COLLEGE STATION, Texas — The No. 5 Ole Miss Rebels hit the road for the first time in SEC play this weekend, traveling to College Station to play the No. 11 Texas A&M Aggies. Entering the series, the two teams were statistically even in a number of categories, including their pitching staffs’ team earned run averages (ERA).
Thursday night: Ole Miss 5, A&M 4
(Click here for box score.)
On a beautiful night for baseball at Olsen Field in Blue Bell Park, both teams’ starting pitchers gave up two runs in the first three innings. The Ole Miss runs came in the second off a one-out single from sophomore shortstop Grae Kessinger, followed by a two-out, “no-doubt,” home run by fellow sophomore Nick Fortes, the Rebels’ catcher. It was Fortes’ fifth home run— and 18th and 19th RBIs—of the season.
Ole Miss starting pitcher Ryan Rolison ran into a little trouble in the second inning, but the sophomore dug deep and only gave up one run, leaving two A&M runners on base.
In the third inning, the Rebels got in a bit of jam, giving up another run—but they also forced the Aggies to leave two more base runners stranded. Rolison was sharp in the fourth, notching a three-up, three-down inning.
In the fifth inning, Rolison gave up a lead-off walk followed by a double, and head coach Mike Bianco sent sophomore right-hander Will Ethridge to the mound in relief.
Ole Miss bullpen shines
The bullpen was spectacular for the Rebels in game one. Ethridge threw three scoreless innings of two-hit baseball and earned the win.
Following Ethridge, reliever Parker Caracci took the mound. Caracci, a redshirt sophomore, is living proof that good things come to those who are patient and work hard. He began the eighth inning for the Rebels and found himself in a bases-loaded, one-out jam. The Jackson, Miss. native did not blink.
Instead, he faced Braden Shewmake and Logan Foster, the number three and four batters, respectively, for the Aggies and used his mid-90’s fastballs to strike out both the Aggies’ big bats. In the two innings Caracci pitched, he struck out five batters, increasing his season total to 31 strikeouts with only one walk.
Following the game Caracci commented on his eighth-inning performance.
“I was just trying to hit spots. Once I realized the situation, I just tried to stay locked in.”
Ole Miss pitcher Parker Caracci
When asked what he was throwing, Caracci replied: “Fastballs. I don’t think I threw a breaking ball.”
A&M starter Stephen Kolek silenced the Rebel bats for much of the first seven innings, as he gave up only four hits and struck out 10 Ole Miss batters, walking only one.
Up 4-2 over Ole Miss, A&M brought in closer Nolan Hoffman to relieve Kolek in the top of the eighth inning. The side-armed, right-handed pitcher, entered the game not having allowed a run in 18+ innings of work this season. The Rebels were not intimidated by his gaudy stats.
Kessinger led things off for the Rebels with a one out single to left field, followed by singles from right fielder Ryan Olenek and Fortes.
Fortes’ single to third scored Kessinger from second and moved Olenek to third, cutting the A&M lead to 4-3. Left fielder Thomas Dillard then singled through the left side, scoring Olenek, moving Fortes to third, and tying the game at 4-4.
During the play, the Aggie left fielder mishandled the ball, and the error allowed Fortes to score from third, giving Ole Miss a 5-4 lead it would not relinquish.
(Coach Mike Bianco after the Rebels’ game one win – Video credit: Evelyn Van Pelt)
Friday night: Ole Miss 6, A&M 7
With the game one victory, Ole Miss looked to take the series Friday night. (Click here for box score.)
Following a 1-2-3 inning by junior starter Brady Feigl in the first inning, the Aggie bats came to life in the second. Texas A&M plated four runs in the second, equaling the total runs Feigl had given up in his first five starts.
As they have throughout the season, however, the Rebels fought back. In the fourth inning, center fielder Will Golsan doubled home Dillard, who had singled to get on base, cutting the Aggies’ lead to 4-1.
A&M answered the Rebels’ run with one of its own in the bottom of the fifth as the home team pushed its lead to 5-1. The two teams were scoreless in the six. In the seventh, however, Ole Miss designated hitter Chase Cockrell began a two-out rally for the Rebels with a single to center.
Sophomore Cooper Johnson got on board via an error by Aggie shortstop Shewmake. Ole Miss second baseman Jacob Adams then sent a single up the middle to plate Cockrell, cutting the Aggies’ lead to 5-2.
The Aggies pushed back, however, scoring two runs in the bottom of seventh inning and increasing their lead to 7-2 over the Rebels. Going into the top of the eighth, down five runs, a lesser team might have packed it in and looked ahead to game three. But Bianco’s bunch continues to prove they have no quit in them.
