Three straight shutouts. Four of them in six days. You rarely see that at any level of baseball. But with its 1-0 win Sunday against Furman, Ole Miss has now allowed no runs in four of its last five games.
In addition to the one-run win in the finale, the Rebels beat the Paladins 5-0 Saturday afternoon and 2-0 Friday night. Last week they beat Georgia State Tuesday 1-0 and lost to the Panthers 2-0 on Wednesday, that one in 11 innings.
The last time Ole Miss swept a weekend series with three shutouts was in 2004. Ironically the team this year’s Rebels play next – Nicholls State in Biloxi Tuesday at 7 p.m. – was the victim 13 seasons ago to that no-run sweep.
So where do we focus? On the fact that the pitching has been absolutely stellar recently? And the defense has been more than adequate also? Or do we talk hitting and scoring or the lack thereof of both?
I firmly believe these young hitters will eventually hit the baseball and the runs will come. I believe they will adjust to the pitching they are seeing at this level and will be productive. We already know there are plenty of good hitters on this Rebel team.
The stat that might jump out after this game is that the Rebels scored one run on nine hits. So they are putting the ball in play. And get this: the nine hits were by nine different players.
Will Golsan, Ryan Olenek, Tate Blackman, Colby Bortles, Thomas Dillard, Kyle Watson, Cooper Johnson, and Grae Kessinger all had hits. All of them singles.
Michael Fitzsimmons had a single, too, but his was the one that counted most. After Watson got a base hit and moved to second on a sac bunt by Johnson, it was Fitzsimmons’s single that drove Watson home for the winning – and only – run of the contest.
In the 5-0 UM win Saturday it was Fitzsimmons who had a two-run homer to put the Rebels up early in that one. Getting production out of not often used veterans is key while the younger players grow up. And if Fitz can keep producing, and he likely will, then that is all the better for this ballclub.
The Colonels of Nicholls State are 9-6 on the season and took the back two of a three-game set this weekend at Northwestern State.
The Rebels, meanwhile, will see if the gulf coast is more to their offensive liking than anywhere else recently. MGM Park, home of the Milwaukee Brewers AA affiliate the Biloxi Shuckers, is the venue for it.
Ole Miss improved to 11-5 on the season and is a breakout offensive game from being back on track. When will that be? Vanderbilt in Oxford is up after NSU starting Friday night. In other words, it needs to be soon.
Ole Miss freshman right-hander Greer Holston
On his day: “It felt great to come back after my first start and pitch the way I can, and it’s great to have a defense like I did today. They made tons of plays for me. Grae (Kessinger), Colby (Bortles), Cole (Zabowski), and of course Cooper (Johnson) staying positive with me the whole time. When I’d pull a pitch he would say ‘Calm down and make the next pitch’ and that’s exactly what happened.” On a weekend start as opposed to a midweek start or relieving: “Coach (Bianco) told me on Thursday that it was a possibility for me to start. It’s not really any different. It’s just the weekend. It’s just a day. Your main goal is to go out and get the win, and that’s what we did. We got the win and at the end of the day we’re all happy.” On the team not putting up many runs, some of that due to the opposing pitchers: “It makes us pitch better and want to compete better with the guy in the other dugout. If he’s pitching well, why can’t we pitch well?” On the Rebels playing on the gulf coast where he’s from: “I’ve been to the park a couple of times and it’s an awesome ballpark. It’s going to be a little emotional going down there and seeing everybody in the stands and seeing all my old coaches. I’m excited about it.”
Ole Miss shortstop Grae Kessinger
On the team getting nine hits and perhaps breaking out a bit offensively: “That’s one thing coach said, just try to put at-bats together. We’re getting runners on, we’re just missing that one hit. We had nine hits. It’s baseball and you’ve just got to go one pitch at a time and win as many pitches as you can.” On winning games while the offense improves: “Of course you want to be successful at the plate and in all aspects of the game. At times like this you have to keep battling and competing and doing what you can to find a way to win. And we were able to today.” On his defense: “You don’t want to carry how your offense is doing over to your defense or vice versa. Just one pitch at a time and one play at a time. Whatever it takes to find ways to win.”
