LEXINGTON, Kentucky — Ole Miss traveled to Kentucky for a Thursday-Friday-Saturday series that featured a little bit of everything: offense, defense, clutch hitting, freshman bats coming alive, outstanding pitching at times, as well as stellar field play.
Much like they did in last weekend’s season-opening series against Vanderbilt, the Rebels won the first game of the series with the Wildcats but dropped the second one. Unfortunately, however, in this series the Rebels lost the rubber game to Kentucky, moving Ole Miss’ record to 15-9 overall and 3-3 in SEC play.
Thursday: Ole Miss 9, Kentucky 6
Ole Miss brought the bats to the park on Thursday, pounding out 11 hits and featuring a six-run, sixth inning that powered the Rebels to a 9-6 victory in game one.
Sophomore starter James McArthur returned to the mound after missing the last two weekends with a forearm strain. The New Braunfels native pitched well, going five complete innings, allowing only one run on five hits and striking out four. McArthur picked up the win and improved his season record to 1-1.
Sophomore righty Brady Feigl relieved McAurthur, while other appearances from the Ole Miss bullpen were made by freshman Houston Roth and Junior Will Stokes.
Sophomore Dallas Woolfolk closed out the game for the Rebels, going 1 ⅓ innings and earning the save—an SEC-leading sixth of the year.
Wildcats’ reigning SEC Pitcher of the Week, Sean Hjelle, went 5 ⅔ innings and was dealt the loss.
Freshman shortstop Grae Kessinger started the scoring for the Rebels in the second, blasting a two-run home run to right center field, just to the left of the wall at Cliff Hagan Stadium. Kessinger notched two more hits Thursday night, going 3 for 4.
Others with multiple hits included right fielder Will Golsan who went 2 for 5 and picked up two runs batted in; center fielder Ryan Olenek (also 2 for 5); designated hitter Tim Rowe (2 for 4); left fielder Thomas Dillard (2 for 4); and Cooper Johnson (2 for 3).
The sixth inning featured a six-run, two-out rally by Ole Miss with singles from Rowe and Chase Cockrell, followed by a two-run double down the left field line by Dillard, a one-run single from Johnson, a single by Kessinger, another two-run double from Golsan, and a one-run double from Olenek, who was thrown out at third trying to stretch his double to a triple.
In the bottom of the eighth, Kentucky freshman pinch hitter T.J. Collett notched a grand slam in his third career college at-bat.
Defensively, the Rebels recorded two double plays in the Kentucky fourth and seventh innings.
Friday: Kentucky 4, Ole Miss 2
Friday night’s game was the opposite of Thursday’s scoring-fest as Ole Miss lost a 4-2 contest to the Wildcats. The Rebels’ runs came off of solo home runs from sophomore center fielder Ryan Olenek and freshman first baseman Chase Cockrell. It was Olenek’s first home run on the season and Cockrell’s second. Olenek became the 12th Rebel to hit one out of the park this season.
Kentucky spread its runs out over four innings, scoring single runs in the second, sixth, seventh and eighth. More Wildcat runs might have been scored in the eighth if the Rebels had not turned in an outstanding defensive play that erased a Kentucky runner at the plate. Right fielder Will Golsan fired the ball to Tate Blackman, who then gunned down Wildcat third baseman Luke Becker. Freshman Cooper Johnson made an outstanding block of the plate to save the run from scoring.
Junior southpaw David Parkinson started the game for Ole Miss and went 6 ⅓ innings, only giving up a lone run in the second inning. Parkinson gave up five hits and struck out five Wildcats. He left the game in the seventh and recorded a no-decision.
Freshman Greer Holston took over for Parkinson and pitched 1 ⅓ innings. He gave up a single run and was given the loss, moving his record to 0-2 on the season. Of the four outs Holston tallied, two were from strikeouts. Freshman Ryan Rolison pitched ⅓ of an inning, giving up a walk and dealing one strikeout.
Saturday, in his pregame interview on the Ole Miss radio network, Rebel skipper Mike Bianco commented that he felt like his team was “tense rather than intense” during part of the game on Friday, and he indicated it might be due to the youth of the squad.
Saturday: Kentucky 4, Ole Miss 1
Freshman hurler Will Ethridge took the mound in Saturday’s game and lasted until the fourth inning when Kentucky loaded the bases with nobody out. Kentucky defeated the Rebels, 4-1, in the rubber game, giving the Wildcats the series victory.
Ethridge gave up two earned runs on six Wildcat hits and recorded the loss, moving his record to 1-1 on the season. In the game, the freshman from Liburn, Georgia picked off two Kentucky runners—one trying to steal third base in the first inning and one during a two-on, no-out jam in the third inning.
In the fourth inning, sophomore Connor Green took over the bases-loaded jam and did a great job of recording three straight outs. He pitched a season-high 3.0 scoreless innings of relief. Will Stokes closed out the game for the Rebels, going 1 ⅓ innings and allowing no runs on zero hits.
The Rebels lone run of the game was plated in the sixth inning when Colby Bortles powered a two-strike fastball to right field that scored Ryan Olenek. It was Bortles’ second hit of the day. For the weekend, the team captain went 4 for 11 at the plate. Ole Miss recorded no extra-base hits Saturday.
Kentucky scored single runs in the first and fourth and two runs in the eighth to put Ole Miss away and take the weekend series from the Rebels. Kentucky starter Justin Lewis earned the win, improving to 4-1, and Wildcat closer Logan Salow recorded his sixth save as he shut down the Rebels, 1-2-3, in the ninth.
In the post game interview on the Ole Miss Radio Network, Connor Green commented on mindset of the team. Although dropping a series isn’t what the Rebels were looking for in their trip to Kentucky, Green said: “We’re not going to quit.”
Ole Miss Head Coach Mike Bianco added: “In low scoring games you need to play clean, and we didn’t.” Bianco praised Green for minimizing the Kentucky bats after coming in with bases loaded. He added, “We need to learn to be better on the road.”
Next up for Ole Miss
The Rebels return to the friendly confines of Swayze Field in a mid-week day game against Arkansas-Little Rock on Tuesday, March 28. First pitch is set for 11:00 a.m.
On Thursday, in-state rival Mississippi State travels to Oxford for a weekend SEC series with the Rebels. Game times are 7:00 p.m. on Thursday; 6:00 p.m. on Friday; and 1:30 p.m. on Saturday.
(Feature image credit: Josh McCoy, Ole Miss Athletics)