Much like Friday night, the eighth inning would be huge for Ole Miss. Fortes, who played first base, right field and catcher in the game, led off the inning by taking a pitch off his left wrist.
After a pitching change by Texas A&M, Dillard was also hit by a pitch. Following a Golsan pop-up for the first out of the inning and a Tim Elko fielder’s choice, Cockrell would walk to load the bases.
It was then that Michael Fitzsimmons stepped up to the plate for Ole Miss, pinch hitting for Johson.
With one swing of the bat, Fitzsimmons deposited a 2-1 fastball off the Aggie video board for a grand slam that would bring the Rebels to within a single run, 7-6.
“He’s that kind of a guy,” Chase Cockrell said of Fitzsimmons after the game.
“He’s a machine—to just come out cold off the bench and do what he does.”
Chase Cockrell on Michael Fitzsimmons’ grand slam
Sophomore Greer Holston pitched 1 2/3 innings for Ole Miss, allowing no runs and no hits in the Aggies’ last five outs to give the Rebels a chance in the top of the ninth. With Ole Miss trailing 7-6, sophomore first baseman Cole Zabowski doubled with one out to give the Rebels a chance, but the rally fell just short as the final two batters would ground out to the Aggie’s third baseman.
Following the game, Rebel skipper Mike Bianco commented on the series which would be decided by Saturday’s rubber game. “The unfortunate thing is we haven’t played real well since we’ve been here,” he said. “But we’ve fought; we’ve competed. We just have to be better out of the gates.”
Bianco’s message to the team after the game was simple.
“Fortunately for us, we’re 1-1. Let’s come out tomorrow, play our best baseball, and hopefully come away with the weekend series.”
Head coach Mike Bianco after Friday’s loss
Ryan Olenek left the game early after an injury to the middle finger of his right hand as he slid into second on an attempted steal. After the game, Bianco noted that x-rays taken during the game were negative for a possible fracture.
Catcher Fortes, whose hand was swollen after being hit by a pitch earlier in the game, spent some time at right field, filling in for the injured Olenek.
“What a great thing to have, a guy that can do that at a premium position like catcher” Bianco said of Fortes’ versatility. “It’s a nice little bullet to have in our gun,” he added.
Saturday: Ole Miss 7, A&M 6
(Click here for box score.)
Following the split of Thursday and Friday’s contests, Saturday would be a series-deciding game three with Texas native James McArthur on the mound for Ole Miss.
A&M scored one in the opening inning to give the Aggies a 1-0 lead after the first.
Rebels’ first baseman Zabowski provided firepower in the second inning with a 400-foot-plus home run to deep centerfield that tied the game at 1-1.
After getting in a bases-loaded jam in the bottom of the second, McArthur gave way to freshman lefty Jordan Fowler who took over with one out. The Union City, Tenn. native created a double-play situation, and Ole Miss got out of the inning only giving up one run, making it a 2-1 game in favor of the Aggies.
The Aggie pressure at the plate continued in the third inning. A&M put together three hits and plated two runs, taking a 4-1 lead over the Rebels after three complete, and forcing Ole Miss to play from multiple runs down for the third day in row.
After two singles and a walk in the bottom half of the third, Greer Holston took the mound in relief of Fowler. Soon after, Dillard made a tremendous play at a pivotal time. A&M’s Logan Foster singled through the left side but was thrown out at second by Dillard from left field.
Holston then got Frizzell to line out and Bedford to ground out to end the inning with the Rebels trailing, 4-1.
As has been their trademark thus far this season, the Rebels fought back. Ole Miss put two more on the board in the fourth inning, thanks to a two-run homer from freshman Tyler Keenan. Captain Will Golsan, who previously doubled in the inning, also scored on the play.
In the fifth, the Rebels added two runs that were aided, in part, by an Aggie miscue. With two outs, Dillard reached on a fielding error by the A&M first baseman. Zabowski then doubled Dillard home and subsequently scored on a single by Golsan that gave the Rebels their first lead of the game– 5-4 in the top of the fifth.
In the bottom of the fifth, after an initial leadoff double for the Aggies, Ole Miss made the call to the bullpen for Dallas Woolfolk, who is usually the Rebels’ closer. A&M tied the game at 5-5 in the bottom of the fifth, but Woolfolk would allow no earned runs of his own.
The first scoreless inning of the game came in the sixth.
In the seventh, the Rebels scored two runs to again take the lead, this time at 7-5. Dillard, an Oxford native, led off the inning with a double down the left field line. He would later score on a Golsan double, his second of the game.
