OXFORD, Miss. – After losing its last five Southeastern Conference games, the Ole Miss baseball team looked to rebound against SEC West foe Alabama. And what a rebound it was! Ole Miss swept the visiting Crimson Tide, winning two games in convincing fashion and one with ninth-inning heroics.
Friday: Alabama 2, Ole Miss 7
Ole Miss clicked on all cylinders Friday night in the series opener. Solid pitching and timely hitting led to a 7-2 Rebel victory.
While the Ole Miss bats have seemed to struggle at times this season, this was not the case Friday night. When asked about the offensive production, head coach Mike Bianco quipped, “What an adjustment our guys made the second time through [the lineup].” He added, “I thought our guys did a terrific job [at the plate].”
Alabama took the lead in their first at-bat of the game. Ole Miss starter James McArthur walked the first Crimson Tide batter, who then advanced to second and third base on wild pitches. After walking the second batter, the sophomore from New Braunfels (TX) induced a 4-6-3 double play that scored an Alabama run. But the 6-foot-7 righty soon settled in after the first inning.
From the second inning until he left the game after the seventh, McArthur only allowed two hits—one in the form of a single to lead off the second inning, and the second coming with two outs in the 4th inning. McArthur recorded four 1-2-3 innings in the Crimson Tide half of the third, fifth, sixth and seventh.
Freshman right-handed pitcher Will Ethridge, who recorded three strikeouts in his relief appearance, pitched the eighth and ninth in a non-save opportunity for the Rebels, allowing only a meaningless unearned run in the 9th.
McArthur was awarded the win, improving his record to 2-1 on the season.
The big inning at the plate for the Rebels came in the fourth, when the home team plated four runs. Ole Miss strung together doubles by senior captain Colby Bortles, sophomore Ryan Olenek, and freshman Thomas Dillard. Runs were scored by junior Will Golsan, who singled to lead-off the inning, Bortles, Olenek, and Dillard, who advanced to third and scored on wild pitches.
The sixth inning for Ole Miss called for a chance of “showers” in right field–beer showers, that is. Catcher Nick Fortes hit his first collegiate home run to lead-off the inning, and junior Tim “Mustache” Rowe homered with two outs.
In total, Ole Miss recorded nine hits and seven runs (including three doubles and two home runs) to take the first game of the series from Alabama.
Saturday: Alabama 4, Ole Miss 5
After Saturday’s game, Coach Bianco remarked, “We hung in there.” Anybody who watched the game would agree, as the Rebels overcame a 3-0 deficit and four errors by Ole Miss infielders to give themselves a chance in the bottom of the ninth to “walk-off”—and what a walk-off it was!
Junior second baseman Tate Blackman deposited a 1-1 offering from Alabama reliever Garrett Suchey over the left field wall, securing a 5-4 victory for the Rebels as well as the series win. After the game, Blackman noted it was his first-ever walk-off home run and said it was a “fun time.”
In addition to Blackman, Catcher Nick Fortes turned in a 3 for 4 day at the plate including an RBI. Other RBI producers were left fielder Thomas Dillard, first baseman Cole Zabowski and shortstop Grae Kessinger. Designated hitter Tim Rowe scored two of the Rebels’ five runs.
The sixth inning was the big one for Ole Miss on Saturday. Ryan Olenek led off and was hit by a pitch. He subsequently advanced to second and third on a Rowe double and then scored on a single from Fortes. Dillard loaded the bases after working a walk, while Zabowski and Kessinger then hit consecutive sacrifice flies to right field, scoring one run each for the Rebels.
Closer Dallas Woolfolk recorded the win to improve to 3-1 on the year. After the game, when he was asked by Keith Kessinger about his mentality coming in with the score tied—rather than with the lead he usually has—the 6-2 sophomore from Southaven responded by explaining that he “…tries to make pitches and tries to get outs. Give your team the best opportunity to win.”
Woolfolk pitched 1 ⅔ innings and gave up no runs, no hits and no walks.
Reliever Will Stokes took the mound in the seventh inning with runners on first and second and quickly shut the door, allowing only a sacrifice bunt that advanced Alabama to second and third. He struck out the next two hitters to end the Crimson Tide threat.
Other Rebel pitchers included starter David Parkinson, who threw 5 ⅓ innings and allowed four runs, and Brady Feigl, who went ⅔ of an innings and gave up two hits but no runs.
Looking forward to Sunday’s game, Bianco commented, “To be the best that we can be, we have to play it one game at a time . . . but when you get to Sunday after you win the first two . . . the only thing left is to play well and sweep.”
Sunday: Alabama 2, Ole Miss 8
The Rebels followed Skipper Bianco’s advice and played well, exhibiting timely pitching and a solid approach at the plate that led to an 8-2 win and a series sweep for the home team.
Ole Miss was led at the plate Sunday by Tate Blackman, Saturday’s ninth-inning hero. The second baseman, who was 0-8 until the walk-off home run, went 3 for 4 Sunday, including two RBI, a double, as well as scoring three runs. Will Golsan recorded two hits with a home run, a double and three RBI. The other Rebel with multiple hits was Tim Rowe who had two doubles.
Ryan Olenek’s RBI single in the seventh off an intentional walk attempt reminded many of the Ole Miss faithful of Austin Anderson’s walk-off home run against Auburn back in 2014 when the Tigers attempted to intentionally walk him. Like Anderson, Olenek swung on the intentional walk attempt, connecting with a pitch left over the plate.
— The Rebel Walk (@TheRebelWalk) April 9, 2017
Freshman Ryan Rolison threw 5 ⅔ innings for the Rebels, recording a season-tying seven strikeouts. He was awarded his first SEC win and advanced to 4-1 this season.
Rolison turned the game over to fellow freshman Will Ethridge who gave up a lone hit in 1 ⅓ innings of work. Dallas Woolfolk closed the game down in the eighth and ninth, allowing just a single run. The run in the 8th was the first given up by the Ole Miss bullpen since the Thursday night game vs. State (over 24 innings of work).
Coach Bianco noted that Rolison gave a “gutsy performance” and said he was proud of his pitcher. Bianco added, “I thought the offense did a terrific job.”
Note of the Game: All eight of the Rebels’ runs were scored on two-out hits (7-for-13)
Milestone for Bianco
Sunday’s victory moved the Rebels to 6-6 in SEC play and 20-12 overall. It also marked victory number 650 for Mike Bianco as the Ole Miss head coach—and gave him his 750th overall win as a head coach.
The Rebels hit the road this week with a Tuesday visit to Hattiesburg to play Southern Mississippi for the second time in two weeks. First pitch is set for 6:30 p.m. (CT).
For the weekend SEC series, Ole Miss travels to Alex Box Stadium to face LSU in a Thursday, Friday, Saturday series with games set to begin at 6:30 p.m., 7:00 p.m., and 2 p.m. respectively.
(Feature image credit: Josh McCoy, Ole Miss Athletics)