Dillard's Three-Run Blast Propels Rebels To Series Win Over LSU

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The pitch was undetectable as it hummed in at 85-miles-per hour out of the hand of LSU pitcher David Fontenot towards an awaiting Thomas Dillard in the bottom of the seventh inning of a 7-6 ballgame LSU led. Fotenot inherited a mess initiated by Caleb Gilbert, who'd let up two runs on a Tim Rowe double and a Grae Kessinger single to pull Ole Miss within a run at 7-6 in this crucial rubber match.

"It might have been a fastball. It might have been a change up. Anything in the zone I was just trying to put a barrel on," Dillard said. "That's one of the things you dream of as a kid, 3-2 count and an opportunity to put your team ahead."

That he did. He demolished the offering into the right field seating for a three-run shot that sent the 12,152 people inside Swayze Field - the largest crowd in the building's history - into a frenzy as the Rebels snagged this late-April series thanks to his thunderous shot that disappeared into the student section in right. He battled back from an 0-2 count to run it full before altering the game permanently with the blast, laying off two high fastballs out of the zone that have enticed the slugger in the past.

"The pitches he laid off were as impressive as the swing and the home run," assistant coach Mike Clement said. "He battles back 3-2 and makes the guy throw something over the plate before doing what Thomas does."

Ole Miss erased a 7-4 deficit on Dillard's first hit of the weekend and largely thanks to the five-run seventh inning that saw a struggling LSU bullpen succumb to the relentless bats of the Rebels in the late innings of the ballgame for the second time in three days. The win vaulted the Rebels to 12-9 in SEC play and 34-11 on the year.

Dillard's theatrics will rightly be remembered for changing the course of this series, but a variety of other efforts saw this comeback come to fruition. Will Ethridge relived Maxwell Cioffi in the third inning after Cioffi tried to hold the game together in succession of James McArthur. Ole Miss led the game 4-1 in the that third inning thanks to a Chase Cockrell three-run home run the second, but the Tigers plated six runs in a third that saw Cioffi and McArthur exit in frustration. Ethridge was having none of that result. He hoisted 5.2 innings of three-hit relief and got the Rebels al the way to the ninth inning before Parker Caracci charged LSU for its final three outs, slipping out of a bases loaded-no outs situation in the process.

"Arguably the most important and valuable in this game," Clement said. "We can't win this game if we don't up a bunch of zeros after the six spot. He did that."

It was Ethridge's longest outing of his career, locating on both sides of the plate an nabbing left-handers on the outside corner.

"I just had to go out there and do my job," Ethridge said. "I was trying to put up zeroes fast and give our offense a chance to put up some runs."

That was really all it needed.

Kessinger battled in a marathon of an at bat in the seventh against Gilbert before stroking a base hit into right-center field to shave the deficit to one. It kept the inning going with one out outs and allowed Dillard to get to the plate after Ryan Olenek fly out and Nick Fortes reaching on an error.

"The two three-run home runs that will get the headlines," Clement said. "Grae got some huge hits. His at bats were huge."

That succeeded Rowe's fifth double in as many days who followed a Keenan double to make it 7-5.

"You could just feel the crowd and the momentum after that and you knew it was going to be hard to stop," Clement said.

The senior delivered an eight-hit week and was invaluably productive in the absence of the team's best hitter in Ryan Olenek, who is slugging .500 in SEC play and returned to the lineup at second base on Saturday after nursing a partially torn labrum in his left shoulder. Rowe's production at the plate merited a fourth consecutive start.

Caracci recorded the final two outs, slipping out of a bases loaded jam mirroring so many predicaments he has solved this season.

"Closers at any level are going to go through adversity," Clement said. "He has responded great. He is the same guy every day."

LSU was a talented yet struggling ball club on the road looking for an opportunity to rectify its season and Ole Miss was having none of it, plating 25 runs in three games to remain atop a crowded SEC West race. It took all hands on deck and this finale was a microcosm of that and perhaps one for a season that's called on so many to do well in clutch situations.

Tyler Keenan had two hits on this day and continues in his pursuit of a freshman campaign as complete and outstanding as anyone Rebel in recent memory. He hit .444 this weekend alone.

Ryan Rolison gave seven innings on Friday night in a 14-3 thrashing. Ethridge nearly matched that in relief on Saturday. Ole Miss hit exceptionally this weekend and pitched it well enough to win two games. The team is in first in the SEC west with three weekends remaining, making this series victory as vital as any in this season.

It was an appeasing result for the more than 32,000 fans that showed up for these three games.

"I've been here four years," Clement said. "This is not normal. This is a football environment in a baseball stadium."

It got behind Dillard before he launched the fateful shot to right field.

"I got behind and then the fans got up and got behind me," Dillard said. "The fans were just insane this weekend. They really fed me in that at bat."

It capped a 4-2 SEC homestand. Ole Miss returns to action on Wednesday against Arkansas Pine-Bluff at 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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