OXFORD, Miss. — With the No. 4 Ole Miss Rebels hosting No. 5 Arkansas this weekend, the top-five matchup definitely had a postseason feel about it.
Massive crowds jammed into Oxford-University Stadium to support the home team, and in three highly-competitive games, Ole Miss and Arkansas would trade blows throughout the series before the Rebels ultimately prevailed to get the win.
Thursday: Arkansas 6, Ole Miss 4
Arkansas started the action early Thursday, leading off game one with four consecutive singles and a sacrifice fly to take a 2-0 lead. In the second, the Hogs would continue to put pressure on Rebels’ ace Ryan Rolison with a single, followed by an Arkansas home run that increased the Hogs’ lead to 4-0 over the Rebels.
Playing from behind has become routine, as of late, for the Rebels, with this being the fourth time in the last five games they’ve found themselves behind.
They would not be held down for long, though, as first baseman Cole Zabowski hammered a solo home run to right center field in the bottom of the second, his sixth home run of the year. Ole Miss Baseball Analytics (@OMBSBAnalytics) estimated the homer’s distance at 389 feet.
“I was sticking to the approach, got a good pitch to hit and it got out of the yard.”
Cole Zabowski to Keith Kessinger in postgame interview
Ole Miss was able to tie the game at 4-4 in the third with four singles as well as an Arkansas throwing error on an attempted sacrifice bunt by shortstop Grae Kessinger.
Zabowski and right fielder Ryan Olenek each notched multiple hits in the game, with Olenek recording his 10th double of the season.
Arkansas plated two in the sixth, while the Hogs’ starter Blaine Knight and closer Matt Cronin would hold the Rebels scoreless after the third inning. Rolison took the loss for the Rebels, giving up the go-ahead run in the sixth inning. He moves to 3-3 in his sophomore campaign.
In his postgame interview, Coach Bianco was optimistic about the Rebels’ chances in game two. “Tomorrow is swing day,” he said. “We’ve got a good one on the mound in Brady Feigl.”
Friday: Ole Miss 5, Arkansas 4
On Friday night, in front of an all-time top ten crowd of 10,648 at Swayze Field, the Rebels looked to even the series.
On the clear 57-degree night, Brady Feigl started the game for the Rebels in a tie for a conference-leading five wins.
He would not disappoint, allowing only two runs in 5 1/3 innings pitched. The Ole Miss captain would get the win and improve to 6-1 this season.
“Today we needed a great effort from Brady and he delivered.”
Ole Miss head coach Mike Bianco on Feigl
Unlike Thursday’s game, Ole Miss would score first in this one, tallying a run in the first inning when left fielder Thomas Dillard singled home Olenek, who had also singled to get on.
Arkansas would rebound to take the led from the Rebels in the second inning, scoring two runs to go up 2-1 going to the bottom of the inning. As we have come to expect from this team, the Rebels answered in the bottom of the second with two runs of their own to take a 3-2 lead.
Designated hitter Chase Cockrell and centerfielder Will Golsan scored on a Tyler Keenan hot shot to second base that was ruled an error.
In the fifth inning, first baseman Nick Fortes homered to left field, scoring Olenek who had doubled to get on. The Rebels led 5-2 after five complete.
“I’m really thankful it went out. He was throwing hard, so I was geared up for the fastball and he hung a breaking ball and I just got the barrel out to it.”
Nick Fortes on his fifth-inning homer
Coach Bianco praised his catcher after the game. “There’s not a guy we’d rather have at the plate than Nick Fortes,” he said.
Ole Miss pitcher Parker Caracci took care of the last six outs for the Rebels in game two. While he gave up a single run in the eighth inning, Caracci was dominant in the ninth inning, striking out the side, including the Razorback’s clean-up and five-hole hitters to end the game.
Caracci picked up his fifth save of the season.
“He has some of the best stuff in the country and some of the best stuff I’ve ever seen.“
Nick Fortes on Parker Caracci’s pitching
Greer Holston pitched an inning and a third, while Dallas Woolfolk got the final out of the seventh.
Saturday: Ole Miss 11, Arkansas 10
After a two-run loss Thursday and a one-run win Friday, everyone expected a close contest in the rubber game Saturday. The two teams did not disappoint.
