It’s only fitting that a weird regular season ended in a weird way.
Ryan Olenek, the starting outfielder-turned-mop-up-time pitcher coming off a rash and a virus that took 15 pounds and his final home series from him a week ago, was on the mound with Ole Miss nursing a lead.
Three quick outs, and the Rebels stopped the bleeding, gaining some level of security in the process. Ole Miss beat Tennessee, 5-4, on Saturday in Knoxville to finish 33-23 overall and 16-14 in the SEC. It stopped a six-game skid which was tied for the longest of the Mike Bianco era.
“We haven’t been very good and it hasn’t in just one phase,” Bianco said. It’s been in all phases. Offense and defense and pitching and coaching. Time for all of us to step up.”
The Rebels are the No. 7 seed in the SEC Tournament and open Tuesday at 1 p.m. against Auburn or Missouri. Ole Miss is the defending tournament champion.
Olenek missed the Mississippi State series and graduation festivities with his recent sickness but played all four games this week. In his first significant action of the season on the mound — and first since April 2 against North Alabama — Olenek threw 12 pitches, eight strikes, for two ground outs and a fly out.
He hit the upper 80s with his fastball and talked to himself throughout the inning. With bullpen issues the past two-plus weeks, he was a necessary option to finish off the regular season.
“You knew it wouldn’t be easy and it’s a great thing about our game and he had to pitch today at some point,” Bianco said. We haven’t pitched well at the back end with a lot of different people.
“We ran him out there and had confidence he would throw strikes.”
Gunnar Hoglund gave the Rebels six innings of one-run work before the first two reached against him in the seventh to end his day. He allowed five hits with four strikeouts and a walk.
Tyler Keenan hit a three-run home run in the third inning to give Ole Miss a four-run lead. Cole Zabowski scored the first run of the game on a double steal in the second inning.
Bianco has had an SEC winning record in 13 of his 19 seasons and has never been worse than 13-17 which happened in 2011.