of his outings it has just been an inning or two," Bianco said. "To be honest it has been mostly good fortune or bad fortune, however you want to say it. Not taking anything away from Arkansas, but a couple home runs that aren't usually home runs on this field and a tough first inning where he made a couple bad pitches with two strikes and they get base hits and score a couple runs. Ryan has given us great efforts."
Ole Miss wasn't lacking for confidence going into the daunting stretch it just came out of, but it only grows with each win. Bianco is pleased with how his team has found a multitude of ways to win baseball games and thinks that is evidence of a sense of toughness and maturity good teams in the SEC are equipped with year-in and year-out.
"I don't know if I learned more, but it really hammered home the feeling that we are tough," Bianco said. "They have won a lot of different types of games, games where they have had to score, where they have had to pitch and defend. We have fallen behind where we came back. We've won where we had a lead and held on."
Perhaps the most glaring piece of evidence to Bianco's point is how his team has responded when things haven't gone their way.
"It is not like we've had everything go our way," he said. "Certainly, we have had good fortune like everyone, but we also have had instances the other way, whether it is a call or a 50-50 pitch that maybe didn't go our way, but we have handled it. That is my takeaway. They've shown a lot of maturity and toughness that you need to have in our league."
Ole Miss begins this stretch of rivalry games on Wednesday and doesn't expect any letdown after its grueling late-March schedule. Bianco said his team is well-aware of the importance of each game, particularly when the opponent is in their backyard.
"The thing we want to do is play well," Bianco said. "If we do that everything will take care of itself. It is not foolproof. You can play well and lose, but you have a much better chance of winning. I hope that is the mindset because that is what has gotten us to this point. This week we are playing teams that are our rival. Anytime you play your rival it is a big game."
Houston Roth will get the baseball against Memphis Wednesday. First pitch from Autozone Park is slated for 6:30 p.m. CT.
Ole Miss rifle alum Alison Weisz continues to compete on the national and international stage and late last week, she qualified for the United States Team for the 2018 World Shooting Championships.
Weisz earned the third team spot behind current TCU shooter Mindy Miles and former TCU shooter Sarah Beard. The selection process used results from Winter Air Gun this past December and scores fired in the Spring Selection Match last week at the Army Marksmanship Unit in Ft. Benning, Georgia.
Athletes began their quest during the 2017 Winter Airgun Championships and solidified their standing at the Rifle/Pistol Spring Selection Match following a two-day match and final. Team spots were handed out to the top-three finishers in Men's and Women's Air Rifle and Pistol. The World Championships will take place August 31-September 15 in Changwon, South Korea.
In Women's Air Rifle, Mindy Miles of TCU was the top overall selection. She edged fellow TCU alum Sarah Beard by 9.7 points with Alison Weisz (Belgrade, Montana) earning the final selection spot. Weisz posted a combined score of 2080.4 to edge reigning Olympic Gold Medalist Ginny Thrasher of West Virginia University (2080.1) for the final spot.
"I'm very excited for Ali," said head coach Marsha Beasley. The World Shooting Championships are only held every four years. Ali has been shooting air rifle very well the last three years. She thrives when the pressure is on and I look forward to seeing her on the world stage."
Weisz finished a decorated career at Ole Miss in 2017, earning All-America honors twice in air rifle and finishing third at the 2016 NCAA Championships.
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."
One through nine, there is an argument to be made that Arkansas possesses the most potent lineup in the Southeastern Conference. Seven of its nine hitters are batting .320 or better. Every hitter but one has an OPS of .800 or better.
There is no remission, no place allowing an opposing pitcher to breathe for a moment or skate by on a sailing or elevated mistake.
"They fight and battle," Nick Fortes said. "They don't miss pitches over the plate. You have to be perfect with them. They're a good hitting club and you have to make pitches."
The team is slugging .537 and has clubbed 47 home runs. It had homered in 12 straight games until meeting Ole Miss' Brady Feigl, who scattered seven singles over 5.1 innings in a 5-4 Rebel win to even the series. Feigl moved to 6-1 on the season. He limited hard contact. Three of the singles did not leave the infield.
"You know who you're playing," Feigl said. "Arkansas has one of the best lineups in the SEC. It is one of the best we will face all year. One thing we always preach is that we play ourselves so it doesn't matter who is in the other dugout."
He largely neutralized a group of bats who'd inflicted terror on some of the nation's best pitching thanks to a changeup he leaned on more heavily than he has in any other outing this season, along with a good fastball and slider to complement it.
"That always makes you happy," Feigl said. "The defense was tremendous tonight. That is what helped the most along with the confidence to fill up the zone."
He survived a second inning in which the Hogs tagged him for two runs to take a 2-1 lead on an infield single and a ball that squirted through the left side. The junior righty became more aggressive after that and blanked them in the final three frames he was in the ballgame.
"Coach pulled me aside after the second and told me I wasn't doing anything wrong, I just was kind of passively attacking them," Feigl said. "He said to go after them. Go let your best stuff have it and let the chips fall after that. The biggest thing is to fill it up and use your best stuff in the zone. After he told me that it started working a little better."
