Entering the final weekend of the 2017 SEC regular season with a road series against Auburn, the Ole Miss baseball team was left with work to do in order to play its way into the NCAA tournament.
Many thought the Rebels, who entered the series with a league record of 13-14, needed at least one win at Plainsman Park to secure Ole Miss’ post season NCAA chances. Further, two wins would guarantee the Rebels a .500 record in league play and a likely spot into the tournament, according to many experts.
Both D1Baseball and Baseball America had Ole Miss as a three-seed in their respective NCAA tournament projections released on May 17th—a bubble position that had fans, players and coaches sweating it out.
Thursday: Ole Miss 1, Auburn 4
Throughout his six-plus innings pitched, Auburn pitcher Keegan Thompson frustrated Ole Miss batters. Thompson took a no-hitter into the seventh inning before an hour-and-thirteen minute lightning delay prematurely ended his night.
After the delay, the Rebels would continue to struggle at the plate, managing only three hits and one run in the final three innings. This prompted head coach Mike Bianco to describe it as a “tough day at the plate for us.”
Defensively, catcher Cooper Johnson threw out his 16th baserunner of the season, catching Auburn’s Blake Logan as he tried to steal second base in the second inning.
Ole Miss pitching: Rebel starter James McArthur, who took the loss, was roughed up a bit early, giving up three runs off six hits in 3 1/3 innings pitched.
Houston Roth entered the game for Ole Miss in the fourth inning and gave up two hits, including a two-run home run off the bat of Tiger right fielder Daniel Robert. But other than the homer and a double in the fourth, Roth pitched well, retiring the final six batters he faced.
Reliever Brady Feigl pitched the final two innings for the Rebs, facing the minimum, and allowed no runs and no hits. “Feigl looked really sharp out of the bullpen,” Bianco said after the game.
Ole Miss scored its lone run of the game in the ninth inning when Colby Bortles’ sacrifice fly plated Tate Blackman, who had doubled to lead off the inning. The Red and Blue dropped the first game of the series by a final score of 4-1.
Friday: Ole Miss 1, Auburn 9
On Friday, Auburn pitching continued to cause problems for the Rebels, as the Tigers held Ole Miss to a single run for the second night in a row. Auburn took game two of the series 9-1.
Though the Rebs did record seven hits in the game, they only managed to record multiple hits in one inning—the seventh—when captain Tate Blackman’s RBI single scored Cooper Johnson. Further, the hits were scattered throughout the line-up, with no Rebel garnering more than one hit on the night.
Ole Miss pitching: The Tigers scored four runs in the first three innings and forced Ole Miss to look to the Rebel bullpen early. Freshman starter Ryan Rolison, who took the loss for Ole Miss, was followed by Greer Holston who pitched for an inning.
Connor Green looked good closing down the game for the Rebels, going 3 ⅓ innings and allowing only one hit and no runs. Green recorded a personal, season-high five strikeouts.
Though his team’s pitching struggled at times, Bianco credited Auburn. “They put a lot of pressure on you—a fantastic job by them offensively,” he noted.
“Tomorrow, we have to come with a different mindset to make it happen,” Bianco said, looking ahead to Saturday’s game three.
Saturday: Ole Miss 8, Auburn 4
After dropping the first two games, the Rebels had their backs against the wall, needing a victory to reach 14 conference wins. Auburn scored first, but Ole Miss would not be held down in this one. The Rebels scored single runs in the second, sixth and ninth innings and multiple runs in the third and fourth innings.
Ole Miss pitching: In the final game of the series, Ole Miss pitchers displayed the masterful performances we are used to seeing from their talented arms. David Parkinson, who was very effective in the game for the Rebels, was in line for the win when the lightning-delay bug bit the Ole Miss-Auburn series for the second time in three days.
Parkinson, who was facing Josh Anthony with two outs and a 2-1 count when lightning moved in too close for the game to continue, gave up only one earned run on the day.
After the game, fellow pitcher Will Stokes heaped praise upon Parkinson.
“David’s always the guy that’s going to fill up the strike zone and give us a chance to win.”
Bianco agreed, adding that Parkinson is “such a great competitor.”
After the 55-minute weather delay, junior Stokes entered the game in relief of Parkinson, with Auburn’s Anthony eventually becoming the third out of the inning.
Stokes would go the final 4 ⅓ innings and pick up the win for Ole Miss. He allowed only a single hit and no runs, limiting Auburn to the four runs they scored before the delay.
It was Stokes’ longest and probably most effective outing of the year. “Will was running through them,” head coach Bianco commented afterwards.
Ole Miss offense: The Ole Miss offense came to life Saturday as they notched 13 hits against six different Auburn pitchers. Blackman, Nick Fortes, and Ryan Olenek had a multiple-hit day, with Blackman going a sizzling 4 for 5, while Fortes went 3 for 5 and Olenek finished 3 for 4.
Blackman, Fortes and Olenek also accounted for seven of the eight Ole Miss RBIs. Blackman was credited with three RBIs, while Fortes and Olenek picked up two each.
Ole Miss scored eight runs and picked up the important win, 8-4, in the series finale.
Coach Bianco was proud of his team’s resilience.
“Our guys showed up today…and deserved to win. When we play like we did today, we can play with anybody in the country.”
Ole Miss head coach Mike Bianco
Notables from win over Auburn:
• The Rebels are now 17-16 against ranked opponents in 2017.
• Parkinson marked a new SEC high with eight strikeouts in 4.2 innings in game three vs Auburn.
• Will Stokes tossed 4.1 innings of relief to record a season-high and struck out five as a career-high.
• Ryan Olenek recorded his team-high 16th double of the season.
• Leading the team with a .319 batting average, Nick Fortes produced his eighth multi-hit game in the past 15 outings, going 3-for-5. The three hits matches his career-high for the fifth time.
• Tate Blackman tallied a career-high four hits and a season-high tying three RBI.
• Colby Bortles recorded a career-high two walks.
Thomas Dillard named to SEC Community Service Team
Ole Miss freshman Thomas Dillard was recognized as a member of the 2017 Southeastern Conference Community Service Team earlier this week. Dillard represented the Rebels on the conference list after performing a variety of community service activities throughout his first year on campus.
A native of Oxford, Dillard was a leader in the Adopt-A-Basket program, working with Interfaith Compassion Ministries to provide a total of 50 Thanksgiving baskets from the Ole Miss Athletics Department to those in the Lafayette and Oxford communities. He also went to local elementary schools to read books to students as part of the Reading with the Rebels program.
Dillard also volunteered at the Bats and Balls Clinic in coordination with the Junior Auxiliary of Oxford. He represents his fellow student-athletes on the Ole Miss Student-Athlete Advisory Committee (SAAC), and also joined other Ole Miss students to participate in RebelTHON, a fundraising event for the Children’s Miracle Network Hospital.
What’s Next for Ole Miss
The SEC Tournament in Hoover, Alabama–and a rematch against Auburn–awaits Ole Miss. The Rebels (32-24) will play the Tigers (34-22) again on Tuesday in a “win-or-go-home” game vs at 4:30 p.m. at the Hoover Met.
The Rebels are determined to stay focused as they enter the league tourney. “We’re going to play one game and one inning at a time,” said captain Tate Blackman.
Following the win over Auburn, Bianco discussed the SEC Tournament.
“It’s a neat venue; it’s a neat atmosphere. It’ll be the toughest tournament in the country. It’s tough; we’ll have to get after it on Tuesday.”
Mike Bianco on SEC Tournament