Bases loaded: Rebels sweep Dirtbags, improve to 8-2 on the year

Posted on Mar 4 2019 - 5:50am by Josh Gollihar

Ole Miss baseball prevented Long Beach State from collecting its first win of the season, with clutch hitting from familiar faces and unknown heroes, allowing the Rebels to slip past the Dirtbags.

First base: Austin Miller is having the best season of any Ole Miss pitcher.

Ole Miss outfielder Thomas Dillard went 4-of-12 at the plate in the series against Long Beach State. Dillard hit a walk off home run in game two on Saturday, giving the Rebels a 7-6 victory. Photo by Christian Johnson

Austin Miller was the third pitcher to enter Friday’s game for Ole Miss. After Houston Roth surrendered two runs in the fifth inning, Miller replaced him. The junior finished the last 4.0 innings of the game, earning his second win of the season.

He has appeared in every weekend series for the Rebels, with four appearances total. In 10.1 innings pitched, he has surrendered a single run and struck out seven. With starting pitching being questionable at best to this point, and with Houston Roth’s slow start, Miller and Max Cioffi have proven to be reliable inning eaters.

Second base: The starting rotation took a step toward improvement.

The starting rotation was back to its normal makeup for the first time since opening weekend. Will Ethridge’s absence due to a blister on his throwing hand forced head coach Mike Bianco to shuffle his rotation in the series against Tulane.

In his two starts, Ethridge has allowed no earned runs. However, he has only thrown 8.2 innings. Bianco limited his Friday outing to 3.0 innings and only 32 pitches. The pitch count was a precaution against the return of Ethridge’s throwing-hand blister.

Photo by Christian Johnson

Zack Phillips got his third start of the season on Saturday in a walk-off win against Long Beach State. This was the best outing of the junior college transfer’s short stint with the Rebels. His 5.0 innings and five strikeouts were both season highs. His performance lowered his earned run average from 10.29 to 6.35. The lefty needed to perform well before his spot in the rotation came under question.

Freshman Gunnar Hoglund took the mound in his familiar third spot in the rotation. The freshman spread six hits across 5.0 innings of work, allowing a single run. The one run he surrendered was a solo home run, but other than that blip on the radar, Hoglund seems to be adjusting quickly to his role as an SEC starting pitcher.

The one caveat to the rotation’s strong weekend performance is the poor quality of the opponent. Long Beach State entered the weekend with a record of 0-7, and they left with a record of 0-10. The Dirtbags had a team batting average of .156 coming into the matchup in Oxford. The team had scored 10 runs. This version of the Dirtbags is not of the same quality that they have been in year’s past. Having a mostly positive pitching performance against a middling offense is nothing to celebrate.

Despite this, Bianco recognizes that, while Phillips and Hoglund do not earn wins in the record book, they showed good form.

“Best outing of the year,” Bianco said about Hoglund. “He pitched with a lot more confidence. Phillips looked good too. It is unfortunate that neither one gets the win.”

Third base: Ryan Olenek and Thomas Dillard are acting as life preservers.

While the lineup has produced big innings, they can go innings without threatening the opposition. The two trusty bats in the lineup are usually the catalysts of the scoring output. Ryan Olenek and Thomas Dillard are locked in a competition to see who can outhit the other. Olenek finished the series against Long Beach State with an average of .475, and Dillard finished with an average of .436.

Dillard secured a win in the first game on Saturday with a walk-off homer to right center field. The solo shot was the only hit he had in the game, proving that his bat can affect the game at any plate appearance.

Photo by Christian Johnson

The ball he hit out was a 3-0 fastball, the pitcher’s attempt at a strike over the plate. Dillard knew that he was going to get a pitch to hit because of the way that the pitcher was attacking him.

“On 2-0, he threw a ball inside,” Dillard recalled. “If he is going to try and throw it there, I am going to be ready.”

At the plate: Justin Bench clinches the sweep.

Both games during the doubleheader were decided late. Dillard performed his heroics in the early game. The hero in the nightcap was true freshman Justin Bench. In only the third plate appearance of his career, Bench singled home two runs in the eighth inning, breaking the tie.

Bench entered the game for Michael Fitzsimmons, who pinch hit for Jacob Adams. The hit could prove valuable a few months from now when RPI calculations start deciding national seeding. Ole Miss needed to sweep the struggling Long Beach State. Bench delivered in a big way.