OXFORD • For Parker Caracci, the video showed a clear “a-ha” moment.
There was a reason – physical not mental – that led to the Ole Miss All-American being pulled from games against LSU and Arkansas State earlier this month.
It’s hard to be the closer if you’re not finishing.
Caracci, who posted 10 saves and an average of 13.9 strikeouts per nine innings in 2018, lost his job as closer at the end of the regular season.
Ole Miss coach Mike Bianco turned to Ryan Olenek to save the last game of the regular season at Tennessee and the first game – a single elimination game – against Missouri in the SEC Tournament.
Even with that change in status, Bianco said repeatedly that he would rely on Caracci in the days ahead.
Now it looks like the Rebels’ quiet, persistent ace reliever is back on task for a postseason run.
Caracci and No. 12 seed Ole Miss begin play in the Oxford Regional Friday night at 7 against Ohio Valley Conference champion Jacksonville State.
It’s the third time in four years the Rebels (37-25) will begin the NCAA Tournament at home though they did not advance from Oxford Regionals in 2016 or last year.
Caracci’s comeback began when threw a scoreless ninth to lock down a 1-0 win against Texas A&M on the third day of the SEC Tournament.
“Yeah, it helped with my confidence, not that I really needed help with my confidence. It’s just knowing that I feel it again, I feel like I can compete with everybody again,” Caracci said.
Ole Miss had been no-hit by A&M left-hander John Doxakis for eight innings, but Doxakis was taken out of the game for the ninth.
Caracci went on to pitch 3 1/3 scoreless innings for the tournament, also closing wins over Arkansas and Georgia. It was three top-15 RPI wins in three days for Ole Miss, and Caracci saved each one.
“He had a couple of tough outings. He’s also the best closer in the country, so he comes back and does his thing three days in a row,” Ole Miss center fielder Ryan Olenek said.
Caracci begins the regional with a 5.16 earned run average in 29 2/3 innings. He also has 11 saves.
The turnaround moment came when he and pitching coach Carl Lafferty compared video from last season to this season and found that Caracci was beginning to increase his rhythm as the game intensified around him. In short, he was allowed the game to speed him up.
“Especially out of the wind-up, I thought he was getting a little fast,” Bianco said. “We had to slow him down a little bit.”
Slowing down quickly returned Caracci to form.
Will Ethridge, who will start against Jacksonville State, noticed a difference in the Hoover Caracci and the Caracci of a couple of weeks before.
“He just looked like he was filling up the zone better, attacking with all his pitches. That’s how you attack hitters, make them fall behind in the count, get them thinking too much at the plate. That’s how you get outs easier.”