Ole Miss’ offense playing catch-up entering SEC play

Published 6:00 am Friday, March 17, 2017

Ole Miss’ starting pitching has found a rhythm. Now if the Rebels’ bats could come around.

Ole Miss will take a four-game winning streak into today’s Southeastern Conference opener against Vanderbilt at Swayze Field with all of those victories coming by way of a shutout. The Rebels haven’t allowed a run in five of their last six games with the only ones surrendered during that stretch coming in a 2-0 loss to Georgia State in 11 innings on March 8.

The Rebels’ starters have strung together 43 2/3 scoreless innings with Ryan Rolison being the latest to turn in a clean performance as the freshman limited Nicholls to four hits and struck out seven in a career-high six innings Tuesday in a 5-0 win. Ole Miss (12-5) is second in the SEC with a collective 2.40 earned run average and is limiting opponents to an SEC-best .185 average.

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“We challenged them when we got back from Houston (at the Shriners College Classic) that we’ve got to be better on the mound and more dominant,” Ole Miss coach Mike Bianco said. “You didn’t think that this would be the response but certainly happy with what’s happened over the last six games.”

The Rebels have needed it with an offense that’s spent much of the season on the other end of the spectrum.

Ole Miss has plated two runs or less in six of its last eight games and hasn’t scored more than five since the calendar flipped to March. The Rebels own the SEC’s second-lowest average (.250) and are last in runs (79), hits (132), RBIs (69), total bases (192) and slugging percentage (.364), but Ole Miss has shown signs of life with 19 combined hits in the last two games, including home runs from Tate Blackman and Thomas Dillard against Nicholls in what Bianco called perhaps his team’s most complete game of the season.

“That’s one of the things I think is the head scratcher is there’s going to be guys who don’t swing it as well and may not have a good game or a few good games, but collectively 11 guys were really struggling (early in the season),” Bianco said. “As they say, hitting is contagious. So is not hitting. Certainly we all kind of caught that bug.”

It won’t be easy this weekend against the Commodores’ arm talent led by junior right-hander Kyle Wright (0-2, 5.40 ERA), who’s widely projected to be one of the first players taken in this year’s Major League Baseball draft. Yet it’s freshman Drake Fellows (3-0, 1.00) and sophomore Patrick Raby (2-2, 1.40) who have been sharper for Vanderbilt (12-6), which is third in the SEC with a 2.58 ERA but has yet to win any of Wright’s four starts.

“You know when you play Vanderbilt, they’re going to bring that stable of arms and you’re going to have to compete offensively,” Bianco said. “On the other side of the ball, you’ve got to keep scores down so your offense has a chance.”

Taking precaution

Ole Miss will counter in today’s 7 p.m. series opener with junior lefty David Parkinson (3-1, 2.52), who’s coming off his best outing as a Rebel. The reigning SEC Pitcher of the Week carried a no-hitter into the eighth inning last Friday in the Rebels’ 2-0 win over Furman and struck out a career-high nine without walking anybody.

James McArthur (0-1, 1.76) will miss his second straight start as a precaution as the sophomore right-hander deals with a lingering forearm strain. Fellow sophomore Brady Feigl (2-1, 3.91) will fill in again in Saturday’s 1:30 p.m. game.

Freshman Will Ethridge (1-0, 1.15) will get the ball in Sunday’s 3 p.m. series finale.

“We didn’t feel comfortable putting him on the mound when he still feels it a little bit in the forearm, but no setback,” Bianco said of McArthur.