Dallas Woolfolk (Josh McCoy)

Sophomore Closer Dallas Woolfolk is the Biggest gun in the Ole Miss Bullpen

Dallas Woolfolk was not the anticipated closer on this Ole Miss team coming into the season.

But a sizzling fastball with some cut to it, and increased stamina have helped him assume an expanded role in the the Rebels' pen, one that also includes closing games. He's got six saves this season, which leads the team. Will Stokes is second with four, but most of those came early in the year before the junior righty hit a tough stretch and was taken out of the role of closer. 

Woolfolk didn't waste any time getting people's attention. He inherited the bases loaded in the series finale against East Carolina, and proceeded to blow fastball after fastball by three Pirate hitters, striking out the side and preserving an 8-6 win and a sweep.  It was a performance that prompted Mike Bianco to call it one of the most dominant outings he has ever seen.

Woolfolk leads the team in appearances with 17. He leads all relievers in strikeouts (28), innings pitched (25.1) and earned run average (1.07). Opponents are hitting just .138 off of the the powerful right-hander, and have had a woeful time catching up to his fastball that has touched 96 mph and is complemented by a hard slider and an off-speed pitch that can dip below 80. He's surrendered just 12 hits that have amounted to three earned runs this season. He's comfortable being put in tight situations that call for him to go long than your prototypical closer, like the six-out save he recorded on Sunday against Alabama.

Ole Miss pitcher Dallas Woolfolk (Photo credit: Petre Thomas)

"Just starting in the offseason working hard every day, and getting mentally tough for the season," Woolfolk. "Each time you go out there it's about having faith and believing you are going to get the job done no matter what."

He's has been taxed pretty heavily this season, and part of that is due to his ability to miss barrels, and get the team out of tight spots. At practice on Monday Bianco reflected back on some of the great ones to come out of that left field bullpen during his time at  Ole Miss, and said Woolfolk is certainly among them. 

"He's as good as anybody we've had," Bianco said. "With the lack of runs and needing to win, there has been times where we might not have used some of those other guys like Biddle, or Morgan or Head. But because of the situation, in a short span of time he's come in more games when we didn't have the lead where it is tied or we are behind. You have to do that sometimes, but we have done it a lot over the last three or four weeks. The great thing about Dallas is that he is always ready. He never complains and you're going to get the same guy every day."

The heavy workload hasn't had any visible effects on him though. Woolfolk said at practice on Monday that he feels even stronger than when the season started. He's worked with trainer Josh Porter and strength coach Ben Fleming on getting stronger and healthier in any way possible. It's a regimen so specific that it includes drinking cherry juice to quickly reduce any inflammation in his arm.

"I started off feeling strong and it feels like I keep getting even stronger as the season goes on," Woolfolk said. "Just kind of like working out, the more you throw it seems like the harder it hits."

Though it may seem like Woolfolk's electric fastball is the same mystifying pitch every time out, he admitted that some days are better than others in terms of his stuff.

"Some days it's flat some days it's not," Woolfolk said. "It just depends."

It certainly hasn't been noticeable amongst his teammates and Woolfolk's velocity hasn't dropped at all since the season began. If an upper 90's fastball with movement isn't hard enough to hit, Woolfolk's ability to move it on either side of the plate makes it nearly impossible to square it up. He's walked two batters this season.

"He is so good at locating the ball that he makes it easy on me," catcher Nick Fortes said. "I put my glove up and he hits it for the most part. I think it makes it easy knowing that you have a pitcher that can put it where he wants it."

Fortes has earned more playing time in recent weeks because of his bat, and that is just fine with Woolfolk.

"Me and Nick played together over the summer and really grew a relationship,"  Woolfolk said. "He caught every game I started in the summer and is just all around a great catcher."

It's the work that Woolfolk puts in off of the field that's allowed him to absorb a larger workload this season, and it is just as rewarding as the work he's put in on the field. 

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