Rebels Look To Build On Texas A&M Series Win

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A sense of toughness and maturity beamed from an Ole Miss baseball  team that took two of three on the road at Texas A&M this past weekend.  A team whose confidence is continuing to grow gutted out a pair of one-run wins on Thursday and Saturday to improve to 22-3 (4-2) on the season. 

Each game saw a relatively early exit for Ole Miss' starting pitcher, an uncharacteristic occurrence for what has been a good weekend rotation. But it was picked up each time by the bullpen, headlined by Parker Caracci getting the final five outs on Thursday night and the last three on Saturday to close out the series.

Caracci whiffed Braden Shewmake and Logan Foster -two of the better hitters in the Southeastern Conference -  in the eighth inning of Thursday's game to escape a bases-loaded, one-out jam made more complicated by a long replay of a play on a call at second base. Caracci blew fastball after fastball by the Aggie hitters, hitting 98 on the stadium radar gun. It was the biggest moment of the season for a guy who has earned every opportunity afforded to him this season.

"We knew he was a strike thrower. We knew he would fill up the zone with his fastball and slider. In the fall his fastball got up to 95 but was inconsistent," head coach Mike Bianco said. "We saw some spurts of this just not as consistent as this. Now that he has been back out in the spring and fully rested, and being out there, it is a tough position, to get out there on that  bump by yourself with 10,000 people watching and to be able to perform in a game. Those last three outs are tough to get. The other thing is composure. Will they be able to perform? He surely has been lights out for us this year.

Caracci has progressed mightily since the upper 80s strike-thrower Bianco saw coming out of Jackson Preparatory School four years ago. His velocity has risen to the mid 90s with a good slider to complement it. The consistency Bianco alluded to finally meshed with the stuff he'd shown flashes of and it's equated to a breakout redshirt sophomore season.

"I didn't expect it this early," Caracci said. "They've helped me with my mechanics, getting into my lower half more and really learning to attack the strike zone."

Will Ethridge's three innings of scoreless, two-hit baseball in relief of Ryan Rolison paved the way for Caracci's moment on Thursday. Ethridge stranded two runners at second and third when he came in during the fifth inning to keep the game at 4-2 A&M and keep the Rebels in it. On Sunday, the bulk of the bullpen chipped in as Jordan Fowler, Greer Holston, Ethridge and Dallas Woolfolk ate up 6.2 innings of the game in relief of James McArthur before Caracci came on in the ninth. A bullpen that has been the backbone of this baseball team came through in multiple spots on the road to deliver a series win over a top 15 team.

"It is a luxury," Bianco said of his bullpen. "These guys have more depth and can give some different looks."

What impressed Bianco the most? His team won a road series in a weekend when it didn't play well admittedly, especially on the mound from the starting pitching where the Rebels have been so dominant this year.

"We won two out of three this weekend but we didn't play great," Bianco said. "The first two days offensively didn't do much until the end of the game. Our starting pitching was the worst its been all year. There are always things we can work on. I am proud of the way we played and competed, but it certainly was not our cleanest games. It shows a lot of toughness and competitiveness you have to have in our league."

Ole Miss got hits when it mattered in the late innings, something that had eluded it last season. It came from all over, too. From Chase Cockrell who went 5-8 in the final two games. Cockrell's had a breakout sophomore season. He made a mechanical adjustment by widening his stance and reducing his front leg kick in the box over the fall and winter, and it has allowed him to put more balls in play this year. With his power, fewer strikeouts have produced more hits. As simplistic as it sounds, that's been a difference maker at the plate.

"He's so strong and has tremendous bat speed," Bianco said. "Not just power with home runs, when he touches the ball and puts it into play, his hit percentage is really high. He had that last year. He got to a point where he was striking out too much. He is putting more balls into play this year, breaking balls and off-speed pitches."

Thomas Dillard hit a go-ahead double to give the Rebels an eighth inning lead on Thursday night. He has a 14-game hitting streak working. It came from Cole Zabowski and Will Golsan, who combined to go 5-10 with 4 RBIs in the finale. 

"I think it is just guys having good years," Bianco said. "Certainly, we have a physical lineup. The biggest difference I see is that we are better hitters than we were statistically. Guys are getting good, confident swings off. That is certainly a good combination."

Bianco said he spoke to his starting pitchers about trusting themselves and their stuff, not getting caught up in swings and misses and battling to find a way to win a ballgame. 

"They are so talented and there have been times where, I don't want to say easy, but success came quicker," Bianco said. "Texas A&M was excellent offensively. They hit it hard. They had 17 two-strike base hits. I don't know if I have ever seen that. Nine on Saturday. I think at times we got frustrated with that. We'd been striking out so many people that when you don't get a strikeout, or even a ground out or pop up, it got to us a little bit."

Ole Miss will need its starters as it enters a week of four games against ranked teams, beginning Tuesday with Southern Miss before third-ranked Arkansas comes to Swazye for a series this weekend. It will be a top-five match up between two SEC West teams looking to gain ground early in the conference slate.

  First pitch on Tuesday is set for 6:30 p.m.

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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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    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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