Ole Miss’ offense explodes in shortened rout of Louisiana-Monroe

Published 10:31 pm Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Ole Miss flipped a switch to avoid disaster Tuesday night.

The Rebels erased a four-run deficit in less than an inning to beat Louisiana-Monroe 21-7 in a 6 1/2-inning game at Swayze Field. Ole Miss used a surge in the middle innings to shake off an ugly start and take control against the Warhawks, who came in with just 12 wins and an RPI of 233 — the second-lowest of any team on Ole Miss’ schedule.

The teams will meet again Wednesday at 3 p.m. to wrap up an important midweek series for the Rebels (28-17), who don’t have much room for error while trying to secure an at-large berth in the NCAA Tournament in the season’s final weeks. D1Baseball.com’s latest tournament projections have Ole Miss as a 3 seed in the Chapel Hill (North Carolina) Regional while Baseball America pegs the Rebels as one of the last four teams out of the field, though those projections came last week before Ole Miss’ series win at Arkansas.

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“We know this game’s important for us,” said first baseman Nick Fortes, who had three hits to raise his average to .327. “Every game from here on out is important for us, so we’re not going to let anything slip away. They came out swinging, but we were ready for it. I think we had the right mindset before the game.”

Ole Miss trailed 7-3 heading to the bottom of the fourth but erased the deficit with five runs and never looked back on their way to a season-high 17 hits against six ULM pitchers. It’s the most runs the Rebels have scored since plating 22 against Arkansas Pine Bluff in 2009, though six of them were unearned thanks to three Warhawk errors and a number of wild pitches.

Ryan Olenek hit a two-run home run while Fortes belted a pair of homers — both coming as part of Ole Miss’ nine-run sixth — and drove in a career-high six runs as every starter recorded a hit. Tate Blackman went 3-for-4 and scored three runs while Tim Rowe had three RBIs.

“We haven’t done that much,” Ole Miss coach Mike Bianco said. “We haven’t had a lot of those 9-7 games, 12-10 games. We think we have a good offense. We’ve talked about it. I think we’ve outhit our opponents eight out of the last nine games, so we’re certainly swinging it a lot better.”

Houston Roth (3-0) struck out five in 2 2/3 innings of one-hit relief to get the win. Chase Cater (1-2) was pegged with the loss.

“It was a lot of fun,” Fortes said. “With our team struggling a little bit in the month of March hitting the ball, it feels good to put 21 up. I think it boosts a lot of confidence, too, and helps us get going a little bit because sometimes you need games like this to get going.”

The Warhawks (12-33) did most of their damage against Greer Holston in just 3 1/3 innings, his shortest start of the season. ULM grabbed a 2-0 lead in the first on Turner Francis’ two-run homer and had nine hits against the freshman right-hander, who had not allowed more than four earned runs in any of his first seven starts but was charged with seven while struggling to keep pitches down in the zone.

Anthony Herrera homered off Holston in the third for one of his two hits.

“Sometimes baseball gets you from a team that’s struggled this year and has 12 wins,” Bianco said. “They swung it great tonight and had a really good night. That happens in baseball where sometimes the pitcher has a bad night and the offense has a good night. It was a bad mix tonight.”

The game was stopped briefly in the third when ULM’s Johnny DeLaCruz injured his neck after crashing into the left-field wall while trying to catch Tate Blackman’s triple. DeLaCruz stayed on the ground for several minutes with coaches and trainers rushing to his aid.

DeLaCruz was eventually placed on a stretcher and taken off the field in an ambulance to an ovation from the fans in attendance. He was alert and moving, an Ole Miss spokesman said.