Ole Miss head coach Mike Bianco
On the offense getting nine hits but only one run, and hitting into five double plays: “Certainly more hits and some better swings. Some of the double plays were caused because the approach wasn’t good. Some of them are just baseball. Some of that you’ve got to break through. Certainly today wasn’t an easy day on the offensive side.” On the pitching: “I think we held them to ten or less hits on the weekend, and I’m not sure they had an extra base hit. That’s about as dominant as you can be on the mound against a team that came in and can hit and had really good offensive numbers. One through nine in their lineup coming in was .279. You’re talking about a team that’s hitting over .300, that’s averaging eight runs a game, and our guys answered it and pitched well all week.” On Greer Holston: “Terrific. Awesome. The first inning a couple of walks, just some nervous energy. But he was able to bear down and get back in there and find his motion again. After that he was super tough. Hard to ask much more than what he gave us today.” On playing a game on the Mississippi gulf coast: “We’re excited to go down there and play in the ballpark. We haven’t seen it but hear it is a beautiful park. And a lot of our fans will get to see us play who don’t normally get to see us play that much.”
OXFORD, Miss. – (Ole Miss SID) The No. 14 Ole Miss baseball team completed a perfect weekend on the mound by shutting out Furman 1-0 Sunday afternoon at Swayze Field. Michael Fitzsimmons delivered a pinch-hit single in the eighth for the game’s only run, and the Rebels (11-5) held the Paladins (8-7) scoreless for the entire weekend to earn their third three-game sweep of the 2017 season.
Ole Miss completed a five-game homestand with four shutout victories. Keeping Furman without a run, the Rebels posted a three-game series shutout for the first time since March 12-14, 2004 (vs. Nicholls).
Making just the second start of his career, freshman Greer Holston tossed 7.0 scoreless innings and struck out six; both marks were personal bests for the young Rebel. Holston limited the Paladins to only two hits, while walking a pair as well. Sophomore Andy Pagnozzi (2-0) earned the win in relief, striking out all three hitters he faced in a perfect eighth inning. Fellow classmate Dallas Woolfolk (4) finished the deal to add to his save total.
Along with Fitzsimmons’ game-winning single off the bench, eight Rebels in the starting lineup recorded a hit. Ole Miss was able to get a runner on base in seven of its eight innings at the plate, but five double plays helped Furman stay in the game throughout its entirety.
Furman starting pitcher Matthew Quarles allowed seven hits over 7.0 innings of work, but he forced five groundball twin-killings to get out of jam after jam. The Paladins were held to three hits, all coming from the top three hitters in their lineup.
After issuing a pair of two-out walks in the first, Holston got out of the inning and was masterful from there. He followed with four consecutive 1-2-3 innings and only allowed two infield singles throughout his first weekend start. The freshman looked comfortable on his way to a scoreless outing, but Quarles matched him with zeroes as well. Through the first seven innings of play, the game was tied 0-0.
Pagnozzi came out of the bullpen to start the eighth, ending Holston’s impressive outing of scoreless baseball. The sophomore continued what his teammate started, striking out the side and keeping Furman off the board.
The Rebels broke the scoring drought in the bottom half of the inning. Kyle Watson singled to right field before advancing to second on a well-placed sacrifice bunt by catcher Cooper Johnson. With one out and the go-ahead run in scoring position, head coach Mike Bianco elected to send Tim Rowe to the plate as a pinch-hitter. The move caused Furman to bring in southpaw Billy Greenfield for the lefty-lefty matchup. However, the cat-and-mouse game continued as Bianco countered by sending Fitzsimmons to the dish to replace Rowe. The veteran coach knew what he was doing as the decision paid off. With Watson breaking for third on a hit-and-run, Fitzsimmons smacked a base hit into left. Rounding third, the speedy Watson scored easily to give Ole Miss the run it was looking for all afternoon.
The Paladins didn’t give up in their last at-bats. A walk and a single off Woolfolk put the tying run and go-ahead run on base with one out. After a groundout to Watson at shortstop, Furman had two runners in scoring position with two outs. Facing the pressure, Woolkfolk delivered a groundball to second baseman Tate Blackman, who made the easy flip to first for the game’s final out. The play wrapped up a weekend in which Ole Miss pitching went 27.0 innings without allowing a single run.
Ole Miss will hit the road to begin next week, traveling south to MGM Park in Biloxi, Mississippi for a neutral site matchup with Nicholls (March 14). First pitch from the home of the Biloxi Shuckers is scheduled for 7 p.m. The game will not be televised, but you can listen live on the Ole Miss IMG Sports Network.