Setting up the championship round of the Oxford Regional ...
In trying to find a reason for what happened to Ole Miss at the end of the 2018 Oxford Regional several have suggested that last year's SEC Tournament run took too much out of the Rebels.
I think there's some merit there.
But fatigue usually shows up in pitching before it shows up in hitting, and I just don't think the pitching depth for Ole Miss was as good last year as it has been the last two weeks.
Earlier this month I wouldn't have thought I'd be writing this, but since the six-game losing streak the Rebels have won seven of nine with the losses against national seeds Vanderbilt and Arkansas by a combined three runs.
The theme in the wins has been solid pitching. The Rebels didn't really swing the bats well until the semifinals in Hoover. Before then they were hitting .180 through four tournament games.
They've been very impressive in two Oxford Regional games, pitching with a 1.50 ERA in 18 innings and hitting .366 with six home runs.
Ole Miss wasn't so crisp in both phases in the regional last year even in winning the first two games.
They were good against Saint Louis. Ryan Rolison went seven innings, and with a 9-2 lead Mike Bianco turned to Max Cioffi, who threw two scorless innings.
Cole Zabowski and Tyler Keenan hit home runs, and there were other exrtra-base hits.
When the competiiton stepped up in Game 2 against Tennessee Tech the pitching fell off. The Rebels won a 9-8 game, but Brady Feigl gave up four earned runs in 4 2/3 innings. Will Ethridge followed and was hit in 1 1/3. Parker Caracci didn't give up any hits but walked three and hit a better.
It was ultimately Greer Holston and Houston Roth who got the final two outs as Tech shaved three runs off a four-run deficit in the ninth.
Then in the first game of the championship round when Ole Miss had two chances to advance -- the game the Rebels face today -- Bianco went to his regular season SEC Game 3 starter, James McArthur, and McArthur lasted only 2 2/3 innings.
After McArthur the B List bullpen guys were dominated by Tech.
When you have to lose twice but lose the first game the advantage shifts to the other team. It has momentum, and your job is to take it back while having just given up the advatage of rested pitching.
A year later in the same situation Bianco will give the ball to freshman Gunnar Hoglund today.
The freshman plan worked fine last night as Doug Nikhazy was dominant.
Hoglund, a first-round draft pick of the Pirates who chose college ball, has evolved this season.
He's done a good job of throwing srikes but earlier in the season he tended to hit the ball early. His challenge was to go longer in starts, and he's been able to do that of late going at least six innings in three of his last five starts. The outliers were at LSU on May5 (4 2/3 IP) and against Mississippi State the following week (3 2/3 IP).
He went six innings at Tennessee and got the win in the game that snapped the skid.
He went 6 1/3 against Arkansas last week in Hoover, allowing just three hits and two earned runs.
Hoglund today is better than McArthur was a year ago.
McArthur, in four of five starts preceding the championship game against Tech, had pitched at least five innings just once. Twice in that span he pitched fewer than 2 1/3 innings.
In addition to sending out a starter tonight wtih more momentum than McArthur had last year the Rebels' bullpen is more rested.
Taylor Broadway has pitched two innings, Caracci just one.
After struggling during the skid Carcci appears to have righted himself.
Austin Miller and Tyler Myers haven't thrown yet.
Anything can happen once the first pitch is thrown, but Ole Miss arrives at this spot in a better pitching situation than it did last year and against an opponent -- whether Clemson or Jacksonville State -- that doesn't hit like Tennessee Tech did a year ago.