Will Ethridge and Dallas Woolfolk did about all they could. So did Andy Pagnozzi and Houston Roth. But at some point you have to hit, walk, score runs, and the Ole Miss offense has become a head-scratcher, unlike we’ve seen in a long time.
Bottom line. Few are hitting. And nobody’s scoring. Since the Houston tourney, where they didn’t score much either, they’ve scored one run in two games. That’s 19 innings since they didn’t bat in the ninth of a 1-0 win against Georgia State Tuesday and didn’t score in an 11-inning loss Wednesday.
The latest was a 2-0 setback to GSU as the Rebels fell to 8-5. Only ten days ago they were 7-0 and those now scratching their heads were using their hands to applaud.
Pitching and defense can take you only so far when your offense has gone into the tank, for however long it stays there. A decent Furman team with reported good pitching arrives tomorrow for three games beginning Friday.
Back to Ethridge. He’s a member of that all-star class the Rebels brought in last summer. Less than a month into the season and you can see what the tall, rangy, talented right-hander is all about. Frankie Piliere, national prospect writer for D-1 baseball and a former MLB scout said this on twitter Wednesday night: “There might not be a better midweek starter in the country than Ethridge. Big arm with advanced command.”
The Rebels have three good starters on the weekend. If at any time one flinches for long, Ethridge is right there to move in. So could Tuesday’s starter Ryan Rollison, the lefty. But there’s something about Ethridge and I’ve maintained that since he arrived in Oxford last summer.
And nobody has been more dominant on the mound this season than Woolfolk. He has become so far this spring that guy who, when he trots out there to pitch, you know he’s going to get it done.
Certainly that’s not the case for the offense. And after the loss to the Panthers, the Rebels know they need to get it back in gear in a hurry. Ole Miss head coach Mike Bianco has been around college baseball for more than 30 years. He’s seen times when things were just not happening for a team. And they eventually turn.
But this Ole Miss team doesn’t need to lose any more ground and any more games before Southeastern Conference play. What they need is four straight wins and some offensive confidence and production to return with three against the Paladins and a Tuesday night game next week in Biloxi against Nicholls State before Vandy arrives.
Will they? We’ll see. We know the talent is there and they are capable. Somehow they just need to recapture the offense of the East Carolina weekend. It’s there, they just have to find it again.
A note: Team captains Colby Bortles and Tate Blackman were dressed out Wednesday but did not play for the second game in a row. Bianco said Wednesday night he didn’t have a comment on when they might be available again.
Ole Miss head coach Mike Bianco
On the offensive struggles the past several games: “It’s tough. It happens. Unfortunately it’s happened here and pretty dramatically. It’s one thing to not hit on the weekend because we faced some good pitchers and some guys who can really pitch and that are used to bigtime baseball. But here (against GSU) we should have done much better. And I’m not taking anything away from Georgia State. They played great, pitched great and competed really hard. But to get three hits in 11 innings, you can’t expect to win a baseball game.” On if there is anything they see or can fix currently: “If there was, we’d fix it. It’s tough, and that’s why you hope you don’t get to this point. Just keep competing and fighting. A team that was really offensive ten days ago all of a sudden now isn’t. You can all of a sudden get a couple of base hits, and now you’re back. But certainly we just didn’t look well the last two days. Not enough good swings. Last night I was kind of OK with some lineouts, some long fly balls. Today we didn’t have much of that. Today we struggled to get good swings off.” On Ethridge: “He pitched deeper into the game (this week) and had more command of the game. We threw a lot of sliders, and his slider is so good. They were so aggressive to the fast ball that kind of played into it.” On his team’s pitching and defense: “We talked to the pitchers and really challenged them Tuesday pregame about pitching better with runners in scoring position and not just pitching good enough. Pitching to win games like this. We won 1-0 and we hung in there today. We made pitches and got off the field, and certainly that was a bright spot. All those guys continue to pitch well.”
OXFORD, Miss. – (Ole Miss SID) In a game that remained scoreless through nine innings and forced extra baseball, No. 14 Ole Miss fell 2-0 to Georgia State Wednesday at Swayze Field. Despite a dominating performance from Rebel freshman pitcher Will Ethridge, the Panthers (7-5) scored a pair of runs in the 11th inning to claim the second game of the midweek series.
After striking out 10 over 5.0 innings in his Ole Miss debut two weeks ago, Ethridge was even better in his second start as a Rebel. The Liburn, Georgia, native sent down the first 17 hitters he faced and finished the night with 7.2 scoreless innings of work. He faced just two over the minimum during his time on the rubber, allowing only two hits to go along with 10 strikeouts and zero walks.
At the top of the lineup, Ryan Olenek and Will Golsan recorded the hits for Ole Miss (8-5). Olenek went 2-for-4 to earn his team-leading fourth multi-hit game of the season.
Four Ole Miss pitchers limited Georgia State to five hits through the 11-inning contest. Mike Huggins produced at the bottom of the lineup with two hits, while shortstop Justin Jones knocked in the only two runs of the game on a double in the final frame. Sidearm pitcher Logan Barnette (2-0) worked 4.0 innings of relief to earn the victory, and Rhett Harper (2) closed the game for the Panthers.
Ethridge was perfect through the first 5.2 innings, retiring 17 straight hitters and striking out seven of them. The freshman’s perfect game was broken up with a single to center in the top of the sixth. However, there was no threat from the Panthers as Cooper Johnson threw the runner out trying to advance on a wild pitch.
In the top of the eighth, Ethridge allowed just his second hit of the game on a base hit up the middle. With a rare runner on base, GSU elected to move him over on a sacrifice bunt. Working the next batter to a full count, Ethridge let one get away as it plunked the Panther at the plate. The sequence ended the day for Ethridge as head coach Mike Bianco brought Andy Pagnozzi out of the bullpen. After Pagnozzi issued a walk to load the bases, Dallas Woolfolk entered the contest in an effort to get the Rebels out of the bases-loaded jam. The hard-throwing righty did just that, sending the GSU second baseman down on strikes to keep the game tied at zero.
The game continued into extras without a single run coming across. In the bottom of the 10th, Ole Miss saw its best opportunity to score and win the game. Grae Kessinger walked to start the inning, and Nick Fortes placed a sac bunt in front of the mound to advance his teammate into scoring position. Golsan reached on a fielder’s choice as Fortes was thrown out at second before Olenek walked to load the bases. However, on a 3-2 pitch, Barnette hit the inside bottom corner of the strikezone to send the contest into the night.
Georgia State finally got to Woolfolk in the 11th as three hits, including two doubles, led to the game’s two runs. With nobody out, freshman Houston Roth came out of the bullpen and kept the margin at 2-0. Nonetheless, Harper retired the side in the bottom half to give the visitors the extra-innings win.
Following the midweek series with Georgia State, Ole Miss will host Furman (March 10-12) in the final non-conference weekend series before the start of SEC play. All three games will be broadcast live on SECN+ and can be heard on the Ole Miss IMG Sports Network.