No. 4 Ole Miss baseball takes weekend series 2-1 against No. 5 Arkansas at Swayze

Posted on Apr 2 2018 - 5:50am by Josh Gollihar

Ole Miss and Arkansas duked it out at Swayze Field over the weekend in a showing that proved both teams as College World Series contenders. Entering the matchup ranked as high as fourth nationally, the Rebels came away with the series win against the fifth-ranked Razorbacks after claiming wins on Friday and Saturday.

The top-five matchup drew the fifth-largest crowd in Swayze Field history to Saturday’s game, and the 11,146 fans in attendance witnessed a game as competitive as the rankings would suggest. A total of 40 runs were scored over the course of the weekend series that was decided by only four.

Although Arkansas outhit Ole Miss in each game, it was the Rebels’ ability to take advantage when runners reached base that ultimately made the difference. Over the course of the weekend the Ole Miss’ pitching staff stranded 27 Razorbacks on base, while the Rebel offense left only 15 of its own stranded.

Will Golsan (8) rounds the bases from second after a home run during Saturday’s game against Arkansas. The Rebels won 11-10, winning the series 2-1. Photo by Tucker Robbins

Offensive fireworks were put on display by both teams, but the most valuable player of the series has to go to newly-cemented Ole Miss closer Parker Caracci. When coach Mike Bianco saw multi-run leads dwindle away on Friday and Saturday, there was no hesitation to call upon his right-handed flamethrower to close it out. Caracci produced a six-out save on Friday and a five-out save to clinch the series on Saturday.

Since game two against Texas A&M, Caracci has tallied four saves over eight days. His ability to locate a mid-90’s mph fastball keeps hitters off balance and means very few hitters can make solid contact. Almost everyone would have guessed this would be Dallas Woolfolk’s spot coming into the season, but Bianco has found lightning in a bottle and must continue to harness it.

On offense, Ryan Olenek was the catalyst at the top of the order and notched seven hits over the weekend, including a double in each game. With a lot of the top guys in the lineup struggling this weekend, Olenek stepped up in a big way.

Backing up Olenek’s hits was Cole Zabowski, who had one of the better series of his time at Ole Miss. Adding two more home runs to his resume, the 6-foot-5 sophomore’s average continues to climb, and now sits at .333. Zabowski’s emergence at the plate this season allows Coach Bianco confidence in his start at first base.

The weekend series showed that while the offense was on fire, the Rebels’ starting rotation needs to become more reliable. Both Brady Feigl and James McArthur were credited with wins, but it was McArthur who was clearly the best on the weekend. Feigl went 5.1 innings in his win, only allowing two runs. However, he gave up seven hits and four walks which led to a high pitch count. McArthur lasted 6 innings in his appearance and surrendered three runs on only four hits. However, two were home runs, which Arkansas is known for. More notably, as assistant coach Mike Clement pointed out in the postgame, the most glaring piece of evidence of how good McArthur was on Saturday is what transpired when he left: an onslaught of seven runs in three innings.

Ryan Olenek (2) slides into home plate during Saturday’s game against Arkansas. The Rebels won 11-10, winning the series 2-1. Photo by Tucker Robbins

While Feigl and McArthur have been relatively sound, the ace of the staff has been subdued early on in SEC play. After entering the year with the eyes of MLB scouts upon him, Ryan Rolison suffered his third loss of the season on Thursday.

Strikeouts have not been an issue for him this season, and he added another eight against Arkansas. The problem lied in the nine hits and five runs he gave up, which proved to be the difference in Thursday’s game. His struggles have not hampered the team to this point (the team has won each series in which Rolison has a loss), but the road will  only get harder as conference play continues, and Bianco will need to see his ace start to dominate lineups.

At the end of the weekend, another test came up and the Rebels passed once again. Ole Miss has solidified itself as a championship-caliber team with a 25-4 record and 6-3 conference record. Boasting road series wins over Long Beach State and Texas A&M, the Rebels have also seen Tennessee and Arkansas fall victim to Ole Miss at home. The Rebel resume is good as any team’s in the country, with the next test coming Tuesday at Memphis before a weekend road series against the in-state rivals from Starkville. Tuesday’s first pitch is set for 6:30 p.m. in Memphis.

Grae Kessinger (15) slides into third base during Saturday’s game against Arkansas. The Rebels won 11-10, winning the series 2-1. Photo by Tucker Robbins