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Ole Miss baseball seeing offense return to form

After a fast start to the season in Texas, the Ole Miss baseball team saw their offense stall out in their series loss to Central Florida, but returned to form last week.

The No. 4 Rebels (10-2) completed a 5-0 week with wins over Memphis, Jackson State and their first sweep with the series win over Belmont.

Outscoring their opponents 52-19, the Rebels relied on the long ball the jump start their offense that had become dormant against UCF two weeks ago. Eight home runs were hit by Ole Miss in the five-game stretch.

Third baseman Tim Elko provided most of the power, hitting .558 (10-for-17) at the plate for five home runs and13 runs batted in. Elko was honored for his resurgence at the plate with Collegiate Baseball naming him a National Player of the Week as the Southeastern Conference naming him the SEC Player of the Week.

At one point during the UCF series, Elko was hitting sub .100 on the season.

“I’m just feeling locked in,” Elko said. “Just see-ball-hit-ball. Not trying to do too much. Just put good swings on balls and that’s what I’ve been doing.”

During the shortened 2020 season, Ole Miss hit 37 home runs in 17 games. The Rebels are not on the record-setting pace of 2020, but with last week’s power surge they have now hit 16 home runs through the first 12 games.

While Elko is working to get back into form, now hitting .310 on the year, catcher Hayden Dunhurst has been the constant in the Ole Miss offense since second baseman Peyton Chatagnier went down with a hamstring injury during the Texas game.

The sophomore is leading the team, hitting .371 and has 13 hits and eight RBIs. Dunhurst came through with the walk-off RBI-single in Sunday’s win against Belmont.

“(Dunhurst) has been great since he’s been here, but it’s been awesome to see how well he’s been swinging the bat also this year,” Elko said. “I know he was swinging really well at the end of the year last year, but to see him doing so well it’s awesome. …His development is awesome. He’s already really good behind the plate and now his bat is getting hot.”

During the UCF series, the Rebels were struggling to get on base with a free pass, taking swings on 3-2 counts when possibly getting a walk instead. Since that series, Ole Miss batters earned 42 walks through five games last week.

The different approach at the plate was noticed immediately with the Rebels getting walked 14 times against Memphis last Tuesday.

Dunhurst has become the most patient at the plate with a team-high 10 walks while Elko is right behind him with nine.

“But one of the things that we talked about looking back at the film is, (against UCF), when we struggled to score so often against Central Florida, we had 18 3-2 counts,” Ole Miss head coach Mike Bianco said following the Memphis game. “In those counts, 10 times they threw a ball. Eight of the 10 we swung. We lost too many of those 3-2 battles, where you’d hope, at worst, you’d be 50/50. If you’re a good offense, you win more than you lose. That was the focus. Can we grind out some at-bats? And when we get to those counts, we need to win them.”

Ole Miss ends their 13-game opening homestand this weekend, hosting ULM before a two-game trip to Louisiana Tech next week ahead SEC play beginning on March 19.