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Ole Miss wins 11th straight in 8-1 victory over Memphis

Photo credit: Ole Miss Athletics

OXFORD —Ole Miss is 10 days away from SEC play and, like most clubs, has roles still left to be defined in the bullpen.

That was the story of the Rebels’ 8-1 win over Memphis on Tuesday evening. Five guys pieced together six innings of scoreless ball behind starter Jackson Kimbrell, who lasted three innings and surrendered a run on two hits with a pair of strikeouts and walks.  The freshman lefty saw his longest action of the season and acquitted himself well, flashing a plus changeup that Mike Bianco says is best secondary pitch. 

“Really good changeup,” Bianco said. “Unfortunately for him, he hasn’t been in many opportunities to use it. Because we don’t have many left-handers, we have brought him out of the pen against a lot of left-handed hitters, so we have gone more breaking ball. Tonight, with them stacking so many right-handed hitters, he could throw it and it is a really good pitch.”

Kimbrell started this game, but falls into the same category as his five successors: a candidate to acquire significant relief innings for Ole Miss during the grueling 30-game conference slate. In a right-handed heavy bullpen, Kimbrell’s services will be needed. He and fellow freshmen Drew McDaniel, Wes Burton and Cole Baker all logged action in the win.

Burton faced seven hitters and struck out three with two singles and a walk. McDaniel didn’t fair as well when his time came in the seventh. He recorded one out and loaded the bases in what was a 6-1 game with a base hit, walk and hit-by-pitch. Baker hurled a scoreless ninth inning.

“We need more of that,” Bianco said. “We have to get to the point where we don’t rely so much on Cioffi, Miller and Broadway. We need a few more pieces back there. They are there. You could see that tonight. We just needed a little more consistency and maybe some length.”

The proven arms in the bullpen were as good as advertised in this victory. Max Cioffi is off to the best start of his career and has yet to allow an earned run in five appearances. The junior right-hander has struck out 10 and has not walked a batter over 6.2 innings. Cioffi was dominant in the Rebels’ 2-1 win over East Carolina over the weekend. He faced one over the minimum in two shutout innings with four strikeouts and bridged the game to closer Braden Forsyth. On Tuesday, he needed one pitch that induced a 5-3 double play to escape the bases-loaded jam he inherited from McDaniel in the seventh.

“I think it is just having a lot of confidence in my stuff,” Cioffi said. “Just going to summer ball and working on pitches. A lot of the situations I have come into have been high-leverage and tougher. I have just been executing pitches which is the biggest thing.”

Miller struck out four in 1.2 innings. He has logged 17 strikeouts in 11.1 innings this season. Ole Miss’ front end of the bullpen is as sturdy as it could hope for with the aforementioned trio of Miller, Broadway and Cioffi, and Forsyth on the back end. If the Rebels can generate some depth amongst this handful of freshmen, it will be better equipped for conference play.

“We needed to throw some guys,” Bianco said. “Over the next five games, we need to answer some more questions on the mound and in the field getting ready for conference play. That’s not taking anything lightly. You say you have four weeks to get ready for conference play. Now you have 10 days.”

Offensively, Ole Miss took advantage of some putrid Memphis pitching. The Tigers walked 11 batters and tossed five wild pitches.  Anthony Servideo plated a Peyton Chatagnier walk with an infield single in the second inning. Hayden Leatherwood struck an RBI single in the fifth and John Rhys Plumlee recorded his first career RBI with a sacrifice fly in the seventh.

Ole Miss is now 11-1 and hosts Princeton this weekend for a three-game set. First pitch Friday is slated for 6:30 P.M.

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