OXFORD – It hasn’t been the season Tim Elko thought it would be, but the season isn’t over yet.
Rated the No. 69 player in the country by Perfect Game leaving high school in Lutz, Florida in 2017, Elko didn’t have a breakthrough freshman season as he hit .216 in 29 games at Ole Miss last season.
After his off-season work Ole Miss coach Mike Bianco pointed to Elko as a second-year player, an outfielder and corner infielder, who he thought was ready to contribute more in 2018.
It didn’t start that way, and it wasn’t that way in the middle of the season, but it might be at the end.
Elko started in right field against Clemson in the Oxford Regional. He played off the bench the other two games and went 5 for 7 for the weekend.
“I’ve been working all season, trusting in myself and trusting in my abilities. I wasn’t really surprised honestly,” Elko said.
Ole Miss and Arkansas begin the Fayetteville Super Regional Saturday morning at 11.
Elko, 6-foot4, 225, had eight starts the first three weeks of the season getting 28 of his 56 regular-season at-bats during that window.
But after an 0-for-3 day in a right field start against East Carolina on March 6 Elko was batting .143. His at-bats began to diminish.
“It’s been a tough year for Tim, a guy that had a super fall for us, and going into the season not just myself, but the coaches, the team, even the fans, thought he would be a big-time contributor early, but it didn’t happen,” Bianco said.
Intrigued by Elko’s potential and searching for a right-handed bat off the bench it wasn’t easy for Bianco to move away from him in the lineup, and he didn’t completely.
He occasionally turned back to Elko. In a 10-day span in April Elko drew starts against Florida, Kentucky and Memphis but went 0 for 9.
“I just wasn’t hitting the ball well, wasn’t seeing it well. I was chasing a lot of bad pitches. That’s not really me. I think I just got a little bit away from myself. I’ve always been a guy that’s been pretty good at hitting my pitches and not just chasing everything. I got away from that, and that’s what led me down the wrong path, but I’ve gotten back to where I need to be now,” he said.
It was in practice that Elko had his most success and remained on the radar. He began to track the ball better and get off his best swings more often.
Elko remained a matchup option and even drew starts at Tennessee on the final weekend of the regular season and against Arkansas in the SEC Tournament.
It was during the regional that practice success finally transferred to game success. When he singled in the opener against Jacksonville State it was Elko’s first hit since March 26 at Memphis.
More would come, and they came with strength, not for extra bases, but with the line drive authority that brings confidence for hitters and gets the attention of teammates.
“It’s big-time, especially this time of year to have pieces like Tim Elko in our lineup and fill roles for us. That’s huge. Better late than never. He’s here and hitting balls really hard,” first baseman Cole Zabowski said.