OXFORD, Miss. (Ole Miss Athletics/WTVA) - The top-ten Ole Miss Rebels cruised to a nine-run win Friday night in the season opener against the Wright State Raiders. Head coach Mike Bianco's ballclub continued a streak of first-game dominance, improving to an 18-1 record in season debuts since his arrival in Oxford.
The team battled the elements, yet still managed to put up ten against Wright State on a rainy night in Oxford for a 10-1 Friday night victory.
Junior Will Ethridge found his groove after a shaky first inning and lasted until two-thirds of the way through the fifth inning. The Rebel ace didn't allow a run on the night while holding the Raiders to just four hits on five strikeouts and two walks.
It took Ole Miss just two arms to work a dominant one-run performance on the mound. Junior Austin Miller worked his longest career outing, relieving Ethridge in the fifth and carrying the team through the final out. Miller went 3.1 innings on the mound, allowing just one run on a two-out, eighth-inning RBI double, while striking out two. Because Miller remained for over three innings, his outing earned him a save, the first of his career in his first opportunity.
Catcher Cooper Johnson was electric in the season debut today, going 3-for-4 at the plate with just a triple needed for the cycle. Johnson, making his first start since being named full-time catcher after splitting time with Nick Fortes a season ago, led it off with an early home run in the second, before an RBI single in the fourth and a double in the sixth.
Johnson's three hits beat his career best of two, which he has accomplished eight times previously. He struggled at the plate in 2018, mustering just a .235 batting average through 26 games a season ago, but will head into day two of the new season with a .750 mark at the plate.
Sophomore Tyler Keenan, the reigning Freshman All-American selection, got the party started early with a two-out, first inning solo homer to left center, and the Rebels didn't look back. Ole Miss managed to plate a run in all but two innings and were in solid command by the 6th inning with an eight-run edge over the Raiders.
Ryan Olenek made for some nifty baserunning late in the fifth, when a strikeout by Cole Zabowski actually turned out to be good fortune for the Rebels. The Raider catcher couldn't field the ball cleanly, and threw down to first for the out, when Olenek, recognizing his opportunity, made a break for home for the Rebels' fourth run of the game.
Thomas Dillard managed to score just one batter later on another errant throw by the Wright State pitcher, but the real offensive firepower came in the sixth inning.
After Johnson's leadoff double to the wall, he was knocked in by a Grae Kessinger sac fly to center. Servideo, who reached on a walk, came home with still one down on another sac fly from the bat of Tyler Keenan, who had two RBI today. Olenek, who reached after being hit by a pitch, scored all the way from first on a Dillard double to the wall, and the Rebels claimed an eight-run advantage after six.
If the team's eight runs weren't enough to hold the lead, the Rebels added two more in the eighth for insurance. Michael Fitzsimmons, the team captain, entered in a pinch-hitting opportunity and did what he does best, knocking in freshman Justin Bench on an RBI single. Zabowski elected to get in on the fun with the team's tenth run of the day, that came on a two-out double to the wall.
Freshman Knox Loposer, Josh Hall, and Bench all made their career debuts today in either pinch-hitting, running, or fielding spots. Bench recorded his first career run after being sent home by the bat of Fitzsimmons.
The Rebels will be back in action tomorrow as they go for the series clincher at noon against Wright State at Swayze Field.
- Ole Miss improves to 18-1 in season openers under Mike Bianco.
- Ole Miss is now 25-1 since the beginning of 2018 versus non-SEC opponents.
- The Rebels also improve to 7-3 all-time against the Raiders.
- Junior catcher Cooper Johnson notched a new career high in hits with three, including a homer in the second, just the third of his career. Johnson was a triple shy of the cycle.
- Junior reliever Austin Miller set a new career high in innings pitched with 3.1 in relief of Ethridge.
- Thomas Dillard had his seventh career three-hit game on Friday with two singles and an RBI double in the sixth.
- Junior Will Ethridge went 5.2 innings in his first start since his freshman year without giving up a single run.
- Reigning Freshman All-American Tyler Keenan added to his hitting prowess with the Rebels' first home run of 2019, a solo shot to left-center.
- Sophomore Anthony Servideo entered today with just one stolen base but tripled his career total with two swiped bags on the basepath today.
- Freshman Justin Bench made his Rebel debut today with an entry at second base in the eighth inning and recorded his first career run on a Michael Fitzsimmons RBI single.
- Freshmen Josh Hall and Knox Loposer also made their Rebel debuts today.
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