Two days after being within a single strike of being no-hit, Ole Miss’ fortune at the plate turned in a 15-9 win over UAB on Friday night.
The Rebels’ offense has covered some blemishes this year, predominantly formed by the struggles of the starting rotation. In this game, it masked a lethargic first inning defensively that saw Ole Miss commit three errors and allow three unearned runs cross the plate. Starting pitcher Will Ethridge wasn’t charged with an error himself, but bungled a potential inning-ending double play ball and only got one out as the first run crossed the plate.
Ole Miss answered at the plate with a nine-run second inning that turned the game into a slog. UAB starter Tanner Graham entered the game with a 1.32 ERA and had not been hit consistently hard before the Rebels touched him up for eight earned runs on seven hits in 1.1 innings.
“I don’t know why we had such a good day,” head coach Mike Bianco said. “Sometimes it just happens that way. I thought (Graham’s) velocity was lower than he is used to. We had a lot of good at bats.”
The Rebels strung together 17 consecutive quality at bats at one point in the game. In his first collegiate start, freshman Kevin Graham had a two-hit day with 4 RBIs. His first career hit was a productive one. Graham demolished a 2-2 fastball over the wall in left-center for a three-run home run that gave Ole Miss a 6-3 lead in the second inning. Cole Zabowski clubbed an opposite field two-run shot three batters earlier to tie the game.
“I was just looking for a fastball to drive,” Graham said. “I ended up taking two in the at bat and was a little frustrated, but ended up getting the one I could drive on 2-2. Definitely relieved getting the first hit. Great way to do it. It was a lot of fun.”
Graham found out he was starting earlier in the day when he was tagged in a tweet while sitting in class. He shot an RBI single through the right side in the sixth to cap what was the most productive day of any Ole Miss hitter on a night in which he team collected 15 hits. With most of the lineup returning from a year ago, the Rebels piece together a pretty daunting lineup. A trip through the middle of the oder is a trying journey for opposing pitchers. Finding at bats for bench players is sometimes difficult for Bianco and being awarded four of them in a start as a freshman is no small feat.
“He is going to be an part of this offense for several years here,” Bianco said. “He will have several more days like he had today. I felt like we needed a boost at the end of the lineup, some of the guys at the end haven’t been swinging it. I am proud of the way he swung it today.”
Ryan Olenek went 3-for-5 with an RBI. Grae Kessinger, Anthony Servideo, Thomas Dillard and Zabowski all had two-hit days.
Ethridge shook off the rather unorthodox first inning and made it five complete, allowing one earned run on five hits with two walks and a strikeout. Ethridge commanded his fastball well low in the strike zone and threw a handful of quality breaking balls, though his command was a little off with the secondary stuff at times. He only threw 76 pitches, but was not on a pitch count. The damp conditions were similar to his opening day start that saw a blister form on his right hand, but Ethridge had no problems with regard to that in this game.
“My arm felt great,” Ethridge said. “Not having the strikeout pitch I needed there in some of the innings was kind of a killer, but I tried to fill it up with my fastball and get guys out that way.”
Ole Miss’ starting pitching hasn’t been up to par through three weekends. But most of that is what has happened behind Ethridge, who has been formidable in all three of his starts.
“It is tough when there is not a lot of rhythm to the game,” Bianco said. “It is tough when we play terrible in the first inning. Not to take anything away from them, but we basically give them three runs with three errors. Will handled it and comes out and pitched pretty well.”
Zack Phillips will start on Saturday and Gunnar Hoglund will go for the Rebels on Sunday. Those two outings, Phillips’ in particular, will go a long way in determining whether Bianco shakes up the rotation before SEC play begins next weekend.
First pitch on Saturday has been moved to 7 P.M.
Photo credit: Petre Thomas — Ole Miss Athletics