The fifth-largest crowd to ever take in a game at Swayze watched entertaining baseball that featured quality pitching, clutch hitting, numerous home-runs and late-inning drama. In the end, the 11,145 in attendance were not disappointed as they saw the Rebels hang on to a close, hard-fought 11-10 victory over Arkansas to earn Ole Miss’ seventh straight series of season.
Texan James McArthur gave Ole Miss the quality start on the mound the Rebels needed, pitching six plus innings while only giving up three runs. The junior gave up only four hits and one walk.
His plan was to attack with his fastball, he said after the game. McArthur left the mound with an 8-3 lead in the top of the seventh.
“It shows how tough we are, and it’s awesome,” McArthur said of the Rebels’ victory. He earned the win, his fourth of the season, and was followed by Will Ethridge, Dallas Woolfolk and Will Stokes out of the bullpen.
What initially began as somewhat of a pitchers’ duel through the first four innings, turned into an offensive slugfest in the last five. Ole Miss opened the offensive floodgates—scoring four in the fifth inning and three runs in each of the sixth and seventh innings.
Zabowski led off the fifth with his second home run of the weekend to centerfield, a 390-foot blast.
Tyler Keenan then scored on a Ryan Olenek sacrifice fly, and Grae Kessinger scored on a Thomas Dillard single to give Ole Miss a 5-1 lead after five.
In the sixth, Jacob Adams walked with the bases loaded, scoring Zabowski. Chase Cockrell then scored on a Kessinger sacrifice fly, followed by a Tyler Keenan score on Ryan Olenek fielder’s choice to the shortstop. The Rebels ended the inning up 8-2 over the Razorbacks.
Arkansas answered the Ole Miss runs, however, with four of their own in the top of the seventh to cut the Rebels’ lead to 8-6.
The Rebels didn’t back down, counterpunching in the bottom half of the inning. Tyler Keenan hit a three-run home run that hit the top of the wall near the Ole Miss bullpen in left field. After seven complete, the Rebels held an 11-6 lead.
“I thought it had a chance to get out,” he said. “It got up in the wind and just carried out of here,” Keenan told Keith Kessinger.
After the Razorbacks scored four more runs in the top of the eighth inning, cutting the Rebels’ lead to 11-10, Mike Bianco would call on Parker Caracci for a multi-inning save for the second time in two days. The Jackson, Miss. native promptly induced a ground out and a pop out to end the threat in the Arkansas eighth.
Ole Miss was unable to get any insurance runs in the bottom of the eighth, as they went down in 1-2-3 fashion to take the slim one-run lead into the ninth inning.
The Hogs hit a leadoff double to give themselves the tying run in scoring position and the go-ahead run at the plate. But Caracci seemed to find an extra gear as he got Dominic Fletcher to pop up and Jordan McFarland to strike out swinging.
Grant Koch, the last hope for Arkansas, then hit a fly ball to center field to end the game with the 11-10 win for the Rebels.
Caracci recorded his sixth save, his second in two days.
— Thomas Dillard (@thomas_dillard7) March 31, 2018
Assistant coach Mike Clement also commented on the play of Parker Caracci.
“The guy has put his nose down. You want success for a kid like that, and he’s earned that success,” Clement said.
In postgame interviews, James McArthur noted the resiliency of the Rebels’ offense. “It shows a lot about our team and the toughness that we have; it’s really cool to watch,” he said.
Tyler Keenan explained how much the support of Ole Miss fans means to the team.
“I love these fans. They don’t understand how big it is for us to see them out here; they don’t understand how seeing all these people gets us ready to play and gets us going. I just want to thank them.”
Tyler Keenan on the support of Ole Miss fans
Rebel fans were huge this week!
✅Tuesday USM🦅 9,124
✅Thursday ARK🐗 9,619
✅Friday ARK🐗 10,648
✅Saturday ARK🐗 11,146
— David Kellum (@RebVoice) April 1, 2018
Coach Clement said he was proud of the fight the Rebels put up in the series. “Because of the youth of a year ago and the experience that they got, they’re seeing what they are seeing right now,” Clement said.
“…We have a bunch of guys that are really confident players.“
Ole Miss assistant coach Mike Clement
The Rebels begin an eight-game road swing as they travel to AutoZone Park to play Memphis at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday night.
Following mid-week action, Ole Miss heads south to Starkville for a three-game Friday-Saturday-Sunday series against State. Game times are 6:30 p.m., 2:00 p.m. and 1:00 p.m., respectively.