Ole Miss fans really needed some good news over the weekend, and the baseball team delivered by picking up its second sweep over a ranked opponent in as many weeks. The Diamond Rebs cruised past UNC-Wilmington, moving to a perfect 7-0 and into the No. 1 spot in the early RPI rankings.
The sweep, which included a thrilling eighth-inning rally on Saturday and a near-collapse on Sunday, is an impressive feat for this young Ole Miss club. The Seahawks made the NCAA Tourney last season after winning the CAA and are the preseason favorites to win the conference again this year. They entered the weekend 3-0 and ranked No. 24 in the country by D1 Baseball.
But Ole Miss controlled the series much the same same way it did against a top-10 ECU club last weekend, leaning on solid pitching, timely hitting and steady contributions from its incredibly talented freshmen class.
Let’s run through the weekend...
Scores and highlights
Friday: Ole Miss 7, UNCW 2
Saturday: Ole Miss 8, UNCW 4
Sunday: Ole Miss 8, UNCW 6
4 things you should know
1. Ole Miss came from behind again on Saturday.
Up 3-1 on the back of an impressive start from James McArthur, the Rebels seemed to be cruising to a win in the late going on Saturday. But star closer Will Stokes ran into trouble in the eighth, putting a pair of men on before giving up a three-run homer that catapulted the Seahawks to a 4-3 lead.
But the Rebels, which came from behind in all three of their opening-weekend wins against ECU, didn’t blink. Freshman Grae Kessinger started the bottom of the eighth with a walk, moved to second on a sac bunt and came around to score the game-tying run when Tate Blackman ripped a single back up the middle.
A groundout put the second out on the board, which brought up Bryan Seamster, a freshman with just one career at-bat who’d entered the game as a pinch runner in the previous inning. Rather than swap him out with a more experienced hitter, Mike Bianco let him hit.
Seamster made that move look pretty damn smart.
In total, Ole Miss piled up five runs in the bottom of the eighth to turn what appeared to be a frustrating L into a comfortable W.
2. The freshmen are still balling out.
Seamster wasn’t the only frosh to leave the park over the weekend. Thomas Dillard, who hit more homers than any other high schooler in the country last season, absolutely obliterated a ball to help polish off Friday’s win.
Shortstop Grae Kessinger had three hits in Game 1, first basemen Cole Zabowski hammered two more RBI, catcher Cooper Johnson continued to dazzle with his defense behind the plate and three freshmen pitchers combined for two innings of one-hit ball on Saturday.
Check out the offensive numbers for the top freshmen through the first two weeks of their careers:
It’s not like they’re just padding their stats against bad opponents either. These fellas are
gonna be good.
3. Tate Blackman and Colby Bortles broke out of their slumps.
The preseason All-SEC duo came into the weekend with just three combined hits, and their batting averages hit a low point after going a combined 0-7 on Friday night. But their bats woke up over the next two days, mashing out four hits apiece. Blackman delivered the clutch, game-tying RBI on Saturday. Bortles, who led the team in doubles last season, hit two of those on Saturday and knocked his second homer of the season on Sunday.
In span of eight at-bats, Blackman boosted his batting average from .118 to .240, while Bortles climbed all the way from .063 to .208. If that pair can provide consistency at the top of the lineup to compliment the precocious freshmen, this offense is gonna be deadly.
4. There’s a new ‘stache in town.
Tim Rowe, a junior JUCO transfer who picked up his first career start and first career hits on Sunday, has some damn impressive bristle batons.
We’re not ready to move him in front of Sikes Orvis on the all-time lip foliage list, though apparently Whisky & Meat himself voted for Rowe in a Twitter poll.
By the way, we chatted with Sikes during last week’s podcast. Listen here.