Ryan Rolison (Photo credit: Austin Beecher/Nicholls Athletics)

Rebels' Freshmen Pitchers Have Matured Quickly and Assumed Large Roles

Tate Blackman noticed something about freshman pitcher Ryan Rolison in Saturday's 3-2 loss to LSU in the series finale, and it came at in an unexpected moment.

Rolison had just flipped a hanging breaking ball over the plate to LSU's Greg Deichmann, who promptly deposited it into the right field seats to give LSU a 2-1 lead in the third inning, but the freshman lefty never flinched.

"The way he asked for the ball back," Blackman said. "I always look a pitchers and how they take that. He was ready to get back in there and strike out the next batter, or even face Deichmann again. He looked composed. Home runs are going to happen. We are all human. You mess up a pitch and they're going to make you pay for it. He composes himself well."

Rolison showed no raw emotion, frustration or distain. He grabbed the baseball back and was ready to toe the rubber again. It was the only major mistake he made in the game, and he didn't compound it with another. It was a small sign of the maturity that Rolison and a host of the freshmen pitchers on this team have shown this year. But it was one that caught the eye of a team captain.

"That's the biggest thing I think I have improved on coming to college," Rolison said. "I went through the fall and kind of got hit around a little bit. That really matured me as a pitcher, and just staying in the game and just making the next pitch, not letting the inning blow up on you."

The command has been there too, especially with his off-speed stuff that's allowed him to get in favorable counts.

"A lot of SEC teams are really aggressive early in counts," Rolison said. "So if you can get an off speed (pitch) in there early and get ahead, that will put you in the best situation to get outs."

Rolison has brought stability to the back end of Ole Miss' rotation, something that Mike Bianco hasn't had the last couple of seasons. Instead he was forced to used number of different guys as temporary plugs on Sundays, some successful and some not. It took away from his bullpen when he had to use Andy Pagnozzi and Wyatt Short last year, and Scott Weathersby the year before that. But with Rolison's consistency, the rotation is becoming more concrete, and guys are settling into roles in the bullpen. It's also helped that fellow freshman Greer Holston - who tossed six innings of two-hit baseball last week against Southern Miss - has come into his own in the midweek.

"I think the biggest thing, and it is the most obvious thing, is that they are very talented," Mike Bianco said. "They're really good pitchers and we knew that coming in. But they've handled it. A lot of times when you get here as a freshman it is a little more difficult to have success because of the competition. I think the pressures of college baseball and the SEC and what all of those things bring, for some guys it is a little more difficult for them. I think for the first time in their careers, it's the first time they've ever struggled. But these guys have handled it really well."

Despite dropping two of three in Baton Rouge, the freshmen pitched well. Will Ethridge came into the game in the seventh inning of Ole Miss' 4-1 win on Friday, and stranded two base runners in what ended up being LSU's best chance to close the gap. He induced two ground balls in the biggest moment of his young career, and then turned it over to Dallas Woolfolk shortly after in the eighth. Ethridge said he relished the moment. He blocked out the crowd and it helped him focus even harder on making pitches. He didn't deny that it was hard, but it also gave him a thrill.

"I think I could describe it in two words. It was difficult, but it was also exciting to see a crowd get into a game like that and hearing their cheers," Ethridge said. "I wasn't nervous at all, but I think the crowd fueled me a little bit more. I didn't feel any jitters out there. I felt a good, smooth delivery and just wanted to make pitches to get outs."

All three of the aforementioned freshmen arms have sub-three earned run averages. All three have thrown at least 30 innings. Rolison and Ethridge have issued just nine walks this season, and Holston's only surrendered 10.

They've assumed valuable roles in their first year, and are still learning as they go. But they're maturing also and it's helped Ole Miss build one of the best pitching staffs in the SEC.

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