The fastballs came more frequently in the later innings. Feigl left to an ovation in the sixth and a bullpen combination of Greer Holston, Dallas Woolfolk and Parker Caracci held off the Razorback offense for the final eleven outs.
"I thought he was terrific," head coach Mike Bianco said. "They're really good, and like us, can put an inning together. I thought it was a good mix of all three pitches. He used his changeup more today than he maybe has all year and went to his fastball later in the game. He was terrific."
This was a back-and-forth game in which each team led in the first three innings. Ole Miss made enough plays on both fronts, like Fortes who clubbed a hanging breaking ball over the left field fence to extend Ole Miss' lead to 5-2, two precious runs the team would need. He also hosed the tying runner going from first to second in the eighth inning that helped Caracci slip out of a jam.
"It had just enough," Fortes said. "I thought I was going to have to leg out a double so I am thankful it went out. I have been struggling a little bit and it helped us get over the top."
Caracci responded from a hectic eighth inning by striking out the side in the ninth in overwhelming fashion to preserve the one-run win. The sophomore fireballer has shown the ability to overpower some of the best hitters in the country with a fastball that creeps up to 97 and a slider with a lot of bite.
"Parker is something special," Ryan Olenek said.
"It just shows his composure," Fortes said. "He knows he has some of the best stuff in the country and the some of the best I have ever seen. That eighth inning he was trying to do a little too much, and in that ninth he was doing what he has done all year: mowing guys down and filling up the zone."
Ole Miss will attempt to take the series with James McArthur on the hill tomorrow against Arkansas' Kacey Murphy. First pitch is slated for 1:30 p.m. CT.
Ole Miss is now nearing the culmination of spring football with the Grove Bowl being just over a week away, and the Rebels dabbled into some live football action this past weekend with a controlled scrimmage in which the coaches stayed on the sideline and the offense and defense squared off against each other. Matt Luke wanted to see where his team stood more than two weeks into spring ball.
"We did some situational stuff with some red zone, third down and stuff but really we just put the ball down and played to see where we were," Luke said. "There were a lot of positives and also a lot of stuff we need to get cleaned up. We slowed down today and really honed in on some stuff. The tempo, going fast, we wanted to slow down today. Try to teach some stuff and get guys' fits right and getting them chasing the ball."
The offense dominated early during the red zone portion of the scrimmage. Phil Longo's squad gassed the defense with an up-tempo pace. The defense weathered the storm and made a couple of plays on the later drives. Luke is beginning to understand that, as a head coach, he is going to be concerned with one side of the football no matter what, but he was pleased to see both sides go at one another.
"I think the offense started out really strong in the scrimmage early on in the red zone. In the third down period they were really good," Luke said. "I was happy to see the defense fight back and get some turnovers in later drives. I am learning quickly as head coach you are not going to be happy in spring ball. You are going to be upset one way or another. I did like the ebb and flow of practice. It was good to see the defense fight back."
Ole Miss has some veteran starters sidelined for spring ball as a precaution towards some nagging injuries. None of the bumps and bruises will affect the team heading into the fall but nonetheless has kept some guys off the field this spring. It's forged an opportunity for some younger players to get experience as this team tries to add depth, particularly on the defensive side of the football.
Defensive coordinator Wesley McGriff said last weekend he would like to see his defense play with more confidence. Luke thinks this is part of the learning process as these young players get used to the speed of the game.
"The little things are lacking because they are thinking and still trying to process what they are doing," Luke said. "They don't see the formation or the intricacies. They know what to do they just don't understand yet. You are trying to get them to understand so they can play instinctively and aren't out there thinking."
Luke thinks it will eventually click as the cerebral part of the game turns into instances and allows them to play freer and faster.
"I think it is mainly the younger guys," Luke said. "We have a lot young guys out there with three defensive linemen out. The young linebackers are showing flashes and the only way you get those guys ready is to put them out there in the fire. That is kind of the growing pains but you have to put them out there to learn."
Ole Miss has dealt with a couple more injuries this week as A.J. Brown tweaked a knee trying to get into the end zone in the scrimmage. Luke doesn't think it is serious but is not taking any chances as Brown has been limited early on this week.
"I like the competitiveness. That is why he is who he is. He was trying to score. You like to see that," Luke said.
Greg Little is dealign with a tight back and is limited also.
Overall, Luke knows this team has a long way to go as do most teams in the spring, but he is pleased with the progress as this team wraps up the spring.
"I think there are some signs that we are," Luke said. "The kids are pushing one another and there is a sense of togetherness, not so much offense and defense. That is what we are trying to get accomplished."
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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
I like what you guys are up too. Such smart work and reporting! Keep up the superb works guys I have incorporated you guys to my blogroll. I think it will improve the value of my site in post Madden 17 Ratings for Former Rebels
Jamie laverty said:
Bulmer I love you and ole Miss in post Fast Runner From Down Under
Sharon Hamlin said:
Hi! Really Bulmer is very fantastic & dedicated in his job. Really outstanding & well done... :-) in post Fast Runner From Down Under
Sharon Hamlin said:
Hi! Really motivating post & outstanding job did Bulmer .Loved it... :-) in post Fast Runner From Down Under