The No. 15-ranked Ole Miss Rebels traveled to Greenville, N.C. for it’s first road trip of the season and took the Keith LeClair Classic by storm.
Facing High Point on Friday, Top-20 East Carolina on Saturday, and an Indiana team off of a 2019 Big 10 title and regional appearance, it wasn’t exactly an easy weekend, and it didn’t play out as a cake walk. However, the Rebels found its bats in key situations and rode one of the most complete weekend rotations in the nation to a three-day sweep.
Let’s take a look at the weekend
Doug Day was business as usual.
Ole Miss faced High Point to begin the weekend and started off on the right note, despite being out-hit eight to six. It wasn’t flashy, it wasn’t a run-fest, but it was a good win over lesser opponent.
Tyler Keenan started the party back in his home state with a two-run shot three batters in.
When Ole Miss gets up two runs in the first inning against a team like High Point, it’s hard to see them falling behind. Some situational hitting by Anthony Servideo, Keenan and Cael Baker extended the lead to 3-0, and Doug Nikhazy kept the peace through four innings.
After sitting down each of the Panthers on the first time through the lineup and extending his no-hit streak to 9.1 consecutive innings, the juice started to fade. The throwing motion was sound and Nikhazy stayed on his spots, but a little bit came off of his fastball and he lost some movement on his breaking balls.
A quick single and a pair of walks loaded the bases for High Point in the bottom of the fifth, and a deep single scored two runs, cutting Ole Miss’ lead to one. As the only runs Nikhazy allowed, his day would end in the sixth inning after throwing 5.2 frames, allowing just four hits and one walk, with five strikeouts. It was a solid outing for the Friday starter who simply had one inning get away from him. Mike Bianco will take that final line each and every week.
The offense backed its starter with three insurance runs, Austin Miller and Taylor Broadway shut the door on the mound, and Ole Miss won 6-2.
Hog Day was assertive.
Saturday’s bout with No. 17 East Carolina was the prize fight of the weekend’s tournament and played out in front of a thunderous Pirates crowd.
The game began in favor of the home team when the Rebels allowed a run on two errors in the first inning, but that wouldn’t last long. Tim Elko drove home the tying run in the second inning, and moments later, Jerrion Ealy lined a sacrifice fly up the middle to score the captain and a crucial second run.
The buck stopped there. Gunnar Hoglund was spectacular.
The surging sophomore continued his reign of terror on Saturday and is confidently the most complete pitcher on the staff. He threw six innings with no earned runs on five hits and one walk. Oh, and he struck out eight in the effort. NBD.
In Hoglund’s relief, Max Cioffi was inconsiderate and Braden Forsyth closed out the ninth.
The staff’s final line: 9.0 IP, 6 H, 1 R, 0 ER, 2 BB, 13 K.
Ole Miss won 2-1.
Diamond Day was a grind.
Sunday’s weekend cap didn’t go as smoothly as one would like, but good teams find a way to win games and the Rebels did just that.
The day began with a sense of déjà vu as Keenan went yard in his first at-bat, bringing home Servideo and a two-run lead.
The gap stretched to 3-0 in the third inning when Servideo scored on a wild pitch, and the Rebels were off to a hot start.
Derek Diamond started strong alongside his offense until two pitches got away from him in the fourth, both for home runs.
The Hoosier solo shots were the only two runs he would allow in five innings of work, and two of just three hits he gave up. All in all, it was a good outing for the freshman.
In response, Hayden Dunhurst got involved with a two-run blast over the right field wall, which opened the lead back to three and gave Bianco some breathing room to turn to his bullpen.
The wheels momentarily fell off when Benji Gilbert took the mound to begin the sixth and left two runners on first and second with two outs. Logan Savell came in to try and get out of the jam, walked in a run, and got yanked for Taylor Broadway, who gave up a double that scored two and tied the game. Broadway, pitching for the second time on the weekend, threw two innings with the one blunder, and handed it off to Forsyth who closed it out flawlessly.
At the plate, Keenan closed out a strong weekend with a 4-for-4 day, starting a string of hits that gave the Rebels back the lead in the seventh inning. Justin Bench scored Keenan and Peyton Chatagnier, and the inning finished with a two run blast to right center from Kevin Graham, his first of the year.
Ole Miss won 9-5.
Through 11 games, the Rebels have only lost once. Questions remain about how to avoid overusing key arms out of the bullpen, but if the weekend proved anything, it’s that the relief staff is nothing to take lightly once Bianco works out the kinks, and that the bats can put together winning sequences when called upon.
Ole Miss will head back home for a midweek bout with Memphis, before kicking off Spring Break with a three-game series against fellow Ivy League school Princeton.