KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (Ole Miss Athletics) - No. 15 Ole Miss found an unlikely hero in Ryan Olenek on the mound and hung on for a 5-4 win over Tennessee in Game 3 of a weekend series, snapping a six game skid for the Rebels going into postseason play.
Ole Miss jumped ahead early and, although Tennessee threatened in later innings, managed to take down the Volunteers in a one-run Saturday ballgame. The visiting Rebels were able to capitalize on a strong start from Gunnar Hoglund and an equally strong finish from Olenek, not to mention some quality relief work from Tyler Myers, and limited the Volunteers to their lowest run total of the weekend.
Before the Volunteers found their rhythm at the plate, however, it was the Ole Miss bats' time to shine.
After just a four-pitch first inning from the Tennessee starter Zach Linginfelter, the Rebels responded in the top of the second by cracking through with the first run of the game. Cole Zabowski and Ryan Olenek worked a nifty double-steal, with the latter taking second while Zabowski barreled home. He was originally called out, but it was reversed to safe upon review as the big man successfully operated a steal to home.
Ole Miss added some needed padding an inning later with one swing of the bat from Tyler Keenan. Thomas Dillard and Grae Kessinger reached on a pair of free passes, before Keenan lifted one the opposite way over the left field wall for a three-run home run, his team-leading 13th of the year.
The Rebels chased Linginfelter the very next inning after Jacob Adams plated Kevin Graham on a sacrifice fly, and while Ole Miss was busy putting a dent in the Tennessee bullpen, Hoglund was ensuring that the arms of the Rebel bullpen were staying well-rested after a busy Friday night.
Holgund retired 11 of the first 12 twelve batters he faced, including 10 straight after a one-out double in the top of the first inning. He sent the home team back to the dugout empty-handed in the game's first three innings, before finally succumbing to the Tennessee bats in the bottom of the fourth as a pair of two-out hits allowed for the Volunteers' first run of the game.
The 5-1 score would hold for a pair of scoreless innings, but Tennessee struck back in a big way in the bottom of the seventh. Two Volunteer runners reached on a single and walk, respectively, bringing Hoglund's day to an end at 6.0 innings, which tied his career best. Connor Green entered and gave up a walk to load the bases with no outs in what would be his only batter faced.
Mike Bianco and the Rebels then turned to Tyler Myers, who inherited three base runners with nobody out. Pete Derkay doubled down on a hit that just snuck inside the first base line to score a pair, before a sac fly cut the Ole Miss lead to just one run. Myers was able to limit the damage, however, forcing a groundout to ensure that the Rebels took a slight lead into the eighth inning.
Myers' work in the seventh would turn out to be the game-saving effort as the Rebels grasped to a one-run lead heading into the final two frames.
He turned right around and worked a 1-2-3 eighth inning, before the Rebels elected to send out Olenek for the game's final inning.
Olenek would only face three batters in the bottom of the ninth and earned his first career save on a flyout and two groundouts. He had pitched just four times all season before being asked to deliver a flawless outing in a one-run game, and he delivered just what the Rebels needed.
Today's game concludes the regular season for the Rebels, who enter postseason play with a 33-23 overall record. Due up next is the always-daunting SEC Tournament in Hoover, Alabama, which begins next Tuesday, May 21, at the Hoover Metropolitan Stadium, where Ole Miss will look to defend their 2018 SEC Tournament Championship.
The Rebels will be the ¬¬No. 7 seed at the SEC Tournament next week, and will begin play on Tuesday, with an opponent and time to be determined.