By: Brian Scott Rippee
“The crowd started cheering. It just pumped me up and I was ready for it,” Woolfolk said.
The sophomore right-hander was tasked with cleaning up the mess, and did so by striking out the one, two and three hitters in the Pirate order, leaving the mound with a fist pump as he escaped the jam. He finished it off with two more strikeouts in the ninth and picked up a six-out save.
“I don’t know if i’ve ever seen a more dominant performance. I’m not sure there can be,” Bianco said. “With the situation and the talented team that he is facing, to strike out five out of six right there in the middle of their lineup, it was just terrific.”
Woolfolk pumped fastball after fastball by the Pirate hitters, topping out at 95 while mixing in a hard slider that he’s gained better command of over the last year.
“I started working on it really hard after Sean John(son) showed me a grip last year, and I have been messing with it ever since,” Woolfolk said. “I took it to summer ball, and it actually started there. I’ve been working with it ever since every day to try to make it the best pitch I could get it.”
It was the last of a number of efficient outings from the Ole Miss bullpen this weekend - one that allowed just two earned runs on six hits in 10.2 innings of work against an East Carolina team that returned seven starters from last year’s super regional team.
Will Stokes earned back-to-back saves in the first two games. Andy Pagnozzi came into the game on Satruday with Ole Miss trailing 2-0. He forced a ground ball that induced an inning-ending double play to get the Rebels out of a bases loaded jam, and keep them within striking distance. The four scoreless frames from the bullpen in game two helped secure a three-run comeback and a series win.
“We pitched well out of the bullpen and that wasn’t unexpected,” Bianco said. “With Stokes, Woolfolk, Green, and Pagnozzi - the returners - those are the guys that were in the pen last year. But also Rolison, Holston, Ethridge was warming up at the end and those freshmen got in, we felt good about the bullpen.”
The first couple of guys Bianco mentioned, made up a bullpen last season that kept Ole Miss from coming unglued through parts of the year as it struggled to find starting pitching. The bulk of that 2016 group consisted of freshmen that are back, and Bianco has had the luxury of adding arms like Rolison, Holston and Ethridge to an already deep pen with one of the most experienced guys in the SEC in Will Stokes at closer on the back end.
Three games is a small sample size, but it appears as if the bullpen will be a large asset to Bianco and the Rebels again this season. It is right-hand heavy. Ole Miss has just four left-handed pitchers on the roster with Parkinson being one of them in the rotation.
Rolison was the only lefty to come out of the bullpen this weekend. But it is a versatile group that gives Bianco a plethora of options late in games.
“I feel like we will have another good bullpen this year,” Woolfolk said. “A couple of freshmen that will be in there and can dominate. Ryan Rolison, Greer Holston and Will Ethridge too, everybody is good.”