OXFORD – Sharp and focused, Oxford Regional No. 1 seed Ole Miss battered the Ohio Valley Conference Pitcher of the Year and got a dominant three-hit performance from its own ace.
The Rebels knocked off Jacksonville State 16-2 Friday and will face No. 3 seed Clemson in a winner’s bracket game Saturday at 6 p.m.
Five years ago the Rebels (38-25) defeated the Gamecocks 12-2 in the Oxford Regional, the first win in what became a run to the College World Series.
This season’s Gamecocks (37-22) had a 12-game win streak snapped.
The Swayze Field crowd of 9,810 was barely in its seats when Ole Miss right-hander Will Ethridge gave up a double to right-center by Jacksonville State center fielder Tre Kirklin.
Kirklin would come around to score on a ground ball for a 1-0 Gamecocks lead, but Ethridge recovered and retired the next 20 batters before allowing a two-out double in the seventh to Nic Gaddis.
“Will was terrific tonight, maybe as good as he’s been all year with his command of all three pitches,” Ole Miss coach Mike Bianco said.
Ethridge ended the third inning with a swinging strikeout of Kirklin. He struck out three and walked none in seven innings. Several innings into the game he became aware of the streak.
“About the sixth inning I thought, ‘I haven’t given up a hit (in a while). If I had just gotten that first guy out I’d be rolling with a perfect game right now,’” he said. “I was just thinking, ‘Keep filling up the strike zone, and keep putting up zeroes for us.’”
While Ethridge sailed Jacksonville State’s Garrett Farmer started taking on water early.
Ole Miss third baseman Tyler Keenan, who had just three hits in his previous 27 at-bats going into the game, turned on a Farmer fastball and drilled it deep out of the park down the right field foul line.
The two-run shot scored Grae Kessinger and made it 4-1 in the third.
The Rebels opened with three hits in the first inning and scored runs on a left-field single by Cole Zabowski and a sacrifice fly by Ryan Olenek.
Farmer averaged a little more than a walk per nine innings in 100 2/3 innings pitched but gave up three walks in the first three innings four in his 4 2/3 innings of work.
“Several pitches we generally have had swung at they did a good job of taking those pitches and working him,” Jacksonville State coach Jim Case said.
Farmer got two fly ball outs in the fifth, but an error by second baseman Devin Brown on a Zabowski ground ball kept the inning alive, and Ole Miss responded with five runs four hits.
Kevin Graham had a two-run double, and Anthony Servideo had a two-run home run, both in the fifth.
Thomas Dillard had a two-run home run in the seventh.
Keenan left the SEC Tournament championship game with a shoulder injury. MRI results were negative, but his availability was unclear earlier in the week.
The home run was his team-leading 14th.
“I felt great. I knew I was going to play in this game. There was no way I was going to miss it. That ball off the bat felt really good. It felt good to get on the board for our team,” he said.