Rebels Return Home For Four-Game Week

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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.

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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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