Ole Miss sweeps Florida to move to 8-4 in conference, what we learned from a good weekend of Grove Bowl baseball

Published 11:51 am Monday, April 8, 2019

It’s truly amazing what one weekend can do for a baseball team. To say the Rebels bounced back from a puzzling mid-week loss would be quite the understatement – they leaped like a D.K. Metcalf vertical jump.

Ole Miss swept then No. 21 Florida on the weekend, dominating the Gators in every game. Adding the three games together, the Rebels beat Florida a whopping 40-18 on the weekend, taking three games that move them into a tie with Arkansas and LSU atop the SEC West.

Now four weeks in to SEC play, here’s what we can take away from the best weekend of the year for the Rebels on the diamond.

1. Rebels seeing the baseball as well as ever at the plate

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Ole Miss wasn’t exactly playing their best offensive baseball coming into Friday. However, this past weekend was different. The 40 runs scored in a series ties an Ole Miss record in SEC games. The last time the Rebels did so in conference was a 40-run series against Vanderbilt in 1957.

The Rebels amassed 49 hits over the weekend against a good, ranked SEC pitching staff. It’s a team built around the strength of the bats, and this weekend you finally saw that come to life.

Head coach Mike Bianco said after Friday’s win, in which they totaled 17 hits, that “we’re pretty good offensively, but I don’t know if we’re 17 hits against that sort of staff (good).” Then the Rebels followed it up by going for 20 hits in the first of two games on Saturday. It truly was the best offensive weekend, in conference, in years.

2. Grae Kessinger is on a tear

Starting every game at shortstop for the Rebels, Grae Kessinger had struggled to open the year. Heading into the Memphis game two weeks ago, Kessinger was hitting just .255 over the opening 25 games of the year. Starting in Memphis, he has hit .472 over his last eight games.

The recent hot stretch has brought his season batting average to .312 and his on base percentage over .400. Recent changes correspond to Kessinger being moved out of the leadoff. Going into the Florida series, where he hit 8-14, Kessinger said he had to change his approach at the plate and be more relaxed. It seems like that approach is paying off for the junior.

3. Who’s the Sunday starter moving forward?

Mike Bianco intentionally left the third starter position in the rotation ambiguous going into the weekend. Three freshman and highly touted recruit Gunnar Hoglund had been starting on Sundays but had a short leash two weekends ago at Arkansas. This weekend against Florida, there was no Gunnar Hoglund on the bump.

The Rebels started Houston Roth on their second game of Saturday’s doubleheader. Roth was fine, giving up 5 hits and no earned runs. Four runs were allowed in Roth’s short, three-inning tenure on the mound, but none were credited to him due to errors. Some thought Tyler Myers would be in line for that start, but he was used in long relief of Will Ethridge on Friday night. It seems like moving forward, this third starter Role could be in flux until someone separates himself.

4. Will Ethridge’s lingering health questions

Friday night starter Will Ethridge left Sunday’s game after a blister on his right, middle finger was re-aggravated. The blister concerns for Ethridge started early in the year, where he was pulled early from one start and sat out the next week. Now, those questions are back.

Blisters on a pitcher’s throwing hand is a problem that simply doesn’t just go away. Thin layers of skin will reform, but are so volatile and easy to aggravate that the slightest of off conditions, especially damp air like the humid and raining weekend, can aggravate it. There’s no signs as to if Ole Miss will keep Ethridge out another week, as what happened early in the year, but it’s a lingering issue to keep an eye on moving forward.

Ole Miss plays a 20-9 Southern Mississippi team on Tuesday evening in Pearl before hosting Kentucky for three games this upcoming weekend.