Ole Miss pieces it together to blank Georgia State, end losing streak

Published 9:52 pm Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Ole Miss began Tuesday on a four-game losing streak, and that was before the Rebels lost their team captains.

But Ole Miss’ young pitchers and patchwork lineup did just enough to help the Rebels snap out of it.

Kyle Watson’s home run proved to be the difference in Ole Miss’ 1-0 win over Georgia State in the first of two midweek games between the teams at Swayze Field. Ryan Rolison, Greer Holston and Will Stokes combined to blank the Panthers in the first shutout since last April for the Rebels (8-4), who won for the first time since Feb. 26.

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The teams will play again Wednesday at 3 p.m.

“I liked the way we played. They embraced it,” Ole Miss coach Mike Bianco said. “That was one of the things I was looking for was would they mope around, and they didn’t. They played hard. They get it, and I’m proud of the young guys for doing that.”

Freshman Bryce Blaum got his first career start for Tate Blackman at second while regular outfielder Ryan Olenek started in senior Colby Bortles’ place at third. The Rebels’ captains have been suspended indefinitely “for not meeting the standards of the Ole Miss baseball program,” Bianco said in a statement before the game.

Bianco didn’t go into details on their suspension afterward and said a set number of games for them to miss hasn’t been determined.

“We’ll discuss it every day with them,” Bianco said.

The Rebels, who have scored five runs in their last 36 innings, finished with three hits and had just four at-bats with runners in scoring position. But Watson, who filled in for Olenek in center field, provided the decisive blow in the second inning with a shot over the wall in left-center off Georgia State starter Brandon Baker (0-2), who took the loss despite limiting the Rebels to just one other hit — a single by Blaum in the fifth — in 5 2/3 innings.

“I was just yelling down the line for it to get up,” Watson said of the homer. “I just tried to put a good swing on it in a hitter’s count.”

Catcher Nick Fortes’ eighth-inning single was the Rebels’ only other knock, but Fortes put quality swings on some other pitches with a couple of lineouts. Watson and Michael Fitzsimmons drove other balls deep to the outfield that might’ve been hits rather than outs on a warmer night, putting together what Bianco thought were some of the Rebels’ better swings of late despite not having much to show for it.

“Tonight, I thought we swung it much better,” Bianco said. “We hit a lot of balls hard. It’s easy to say it was a bad night. We scored one run and only got a few hits.”

Rolison (2-0) faced one over the minimum through the first three innings, scattering four hits and striking out five to get the win in his first career start. The Panthers (6-5) threatened the freshman left-hander in the fourth with a single and two talks to load the bases, but Rolison got Jack Thompson to fly out to end the inning before retiring three of the four batters he faced in the fifth to end his day after 89 pitches.

Georgia State put runners on the corners with two outs in the sixth against Holston, but the freshman righty fanned Thompson to get out of it. Holston punched out three in two innings of relief while Stokes worked two scoreless innings for his third save.

“In the pregame pitching meeting, we talked about us not getting out of jams and giving up hits with runners in scoring position,” Rolison said. “We need to focus more on getting that pitch to get out of the inning and keep those runs off the board. That was really the key mindset I went in with.”