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Weekend Wrap-Up: Ole Miss wins Game Three to take series from Alabama

Weekend Wrap-Up: Ole Miss wins Game Three to take series from Alabama

OXFORD, Miss. –  The start of SEC play always brings heightened energy as there are simply no easy weekends in league action; to use the conference tagline: “It Just Means More.”

Ole Miss welcomed SEC Western Division foe Alabama to Swayze Field this weekend. The Rebels and the Crimson Tide, who entered the series sporting a 16-2 record, split the first two games, so the series all came down to Sunday’s rubber game. 

In that determining game three, Ole Miss combined outstanding pitching with an offensive attack that would seal the series victory for head coach Mike Bianco’s team. 

Here’s our weekend wrap-up of all the action. 

Game 1: Ole Miss 1, Alabama 0

(Click here for box score.)

Runs would prove to be hard to come by in Friday night’s game. Ole Miss starter Will Ethridge, who improves to 4-0 on the season, dazzled on the mound, striking out nine and allowing only three hits in what is the Rebels’ first shut-out of the season.

Austin Miller came on in relief of Ethridge and retired all four batters he faced before giving way to closer Parker Caracci. 

“It felt great being out there,” Ethridge said.

I just know our guys have my back and they’re going to make plays. It might just be a one-run ballgame, and it’s my job to go out there and put up zeros—and I’m going to keep doing that every Friday night.

Ole Miss pitcher Will Ethridge 

Ethridge wasn’t surprised with how close the game was. “I had a feeling it was going to be a tight ballgame,” he said. “Friday nights in the SEC are always tough. Having a one-run ballgame and winning it 1-0 is really great for us, and it gives the pitching staff confidence going into the rest of the weekend.”

Bianco believes success all boils down to execution.   

Sometimes we get too new wave and into analytics and spin rates and launch angles. But at the end, I think that is the beauty of baseball. It all comes down to making some plays, getting some pitches and getting some timely hits. Tonight, Will and Miller and Caracci made some huge pitches.”

Coach Mike Bianco

Bianco was pleased with his Friday night starter’s pitching as Ethridge kept Alabama off balance. “Early on, I thought the changeup and the breaking ball were good. In the later innings, his two-seam fastball just took over. I thought the last two-plus innings the fastball was really dominant.”

When asked about the decision to bring Parker Caracci in the game, Bianco answered succinctly: “You’ve got one of the best closers in the country, so you better bring him in.”

The lone run in the game came in the Ole Miss half of the second inning when first baseman Cole Zabowski led off the inning with a 410-foot, “no-doubter,” home-run to right field.

Zabowski was waiting for the pitch. “After the fastball in, I knew there was a chance he would come with that off-speed after that, so I just looked for it up in the zone,” he said. “I got it. It was nice to not miss it,” he said smiling.

Zabowski explained what Alabama pitcher Sam Finnerty was doing to confound the Ole Miss hitters. “He was working both corners with his four seam and his two seam, and he had the slider working and the curve ball,” Zabowski said. “And he was also working the change up. He had four or five pitches going which really helped him.”

Zabowski also praised the Rebels pitching on the win. “Will was dominant today,” he said of pitcher Ethridge. “He was making all the pitches when he needed to. Miller worked really hard out there, and Caracci looked really good.” 

Game 2: Ole Miss 6, Alabama 8

(Click here for box score.)

After only one run scored Friday night, Saturday’s contest would prove to be quite different. Between the Rebels and the Tide, a total of 13 pitchers were used as neither team’s starter made it out of the second inning.

Alabama scored first, plating two runs in the second inning that chased Rebel starter Zack Phillips from the game after 1.2 innings pitched. 

With the Tide up 2-0, Ole Miss answered Bama’s runs in the bottom half of the inning, when the Rebels scored five. Grae Kessinger, Anthony Servideo and Ryan Olenek each notched an RBI single. Tyler Keenan’s ground-out also recorded an RBI, while Servideo scored on a wild pitch. 

After two complete, Ole Miss held a 5-2 lead—but the advantage was short-lived. The Crimson Tide regained the lead, going up 6-5 in the fourth inning after scoring four runs in the frame. 

In the sixth, Ole Miss tied the game at 6-6 when the speedy Servideo scored all the way from first on a fielding error by the Alabama second baseman. 

Unfortunately, Alabama broke the tie in the eighth, scoring two runs for what would ultimately be the final 8-6 score in the game. 

Ole Miss freshman Doug Nikhazy took the loss, falling 1-2 on the season.

Play of the game

The play of the game won’t be found in any box score, but it was a dandy. With the Rebels in trouble in the fourth inning, Alabama hitter Morgan McCollough hit a swinging bunt up the first base line. Ole Miss catcher Cooper Johnson sprang to his feet, ran 35 feet up the line, bare-handed the baseball, went horizontal and threw the ball side-arm to record the out. Johnson’s defensive contributions simply cannot be overstated. 

Despite that excellent play, Bianco didn’t mince words as to what he thought of the overall game. “Bad game. They (Alabama) got 13 hits and that was really the difference. They didn’t pitch it well and walked a lot of people, and so did we. It was just a bad baseball game. They doubled our hits so obviously they’re the winner.”

