OXFORD, Miss. (WTVA/Ole Miss Athletics) - Behind a stellar performance from sophomore Ryan Rolison, and a couple of key at-bats from veterans and fresh faces alike, No. 9 Ole Miss opened the much-anticipated 2018 season with a 7-3 victory over Winthrop Friday at Swayze Field.
Rolison recorded a new career high in strikeouts, sophomore Thomas Dillard matched a career high in hits and notched a career high in runs, and freshman Tyler Keenan hopped onto the scene in an explosive way, all en route to helping Mike Bianco clinch his 17th season-opening win in 18 seasons at Ole Miss behind a crowd of 8,797.
Rolison was electric in his 5.0 innings of work, striking out 12, shattering his former career best of nine, while also giving up just two hits and no runs. The sophomore got the starting bid after a freshman campaign that saw him go 6-3, as well as a summer which saw the pitcher rise up draft boards, and a preseason where he earned multiple All-America nods.
Rolison recorded the most strikeouts in a Rebel season opener since Lance Lynn sat down 12 in his 2008 debut, and his performance also marked the highest number of strikeouts for any Rebel pitcher in the past two years.
Freshmen Anthony Servideo and Tyler Keenan both made their debuts at Ole Miss at second and third, respectively, but it was Keenan who made his impact known early. In his first at-bat in a Rebel uniform, the freshman knocked in two with a double to right for the game's first runs in the second inning. He capped off his impressive debut with an infield single that resulted in a Dillard run late in the eighth inning.
Senior Tim Rowe kept the runs coming after Keenan's start and lifted the first ball of the new year outside of Swayze Field's walls. His three-run home run in the bottom of the third pushed the Rebel lead to 5-0, and they never looked back from there.
Senior captain Will Golsan's first hit of the day came at a time that the Rebels were seeking insurance. Late in the fourth after back-to-back singles from the bats of Cooper Johnson and Grae Kessinger. Golsan knocked in Johnson to up the Ole Miss lead to six, and with the outcome looking more and more solidified and with an increasing pitch count, Bianco looked to the bullpen.
Rolison's day came to a close after five, and Bianco called upon sophomore Houston Roth, fresh off a rookie campaign that saw him earn Freshman All-American honors, to work a few innings. Roth went 3.0 innings without giving up a single earned run, as well as striking out four, one off his career high of five.
The Eagles managed two runs off of two Rebel errors in the sixth, but a nice string of hitting in the eighth further secured the Rebel victory. Dillard, in his final at-bat of his 3-for-4 day with three singles, led off the inning with a single through the infield, followed by junior Ryan Olenek's first hit of the day, a single that put two aboard. Keenan capped it off with the final hit, one that led Dillard to the plate and senior closer Will Stokes to the mound.
Wielding a five-run lead, Bianco turned to one half of his dynamic duo of Stokes and junior Dallas Woolfolk and called upon the senior to close out the ballgame. Though one run crossed the plate in the ninth, it was not near enough from the Eagles, and Stokes and the Rebels capped off Opening Day 2018 with a 7-3 victory over Winthrop.
Ole Miss will get right back to action Saturday looking to clinch the series over Winthrop at 1:30 p.m. CT. The Rebels will be led by redshirt junior Brady Feigl, making his first start of the year after a 2017 season that saw the pitcher mostly emerge from the bullpen. Facing Colton Rendon from the Eagles, Feigl will toe the rubber for the Rebels' second contest of the season, televised on SECN+.
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