Friday, December 2, 2022

Column: Rebels’ Gunnar’s Back in a Big Way

Gunnar Hoglund on the mound. Photo courtesy of Petri Thomas Ole Miss Athletics

By Jeff Roberson

It’s good to have Gunnar back. That was the consensus Friday night among Ole Miss people and rightfully so. 

Hoglund, the ace of the Rebels’ staff, was superb against South Carolina in a 5-1 series-opening victory. He was absent in the series against LSU last weekend with a stiff bicep. The Rebels lost two of three games against the visiting Tigers.

Hoglund, who went six innings, was happy to be back to help this time around.

“I felt good out there. It was awesome to be back out there competing with the guys,” said Hoglund, now 4-2 this season with the win. “I kinda got tired at the end. It was just a fatigue thing. I feel good.” 

Having logged the most innings of any Rebel pitcher in 2021, Friday night against USC the right-hander allowed no runs on one hit with no walks.

Hoglund appreciated the offensive run support he got while on the mound.

“It was good (to have a lead) and I could just focus on making a pitch,” he said.

His teammates enjoyed giving him that cushion to work with on this night.

“It was awesome. It’s always good to have a guy like Gunnar pitching,” said Hayden Leatherwood, who was 2-for-4 on the night. “He was dominant and I’m happy for him.”

Derek Diamond replaced Hoglund to start the seventh and immediately gave up a solo homer to USC DH Josiah Sightler. But the Rebels already had enough runs to get the job done, especially since that was the only hit Diamond gave up. He allowed just one walk. 

How many times through the years has Mike Bianco said it all starts on the mound? That was as apparent as ever Friday night as the Rebels were never really challenged by the visitors because of solid pitching from Hoglund and Diamond.

Next up, the normally superb Doug Nikhazy starts at 1:30 p.m. Saturday, the first of two games on this weekend’s “Doug Day” as potential Sunday rain forces a twin bill. Then it will be Drew McDaniel getting the ball for game three Saturday evening at 6 p.m. in a SEC Network televised contest.

If those two starters follow Hoglund’s and Diamond’s leads – 17 strikeouts and allowing only three base runners the Rebels closer Taylor Broadway came in and got the last three strikeouts – it could be the weekend Ole Miss has needed after a not-so-hot April.

The Rebels, now 29-12 overall and 11-8 in the SEC, should have plenty of pitching to get through two games Saturday against the Gamecocks (26-13, 11-8).

“I thought we played really well,” Bianco said of his team in the opener. “It’s been a while since we’ve won on Friday, which is a shame since we have one of the best pitchers in the country going on Fridays.”

On this Friday, there were two.