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Rebels use two-out hits and good bullpen work to beat Tulane

NEW ORLEANS | Ole Miss used key hits and stellar bullpen innings to beat Tulane, 6-4, on Friday night at Turchin Stadium in New Orleans.

The Rebels faced a two-run deficit in the sixth inning but home runs in back-to-back frames and five total runs scored with two outs turned the game in their favor. Game two begins at 1 p.m. on Saturday. Houston Roth is on the hill for Ole Miss.

[RELATED: Box Score]

“The arguably most important thing to a baseball game is the timely hit,” Mike Bianco said. “Tonight was the definition of that. We got the big hit all night.”

PLAY OF THE GAME

There are two, they came in separate innings, and they both personify what is good about this Ole Miss offense. With the Rebels down 4-2 in the sixth inning, Ryan Olenek reached base on a hit by pitch, and Cole Zabowski blasted a pitch over the wall to tie the game. An inning later, again with two outs, Grae Kessinger followed suit and did the same to give Ole Miss the lead.

It’s incredibly difficult to hold this lineup down third time through the order and certainly the fourth time through, and Ole Miss ruined Tulane starter Kaleb Roper’s pretty effective start.

The Rebels can strike throughout the lineup with extra base hits and not having to manufacture to score was the difference in the game. Kessinger had just missed a home run the previous at-bat, flying out to the wall. And after Zabowski reset things with the hit of the night, he found the extra few feet — plus some — and sent it out to nearly the same spot.

PLAYER OF THE GAME

This could easily be Zabowski since he certainly had the loudest plate appearance of the night, but Ryan Olenek got the two-out RBI single to score the first run of the game following a bad strikeout call against Thomas Dillard and reached two other times on hit by pitches. Olenek has been hit 27 times in his career, and the one prior to Zabowski’s home run was obviously vital to change the game.

Hitting in the five spot for the first time this season, it’s a nice location for Olenek to be aggressive and get some opportunities behind Dillard and Tyler Keenan.

ZACK PHILLIPS TOOK A STEP BUT ANOTHER NEEDED

Ole Miss starter Zack Phillips didn’t fight off adversity last week against Wright State, letting the unlucky turns compile into missed pitches and a lack of capitalization in plus counts. Friday in New Orleans there were early signs that maturation was evident, but a loss of command in the fifth inning ended his day and gave Tulane the opportunity to take the lead.

Phillips got a strikeout on four pitches to open the frame, but then a single, hit by pitch and walk set the table and put Austin Miller in the game. Phillips showed a sharp, diving breaking ball at times but couldn’t complement it enough with the fastball to be effective and go deep into the game.

“It’s tough and it’s a work in progress,” Bianco said. “The new guys have to fight through it, but the good news is he stayed out of the big inning and got us to the fifth. Last week he couldn’t do that. There was a lot of traffic out there, and we were fortunate.”

The fastball is inconsistent through two weeks, though that wasn’t the case for much of the spring preseason, and some of it is losing composure with his mechanics. There’s enough raw ability to see potential, but there are only two more weeks before SEC play.

A nine-pitch first started the game in great fashion and in the second inning he got out of a two-on jam with back-to-back strikeouts. The final out included two biting breaking balls in the zone and an upper-quadrant fastball that had late life and more velocity.

Phillips allowed 10 batters to reach base in 4.1 innings despite four strikeouts. He also gave up three doubles for the second straight week. The breaking ball is, at times, something to build off of, but that fastball has to be consistently better to occupy this type of role longterm.

TULANE STARTER BENEFITS FROM POOR CALLS

Tulane senior right-hander Kaleb Roper got a couple gifts and kept Ole Miss from stringing hits together. Roper held the Rebels to 4-for-21 at the plate through six innings. The fastball tied Ole Miss up and was the biggest disappointment for the Rebels. The curve ball got some cheap calls from home plate umpire Mark Chapman and changed the tenor of the game in the first couple innings.

But there was good run on the Roper fastball and it got in on a lot of Ole Miss hitters. This is a fastball-hitting offense that should feast against that type of arm, and I at least wonder if the poor umpire calls had an effect on Ole Miss’ approach.

In the first inning with two on and one out, Dillard should have walked to load the bases but instead Chapman rang him up on a curve that was six inches inside. With two one and no outs an inning later, Chapman did the same to Jacob Adams. The calls changed the complexion of the innings and also seemed to alter Ole Miss’ aggression. Tulane had 12 hits to Ole Miss’ six hits, but the home runs were the difference.

In the ninth inning, Bianco and Chapman had a lengthy, animated exchange after Chapman told Dillard to get in the box.

RANDOM THOUGHTS

Parker Caracci made things interesting with two on and one out in the ninth, but he wiggled out of it in his first appearance of the season. The five-out save featured two strikeouts and 20 strikes in 33 pitches. The fastball had run, and he used the breaking ball in all counts. He’s known for the possible velocity but his breaking ball kept Tulane off-balance and was a legitimate weapon during the outing.

Anthony Servideo started in right field, and he is Ole Miss’ best outfielder. He made a great play near the line in the early innings, and his reads are exceptional for someone who is just taking up the position on a part-time basis.

Doug Nikhazy struck out three hitters in 1.2 inning before leaving the game after a ball struck him in the foot. His foot is fine, and he mixed several pitches over the plate and fought back from a 3-1 count in the seventh and a 3-0 count in the eighth for strikeouts to start frames. There’s just something about his confidence you don’t often see in freshmen.

Miller was the first pitcher out of the bullpen and got five outs around two at-bats that allowed inherited runners to score. Overall it was a solid outing. Ole Miss relievers didn’t allow a run in 4.2 innings.

Ole Miss was just 3-for-14 with runners on base. Tulane is hitting .348 against right-handed pitching — and the Rebels are throwing right-handers Roth and Gunnar Hoglund the next two days.