The Ole Miss head coach was asked what his postgame message was to his team. 

We need more performers. If you’re going to play in this league, you have to be a performer. We’re waiting too much. When you’re good, you get good nights from different people.

Ole Miss head coach Mike Bianco 

Game 3: Ole Miss 12, Alabama 2

(Click here for box score.)

Having split the first two games, Sunday’s contest would decide the series. The Rebel offense put together two huge innings Sunday that sealed the victory.

In the third frame, Ole Miss sent 11 batters to the plate en route to notching five hits and seven runs. Scoring came in the form of an Anthony Servideo RBI single, a Grae Kessinger two-RBI double, an RBI single from Thomas Dillard, a Tyler Keenan two-RBI single, and a Cooper Johnson RBI sacrifice fly.

The fifth inning was also productive for the Rebels. The big hit came off the bat of Kessinger, whose “seeing eye” double that fell safely to the ground in front of the Alabama center fielder plated Servideo, Jacob Adams and Johnson. For the day, Kessinger finished 3-for-4 with three doubles and a team-high five RBIs. 

Also in the fifth, Cooper Johnson picked-up his second RBI of the day, singling home Ryan Olenek, while Jacob Adams’ RBI single scored Tyler Keenan.

“We can explode,” Kessinger explained after the game. 

You just got to come every day with an aggressive mindset and get after pitches you know you can hit. We’ve been missing that big hit to get those rallies going. Today we were able to put those together, and that’s what makes us so dangerous. So it was good to see us do that.

Ole Miss shortstop Grae Kessinger

Kessinger was asked about the importance of winning an SEC series. “Definitely huge,” he replied. “Any time you get an SEC series win, it’s big. That’s what you’ve got to do, you’ve got to win weekends.”

On the mound

While the Rebels only scored in two innings, that was more than enough–especially given the Ole Miss pitching. Gunnar Hoglund, a 2018 first-round MLB draft pick, was outstanding in his first SEC win. 

Coach Bianco praised the performance of his true freshman pitcher. 

I thought he was good throughout. The fastball was tremendous today. It had great life, and it was explosive. Today he really looked like himself, pitched with a lot of confidence, mixed in a breaking ball and a change-up. (He had) just a ton of fastballs located really well today.

Coach Bianco on Gunnar Hoglund

Kessinger echoed his head coach on Hoglund’s pitching. “Gunnar was terrific. He controlled all of his pitches, in and out, to keep them off balance. When he does that, he’s got great stuff so it’s going to be hard to hit when he’s doing that.”

Hoglund, who thew 86 pitches over five innings, allowing just two hits and two walks, and striking out eight, discussed his performance.

“The first couple of innings, I thought it was going to be a pitching battle,” Hoglund said. “And then the offense opened up for us and gave me a big lead to work with.” 

Hoglund explained what was working for him in the win. “Getting ahead, working ahead is the big thing. The past outings I’ve been kind of falling behind a little bit. (When) you get fastball counts, the hitter can make a better swing on the ball. Today, my fastball had really good run on it so we stayed with that for most of the outing, and then worked in a change up here and there,” he commented. 

This whole outing I felt really good. I think it was the best I’ve felt since I got here.” 

Gunnar Hoglund

In relief, Austin Miller and Houston Roth continued to challenge Alabama hitters. Miller recorded five of his seven outs via strike outs, and Roth picked up a strikeout as well.

Taking a long view of the season, Bianco reflected on Roth’s appearance after a preseason injury. “If we’re going to make a long run at it, he’s obviously going to be a big piece of it,” the head coach said.

Quick Hits from Game Three

  • Ole Miss improves to 14-6 overall and 2-1 in SEC play.
  • Grae Kessinger posted his seventh multi-hit game of the season, going 3-for-4 with a career-high five RBI and a run scored.
  • Kessinger has reached base in each of the last eight games and is on a four-game hitting streak.
  • Gunnar Hoglund had the best game of his career, striking out eight, which matched his career total coming into the game.
  • Austin Miller struck out a career-high five batters. Heading into the game, his season-high was three and his career-high was five.
  • Ole Miss scored in double figures for the eighth time this season.
  • Ole Miss had double-digit hits for the 10th time this season.
  • Five hits allowed came as the second-fewest allowed by the Rebel pitching staff this season, just behind the four allowed in Friday’s 1-0 win over Alabama.The Rebel pitching staff combined for 14 strikeouts, tying for the second-most in a game this season.
  • Every Rebel starter scored a run in the game. All but one had a hit, and all but three had an RBI.

Next Up

The Rebels continue with home games this week against Arkansas-Pine Bluff on Tuesday at 6:30 p.m. and Wednesday at 4:00 p.m. The Red and Blue then hit the road for the first time in SEC play this season as they travel to Columbia, Missouri for Friday (6:00 p.m), Saturday (7:00 p.m) and Sunday (2:00 p.m) action against the Tigers.

About The Author

Chris Muller

Chris Muller is a 1995 Graduate of Ole Miss. He is a collegiate recreational sports professional currently residing in Arlington Texas with his wife of 19 years, Amber, and German Shorthaired Pointer, Sophie. Chris is an avid Ole Miss Baseball and Football fan. His hobbies include watching college football and baseball and playing poker with his friends.

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