OXFORD, Mississippi – Entering the last regular season SEC weekend at Swayze Field with an 11-13 conference record and an RPI in the 30’s, Ole Miss found itself squarely on the NCAA Tournament bubble. Some even labeled the series as a “must-win” for the Rebels.
A visit by the No. 19-ranked Texas A&M Aggies gave the red and blue a wonderful opportunity to improve their tournament resume. Texas A&M entered the series with a 14-10 SEC record, the conference’s best pitching staff (as measured by ERA) and solid batting. The weekend would be a true test for Ole Miss.
Friday: Texas A&M 12, Ole Miss 5
The Aggies scored early and often Friday night, notching six runs in the first three innings of the game, and they never looked back. A&M plated runs in seven of the nine innings played and finished with 14 hits. In the end, head coach Mike Bianco’s Rebels dropped Game One by a final score of 12-5.
Ole Miss pounded out 11 hits but just never managed the big hit at the right time. Right fielder Will Golsan led the Rebels offensively, turning in a 3-for-4 day that included two RBIs and a double. First baseman Nick Fortes also had a multi-hit day, going 2-for-4 with an RBI.
Rebel starter James McArthur pitched five complete innings and took the loss for Ole Miss. A&M reliever Kaylor Chafin (7-1) went 3 ⅔ innings, allowing no runs, and was awarded the victory.
Saturday: Texas A&M 4, Ole Miss 6
Entering the eighth inning down 4-2, the Rebels needed runs and needed them quickly. The inning started with consecutive singles by Fortes and centerfielder Ryan Olenek, who each went on to score and tie the game at four on a mishandled grounder by Aggie shortstop Austin Homan.
All season, shortstop Grae Kessinger has been known for his defensive prowess, showing amazing range, incredible footwork and an outstanding arm which he has used to turn base hits into outs. Although he entered the weekend with a batting average of .176, the freshman produced at the plate when his team needed it the most on Saturday.
Staring down a 2-2 pitch from Aggie reliever Cason Sherrod, Kessinger powered a double into deep center field over the head of A&M’s Nick Choruby. The double scored Tim Rowe and would eventually prove to be the game-winning RBI.
The double by the Oxford native might be looked back upon as the time when a young Grae Kessinger found his bat at Ole Miss. After the game, he explained how Coach Bianco told him to “…just be on time for the fastball.”
Kessinger said he hoped the ball was over the Aggie fielder’s head, adding: “I was running and I was just praying the whole way it was.”
Bianco, who was proud of his young player, said it was the “…biggest AB (at-bat) of the year, obviously, for him.”
Defensively, the play of the game was turned in by Cooper Johnson who had a flying throw-out on a bunt attempt up the first base line by Austin Homan in the sixth inning. Bianco deemed it a “big league play.”
Ole Miss Pitching: After the game, Bianco said he felt his team pitched well. Starter Ryan Rolison went 4 ⅔ inning, allowing three runs and scattering four hits. In relief, Will Stokes pitched 1 ⅔ and allowed a lone run. The four runs given up by Rolison and Stokes were all the Aggies would manage, as Will Ethridge and Dallas Woolfolk would shut A&M out the rest of the way.
Ethridge got the win for the Rebels, improving to 2-2, while Woolfolk picked up the save–his 11th of the year.
The Rebels won 6-4 in a game they desperately needed to win. Following the game, Bianco noted: “The great thing for us was we hung around . . . just gave ourselves a chance,” later adding that his team ” …needed something to feel good about.”
Sunday: Texas A&M 3, Ole Miss 6
Sunday was the last home game of the regular season for the 2017 Rebels–marking the last regular season game at Swayze for third baseman Colby Bortles and pitcher Sean Johnson. Ole Miss would never trail in this one, scoring in the first inning en route to a 6-3 victory that clinched the series for the Rebels.
Going into the eighth inning, Ole Miss captain Bortles was hitless. Not wanting to disappoint those in attendance, however, he saved the very best for last. In what was likely his last at-bat at Swayze Field, Bortles belted a 3-1 pitch to left field for his 11th home run of the year. The bomb also scored Will Golsan.
Commenting on his homer after the game, Bortles exclaimed: “It was awesome . . . I was trying to help my team win . . . I put a good swing on it.”
Bortles reflected on his time at Ole Miss and what it has meant to him.
“It feels like yesterday I was a freshman . . . I wouldn’t trade my four years here for the world.”
Senior captain Colby Bortles
Earlier in the eighth inning, sophomore captain Tate Blackman also homered to left, his 10th of the season, later prompting Coach Bianco to describe his two captains as “great leaders.”
Will Golsan finished with yet another 3-for-4 day, as did center fielder Ryan Olenek. Catcher Cooper Johnson also had two hits in four at-bats.
Ole Miss pitching: Junior starter David Parkinson pitched six strong innings and only gave up one run. After having a few rough outings this season, Parkinson noted, “It felt good to get back out there and get back to the old me.”
Parkinson recorded the win for the Rebels and advanced his record to 6-3.
“Today David was terrific. You gotta make some pitches and get off the field, and he did that today.”
Mike Bianco on David Parkinson’s performance
Will Stokes threw one inning, giving up no runs. “[I’m] proud of Will,” Bianco commented. “[He] had a little of that swagger back.”
Closer Dallas Woolfolk went the final two innings, giving up only two runs and notching his 12th save of the year. “There’s not a better guy in the country than him,” Bianco said.
The 2017 season saw another attendance record fall at Swayze. Total regular season attendance was 273,448, with an average attendance of 8,545.
Bianco expressed his appreciation for the fan support from the Rebel faithful.
“That’s why recruits want to come here. It’s a special place.”
Ole Miss heads into the final week of the season 31-21, overall, with a 13-14 SEC record.
Next Up for Ole Miss:
The Rebels hit the road again for the final week of the regular season with a Tuesday visit to Jonesboro, Arkansas to play the Arkansas State Red Wolves. First pitch is scheduled for 6:30 p.m.
All SEC series begin on Thursday next weekend. Ole Miss travels to Auburn for a 6:00 p.m. start Thursday, followed by a 6:00 p.m. start on Friday. The Rebels end the regular season on Saturday with a 1:00 p.m. start on the Plains.
(Feature image credit: Josh McCoy, Ole Miss Athletics)