Photo credit — Petre Thomas: Ole Miss Athletics
OXFORD — Gunnar Hoglund arrived in Oxford in the fall of 2018, burdened with the expectations that often accompany guys who turn down seven figures to attend college.
A first round pick of the Pittsburgh Pirates out of high school in the 2018 MLB Draft, Hoglund found out just how daunting life in the SEC can be a season ago. Slotted as the team’s third weekend starter from Opening Day to season’s end in June, he struggled to grapple with the uptick in competition. His first win didn’t come until his fifth start. He didn’t finish the sixth inning until his 10th and mustered a pedestrian 5.29 ERA and 1.33 WHIP for the year.
Hoglund lived, learned and vowed to improve. From a newly-implemented slider, to a fastball with a higher spin rate, and even his overall demeanor, everything about the sophomore right-hander is sharper to begin the 2020 campaign. All of that showed in six innings of dominance in a 9-0 Ole Miss win over Xavier on Saturday. Hoglund struck out 12 and scattered two hits on 88 pitches with a pair of walks.
“I think it is everything,” head coach Mike Bianco said. “That slider is obviously the one thing he and Coach Lafferty worked on this offseason. But it is fastball command and velocity. I think it is everything, his overall confidence level and stuff are up from last year.”
The second and third trips through an opposing lineup often proved to be Hoglund’s demise a year ago. His fastball hovered in the strike zone too frequently and a lack of confidence in his secondary stuff made him predictable. The increased run on his heater, the added slider and more confidence in his curveball have helped make amends for that. Xavier was guessing for most of the afternoon.
“By the third inning on, I was really able to use that pitch and it really worked for me today,” Hoglund said. “Having three pitches I can throw any time, anywhere in the count is huge in college baseball.”
A woeful Musketeers offense has been mowed down by the Ole Miss pitching staff in these two games. After a combined no-hitter on Friday, the Rebels yielded just two hits in this game. The first of the two was a bunt single in the third inning. Ole Miss has fanned 29 hitters in 18 innings and struck out 18 in Saturday’s win.
Austin Miller fanned five of the six hitters he faced in two perfect innings of relief and freshman right-hander Cole Baker tossed a perfect pint inning in his first career outing. Baker is the 14th pitcher Ole Miss has used in a game this season as Bianco tries to cement bullpen roles in what is a righty-heavy group.
Ole Miss’ nine runs came on seven hits. Seven runs came on three swings. Cael Baker tagged a 1-2 fastball over the heart of the plate for a two-run shot in the third inning. Freshman catcher Hayden Dunhurst clubbed his second long ball in as many days with a two-run shot in the fifth and Anthony Servideo struck a three-run home run to dead center field in a five-run eighth inning.
After going hitless in the Louisville series, Dunhurst is 4-7 with seven RBIs this weekend. Servideo is 10-21 with a trio of home runs through six games.
“Baker’s home run was huge and that is why is here, to give us a threat in the middle of the lineup from the right side,” Bianco said. “Facing a good lefty today, we needed that. Dunhurst with another good day with a left-on-left single and another big home run.”
Freshman right-hander Derek Diamond will get the ball in the Sunday finale as Ole Miss goes for a sweep. First pitch is slated for noon.