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."

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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.

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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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    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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