SIDEBAR: A Look Back at an Ole Miss Sweep of Winthrop

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OXFORD, Miss - Grae Kessinger got just enough of the bat on a breaking ball on the outside corner from Winthrop's Dalton Whitaker. The ball squirted towards the hole on the left side and grazed the outstretched glove of Eagle shortstop Mitch Spires. Tim Elko scored comfortably from third and Jacob Adams slid his hand onto home plate from second base. 

This two-RBI base hit in the seventh inning of the series finale helped the Ole Miss clinch an opening weekend sweep for the third connective season.

"I was just trying to move the ball any way I could," Kessinger said. "A lot of off-speed was coming in as he was trying to get a big strikeout. I was just trying to get a barrel on it, found a hole."

A Whitaker wild pitch earlier in the at-bat moved Elko and Adams up a base, setting Adams up to be aggressive and snag the lead with an insurance run attached too.

"I knew it was going to be a close play," Adams said. "Coach Clement sent me and I just went all out. I knew it was bang-bang and thought I was safe. They looked at it, and sure enough, I was safe."

The play was so close it required a lengthy replay review that confirmed the original call. Head Coach Mike Bianco liked the aggressiveness of his team on the base path.

"My takeaway is how aggressive we were in all phases," Bianco said. "I thought guys took the extra base and were really aggressive."

It was a late breakthrough in what was an otherwise more difficult day at the plate for Ole Miss as it faced Winthrop ace Nate Pawelczyk for the first six innings of the game. The right-hander had good control of his fastball and slider, turned in six innings of one-hit ball and gave his team a chance. Ole Miss stayed patient and cracked the code to the Eagle bullpen upon Pawelczyk's exit.

"It takes all kinds," Bianco said. "They run out their ace today and we knew it would be a challenge. We didn't quite get the swings off that we did in the first two, a lot of check swings and unsure swings today. That shows you how good he really is. We didn't have many opportunities. Grae gets two strikes with their closer in. We talk about winning those little battles and that is one of them."

Conversely, the Rebel bullpen carried the baton after James McArthur exited after the fifth inning and allowed just two Winthrop base runners over the final four frames. McArthur admittedly did not have his best stuff, and his fastball command was not quite as precise as it usually is, but he still managed to give five strong innings and allowed a single unearned run on four hits.

"Coach B is always talking about making a pitch to get out of the inning," McArthur said. "I put myself in some predicaments today, got behind on some guys, but I was proud of the way I battled. Getting my stuff back into the zone was the biggest part."

McArthur stuck out seven and walked three.

"He was able to take their blows," Bianco said. "Sometimes you have to do that. You don't have your best stuff and have to battle and compete. He really did that."

Jordan Fowler turned in two innings of scoreless relief in his Ole Miss debut. Will Ethridge worked around a two-out base hit for a clean eighth inning and Dallas Woolfolk slammed the door in the ninth for his first save of the year.

"When you look back, over 27 innings we only gave up one earned run the whole series," Bianco said. "When you're in game three and have Dallas Woolfolk and Will Ethridge that haven't thrown yet, you get to the seventh inning and it has been a pretty good weekend for us on the mound. There is no one better at the end than Dallas. As a coach, it makes you feel good when you have a lead and you are running him out there in the ninth."

Aside from the fielding mishaps Bianco alluded to, it was a solid weekend on the mound and at the plate for the Rebels. Ole Miss tallied 17 runs on 30 hits, and it came from all over. Thomas Dillard had a three-hit night on Friday that also saw Tim Rowe club a three-run bomb to give some early run support to Ryan Rolison. On Saturday, the three new entrants into the lineup--Cole Zabowski, Tim Elko and Chase Cockrell--went 6-for-10 with four RBIs and five runs scored. Kessinger and Fortes each had a four-hit weekend. 

It was an eclectic blend of veterans and newcomers producing at the plate.

"It was really that way the whole weekend," Bianco said. "Every new guy that batted got a hit."

Winthrop recorded four runs on 15 hits and only one was an earned run charged to the Ole Miss staff as Bianco mentioned earlier. Fowler filled up the zone in his first look at game action, as did Parker Caracci, who pitched a scoreless ninth on Saturday night in his first career appearance. Houston Roth and Ethridge looked similar to their productive form in 2017, and it all resulted in Ole Miss sweeping a Winthrop team projected to win the Big South Conference this season.

"I think one of the big takeaways is that so many guys played well and looked like they belong," Bianco said.

Ole Miss returns action on Tuesday against Memphis. Houston Roth will have the baseball for the Rebels. First pitch 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!

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    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.

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    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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