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Ole Miss’ Olenek masters the art of getting plunked

By Nathanael Gabler
The Oxford Eagle

OXFORD — For much of the year, the race to be hit by pitches was a running joke in the Ole Miss press box. Having been hit 16 times this season, it’s something that’s also been on Rebel senior Ryan Olenek’s mind much of the time.

“I’ve always thought, ‘Why does the skinniest kid on the field get hit?’ I don’t know. I think it’s because I stand so close to the plate and I don’t really get out of the way of the ball. It’s not that I try to get hit, but I’m not going to get out of the way,” Olenek said. “I really like getting hit. Hit me in the upper body. Anything in the lower body will break me.”

Olenek has been hit 16 times this season, which ranks second in the Southeastern Conference, and 39 times in his Rebel career. This season, he’s being hit on nearly 7 percent of his plate appearances.
Kentucky’s Ryan Shinn leads the SEC with 17 hit by pitches.

“People don’t like him,” joked head coach Mike Bianco. “He’s got a lot of long limbs and a lot of body parts. Even though he’s skinny, it’s a lot of limbs hanging over the plate.”

In the SEC Tournament last week, Olenek was hit once in the front of the knee with a fastball and then later in the back of the knee with a slider. He says the back-knee one hurt worse, but that pretty much every step came with a little bit of pain.

“Did I hit 40 yet? I’m not a math guy. I think I’m at 39 or 40,” Olenek joked, talking about his career HBP numbers. “It’s all right. It’s just bruises. Nothing bad has ever come out of it except a couple of lingering issues.”

The lingering issues have been relatively serious this year. Olenek got hit by a pitch in the hip during SEC play against Florida, an injury that later flared up after falling on the hip following running into the center field wall. Olenek missed a handful of games dealing with that injury.

There are a few good reasons for Olenek getting hit. Despite being the 6-foot-4, 185-pound skinny kid at the plate, Olenek stands close to the plate in his at-bats. He also has those dangly, gorilla arms. He said that leads opponents trying to pitch him inside and puts him in harm’s way.

“A lot of pitchers try to throw in on long-arm guys. You don’t want a guy to get extension. So my scouting report, I’m assuming, is to throw hard-in and soft-away. A lot of pitchers don’t feel comfortable throwing in, so they just sail it.”

Olenek will try to turn his knack for getting hit into a positive contribution for the Rebels as they host the NCAA Tournament’s Oxford Regional this weekend.

Ole Miss (37-25) opens against Jacksonville State (37-21) Friday at 7 p.m. It shook off a six-game losing streak late in the regular season with a run to the SEC Tournament championship game and is ready to stay hot in the NCAA Tournament.

“At some point, something kind of switched. I’m not sure and I don’t think anyone’s really sure exactly when it flipped, but we just started to play differently,” Ole Miss catcher Cooper Johnson said.

Johnson added that beliving is a big part of postseason baseball, and something to be wary of this weekend. Jacksonville State has won 12 consecutive games.

“When you start to play differently, you start to believe. And when you start to believe then anything can happen,” Johnson said. “You see some mid-major teams making these big runs in the postseason. That’s not because they’re more talented than the other team, maybe they are, but I’d put my money on that it’s almost all belief.”

OXFORD REGIONAL
Double elimination; x-if necessary
Friday

Game 1 – Clemson vs. Illinois, 3 p.m.
Game 2 – Jacksonville St. at Ole Miss, 7 p.m.
Saturday
Game 3 – Game 1 loser vs. Game 2 loser, Noon
Game 4 – Game 1 winner vs. Game 2 winner, 6 p.m.
Sunday
Game 5 – Game 3 winner vs. Game 4 loser, 2 p.m.
Game 6 – Game 4 winner vs. Game 5 winner, 8 p.m.
Monday
x-Game 7 – Game 4 winner vs. Game 5 winner, 6 p.m.