Will Ethridge entered the game in relief of Woolfolk to start the seventh and held the Aggies scoreless through the seventh and eighth.
Parker Caracci with the save
Entering the ninth inning, Ole Miss held a 7-5 lead; however, the Rebels went three-up, three-down so they took the two-run lead into the bottom of the ninth. With the top of the A&M lineup coming to the plate, Bianco decided to go with Parker Caracci on the mound.
Caracci was as cool as he was in Thursday night’s Rebels’ win. Leadoff hitter Zach DeLoach singled to left, followed by two-hole hitter Michael Helman who reached on a fielder’s choice that left DeLoach out at second.
With one out and a runner on base, and facing the old familiar Aggie taunts of “Par-ker, Par-ker,” Caracci calmly got Braden Shewmake to go down swinging for the second out of the inning.
With a runner on base and two outs, A&M clean-up hitter Hunter Coleman doubled to left off Caracci, scoring Helman and cutting the Rebels’ lead to 7-6. Logan Foster then came up to bat for the Aggies with a runner in scoring position.
Caracci quickly got ahead in the count on Foster, 0-2, before throwing three straight balls that would bring the count to full. The duel between Foster and Caracci kept the 6,427 fans at Olsen field holding their breath as Foster fouled off two additional pitches. However, on the eighth pitch of the at-bat, Caracci struck Foster out swinging to give Ole Miss the game and series victory.
Postgame quotes: Will Golsan
Golsan, who went 3-for-5 on the day, spoke with The Rebel Walk after the game about his production at the plate.
“I was trying to stay consistent with my hard contact, just trying to do whatever I can to keep the team going. I try to keep the dugout up and ready to go.”
Ole Miss center fielder Will Golsan
(Ole Miss captain Will Golsan – Video: Evelyn Van Pelt)
Postgame quotes: Coach Bianco
Coach Bianco was pleased with his team’s effort and persistence in taking the series. “It wasn’t easy,” he said afterwards.
“Obviously, (we were) playing a really good club in a tough place to play, one of the toughest places in the SEC. Our guys hung in there. We won a couple of games (in the series) in different ways.”“
Coach Bianco on the series win
Coach Bianco was asked about Ethridge’s performance in the series, and he was quick to praise the Lilburn, Georgia native.
“Will Ethridge was lights out today,. Probably sharper than he was Thursday night. He’s one of the aces of the bullpen.“
Coach Bianco on Will Ethridge’s performance
Bianco also praised his offense for never getting down, describing them as “relentless.”
“It (conference play) is bloody out there and it’s tough. The offense was so impressive—they hung in there. You have to tip your hat to the hitters.“
Coach Bianco on the intensity of league play
Some of Bianco’s highest praise was saved for Golsan: “He had a big day today; you can’t hold him down long,” he said. “He’s a selfless captain, always picking up his teammates,” Bianco said.
Game three notables:
- All three games of this series were decided by one run.
- No. 5 Ole Miss wins its second consecutive Southeastern Conference series to open league play, improving to 22-3 overall and 4-2 in SEC play.
- Left fielder Thomas Dillard extended his hitting streak to 14 games.
- Head coach Mike Bianco made a lineup adjustment, sending first baseman Cole Zabowski up to the No. 5 spot and center fielder Will Golsan down to No. 6, and it paid off as Zabowski and Golsan combined to go 5-for-10 with 4 RBI, 4 R, 3 2B and 1 HR. Zabowski is now on a five-game hitting streak.
- Third baseman Tyler Keenan recorded his second-career home run on a 3-for-4, 2 RBI day, adding a double.
- Right fielder Ryan Olenek shrugged off a finger injury and went 2-for-5 with a double. Olenek has now reached base safely in five straight games.
- Ole Miss has hit 30 home runs through 25 games. The Rebels have also totaled 61 doubles.
- Woolfolk, Ethridge and Caracci combined to go 6.0 innings, allowing one earned run and five hits while striking out four and walking zero.
- Designated hitter Chase Cockrell is 5-of-8 over the last two games with 1 RBI and 2 R.
- This was the Rebels’ ninth come-from-behind win this season and the second in this series.
Stat of the Weekend:
Ole Miss now has 160 RBIs on the season. Sixty-nine of those, or 43%, have been notched with two outs.
The Rebels (22-3, 4-2 SEC) return to Swayze Field Tuesday night at 6:30 p.m. to face in-state rival Southern Miss. The weekend brings Arkansas to Oxford in a Thursday (6:30 p.m.), Friday (6:30 p.m.), Saturday (1:30 p.m.) SEC series.