OXFORD, Miss. — Both Ole Miss and Missouri entered the sixth Southeastern Conference series of the year with identical league records of 7-8; after this weekend, one team would be at or above .500, and the other would continue to try and find its way in SEC play.
The Tigers, who began the season 20-1, had only recorded six wins in their last 17 games going into Friday’s matchup in Oxford. The Rebels dropped the opening game of the series, but showed great resiliency by winning Saturday and Sunday to take the series from Missouri, 2-1.
The Rebels (25-15) improve to 9-9 in the SEC, while Mizzou (27-14) drops to 8-10 in league play.
Friday: Ole Miss 3, Missouri 9
The Rebels were scheduled to face Tigers’ ace Tanner Houck on Friday; however, he was listed as a late scratch for Missouri, so junior Cole Barlett made the emergency start, his first of the year.
Ole Miss sophomore Nick Fortes took the field at first base after an earlier start there for the Rebels in their midweek win over Arkansas-Pine Bluff. With Fortes at first, freshman Cooper Johnson returned to the Ole Miss lineup at catcher.
The Rebels were able to get to Barlett in the first inning when second baseman Tate Blackman, right fielder Will Golsan and third baseman Colby Bortles all hit back-to-back singles. Blackman scored on Bortles’ single, and Golsan scored on a double steal.
Unfortunately for Ole Miss, however, that was all the runs the Rebels could muster. Missouri notched a two-run home run in the second inning to tie the score at two and later homered in the third to take the lead for good.
Ole Miss starter James McArthur pitched into the seventh inning and left the game with a manageable deficit of just one run. However, the Tigers scored runs against the usually-reliable Rebels’ bullpen in the seventh, eighth and ninth innings to put the game away.
Ole Miss batters tallied 10 hits in the game—all singles—with three in the first and two in the ninth when the game was out of reach.
Barlett threw a complete game for Missouri and earned the win, improving his record to 5-0 on the year. McArthur (2-3) was tagged with the loss for the Rebels, after only giving up three runs.
“It’s not about how many hits, it’s about the timely hits,” said head coach Mike Bianco after the 9-2 loss. Not pleased with the late inning pitching, he added “…the pen failed us tonight.”
Saturday: Ole Miss 3, Missouri 1
On Saturday, it was Ole Miss’ turn for a change in the pitching rotation. Announced starter David Parkinson awoke on game day with the stomach flu, so Bianco simply moved freshman Ryan Rolison, Sunday’s scheduled pitcher, up a day into the Saturday start.
Rolison got into a little bit of trouble in the first and second innings, but expertly pitched out of the jams and took a no-hitter into the fifth inning. Captain Colby Bortles praised Rolison’s performance after the win.
“He competed really hard . . . We all knew he was going to be really good today.”
Colby Bortles on Ryan Rolison
Rolison added to his win total to advance his record to 5-2. Bianco complimented the lefty freshman, who pitched six complete innings and dealt a career-high nine strikeouts.
“Ryan had a great fastball today. [I’m] proud of him.”
Ole Miss head coach Mike Bianco on Rolison’s performance
Rolison turned the game over to fellow freshman Will Ethridge, who promptly mowed down the Tigers in 1-2-3 fashion in the seventh and eighth innings. Bianco couldn’t help but also be pleased with Ethridge, saying he showed “great, great stuff,” while noting “he wants the ball when the game’s on the line.”
Missouri made it interesting in the ninth inning with a lead-off home run followed by a double, but closer Dallas Woolfolk came through and got the final three outs, recording two strikeouts and causing a pop-out to Ole Miss shortstop Grae Kessinger. It was Woolfolk’s eighth save of the season, prompting Bianco to say his sophomore pitcher is “…tough enough to handle the adversity.”
Ole Miss scored in the first inning for the third game in a row, plating a run without a hit after Will Golsan walked, Colby Bortles and Ryan Olenek were hit by pitches, and Tim Rowe grounded into a fielder’s choice to score Golsan.
Later in the fifth, the Rebels scored two—thanks to aggressive base running by Tate Blackman following his two-out walk. Blackman went from first to third on a single by Golsan. Golsan advanced to second on the throw, setting the table for Bortles, who then delivered a two-RBI single up the middle.
While four runs has been the “magic number” for Ole Miss this year, three was enough Saturday as the Rebels evened the series with a final score of 3-1.
Sunday: Ole Miss 9, Missouri 6
The Rebels pounded out nine hits and scored nine runs to finish off the Tigers by a final score of 9-6 in Game 3 on Sunday. Ole Miss scored early and often, with three runs in the first and a run in the second, and really never looked back.
The big inning, however, came in the fourth and featured Colby Bortles hammering a three-run home run on an 0-1 curveball, as well as a two-run double by first baseman Nick Fortes. Bortles’ home run was his team-leading sixth this season.
The Rebels’ aggressiveness should not be overlooked, as they took extra bases on numerous occasions. Bianco liked the approach by the Ole Miss hitters at the plate, noting that “the last two days we had more competitive at-bats.”
Will Golsan had another good day, going 2-4 at the plate and scoring two runs. Shortstop Grae Kessinger turned in a defensive gem, going deep into the hole with a sliding stop and throwing from the outfield grass in the fourth inning to retire Missouri’s Samples.
Missouri never gave up, however, and closed the gap by scoring three runs in the fifth and two in the eighth.
After missing his start Saturday, southpaw David Parkinson returned to the mound Sunday for the Rebels, pitching 4 ⅔ innings and allowing four runs on eight hits. The sophomore left the game in the fifth inning with Ole Miss leading the Tigers, 9-4.
Reliever Houston Roth went three innings and got the win—his second of the season. Will Ethridge, who closed the game down and retired all four batters he faced, earned the save, his first.
After the game, Bortles said getting back to .500 was “a good confidence-booster” for the Rebels and added that his team is “looking forward to upcoming games.”
Nick Fortes chimed in and said, “It’s good to get a big series win and help us go forward.”
What’s Next for Ole Miss
Tuesday the Rebels head back to Trustmark Park to duel with the Bulldogs from Starkville in the annual Governor’s Cup trophy game. First pitch is set for 6:30 p.m.
The weekend series finds the Rebels on the road to Fayetteville as they visit Western Division rival Arkansas in a Thursday, Friday, Saturday series. Ole Miss enters the series at Arkansas with an overall 40-45 record against the Hogs. Games start at 6:00 p.m. Thursday and Friday and at 4:00 p.m. on Saturday.
(Feature image credit: Madi Osias, Ole Miss Athletics)