STARKVILLE, Miss. – As Ole Miss head coach Mike Bianco has said many times, “there’s no such thing as an easy series on the road in the SEC.” This past week his Rebels would find that sentiment to be true, dropping their first series of the season, 2-1, to Mississippi State.
Saturday Game One: Ole Miss 3, State 13
(Click here for box score.)
Inclement weather in Starkville caused the postponement of Friday night’s game. Instead, the two teams would square off in a Saturday doubleheader. As the great Ernie Banks liked to say, “Let’s play two!”
While Saturday’s weather was better, it wasn’t exactly ideal for baseball, as the day’s high temperature only reached 44 degrees.
The Rebels took the early lead in the first game when right fielder Nick Fortes homered to right field, scoring shortstop Grae Kessinger. It was Fortes’ seventh home run, tying him for the team lead and giving him his 27th RBI of the season.
State would score a run in both the bottom of the first and second innings to tie the game at 2-2.
The third inning would spell doom for the Rebels, as State plated eight runs and recorded five hits. Ole Miss walked one, hit a batter and committed two errors.
Junior captain Brady Feigl, who left after 2 ⅓ innings pitched, recorded just his second loss of the season. The Bulldogs later tacked on three more runs in the fifth inning to put the lead at 11.
Max Cioffi came on and pitched the final 3 ⅓ innings for Ole Miss, allowing no runs and only two hits.
In the sixth inning, Fortes scored his second run of the game, reaching base on a throwing error by the shortstop and then scoring on Thomas Dillard’s double down the right field line.
When talking before Sunday’s game, head coach Mike Bianco acknowledged to play-by-play announcer David Kellum that the loss was disappointing. “We just got beat up,” the Rebels’ skipper said.
Game 2: Ole Miss 6, State 1
(Click here for box score.)
For the second straight game of the series, Ole Miss got off to a 2-0 lead, as the Rebels put together a two-out rally in the second inning that scored a pair of runs. Freshman Tyler Keenan and junior Jacob Adams each singled, with first baseman Cole Zabowski and Keenan scoring Ole Miss’ runs.
State scored one run in the bottom of the third that put the Rebels’ lead at 2-1 going into the fourth. Ole Miss plated two more in the fourth—again, with two outs—as Grae Kessinger singled, followed by doubles from Ryan Olenek and Nick Fortes. Bianco’s bunch led 4-1 going into the bottom of the fourth.
Rolison shines in the Rebels’ win
Starter Ryan Rolison was back to his old form, throwing seven strong innings and only allowing only a lone run that came in the third inning. He pitched out of trouble in the second and fourth innings, getting out of a bases-loaded jam with a strikeout and a ground out in the second.
Similarly, in the fourth inning, State loaded the bags with two outs, before Rolison, again, induced an infield grounder.
For the game, Rolison stuck out nine and allowed only two walks. Afterward, the Jackson, Tenn. native was pleased with his and the team’s effort.
“We needed a big start,” he said.
“We needed to bounce back and it just shows a lot about our team. The defense did a great job behind me. We were able to get a big win today.”
Pitcher Ryan Rolison
Coach Bianco was pleased with his pitcher. “Good commend with the fastball and the slider, really attacked the hitters,” he said of Rolison. “Today we saw him make some great pitches to keep the score intact.”
Sophomore Will Ethridge came on and pitched the final two innings of scoreless baseball for the Rebels, allowing just a single Bulldogs’ hit.
Ole Miss’ final two runs of the game would come in the fifth. Center fielder Will Golsan started things off with a single, scoring off designated hitter Chase Cockrell’s double. Cockrell then advanced to third on Tyler Keenan’s single, later scoring on a fielder’s choice from Jacob Adams.
Game 3: Ole Miss 5, State 7 (11 innings)
(Click here for box score.)
The rubber game of the series was a back and forth affair that was ultimately decided in extra innings.
State scored a run in the first inning to take a 1-0 lead, but the Rebels answered with two runs of their own in the third. Ryan Olenek scored on a Nick Fortes groundout after singling to get on base. Thomas Dillard then doubled before scoring off a Cole Zabowski double. The Bulldogs added a run to tie the score at 2-2 in the bottom half of the third.
Ole Miss regained the lead in the fifth inning off the bat of freshman Tyler Keenan when he hit a homer to right field that landed on the terrace seating at Dudy Noble.
State took the lead for the first time in the game in the seventh inning with two runs that put the Bulldogs up, 4-3. Neither team scored in the eighth, so the Rebels were down to three outs with which to work in the top half of the ninth.
Dillard led off the inning for the Rebels with a single up the middle. Cole Zabowski then followed with a single of his own that advanced Dillard to third base. Zabowski put himself himself in scoring position by taking second on the throw.
Both Dillard and Anthony Servideo, who came on to pinch run for Zabowski, would score on consecutive sacrifice flies by Will Golsan and Keenan.
Unfortunately for the Rebels, however, the one run lead wouldn’t last, as State tied the game, 5-5, in the bottom of the ninth.
It was a somewhat frustrating day at the plate as the Rebels left 12 runners on base, including bases loaded in the fourth and seventh innings.
In the bottom of the tenth, left fielder Dillard made a spectacular catch that, at the time, saved the game for the Rebels. State would eventually go on to hit a 2-run home run in the bottom of the 11th to win the game and take the series.
Sunday’s starting pitcher James McArthur was effective, throwing five full innings and leaving the game with a 3-2 lead. Reliever Parker Caracci entered the game in the seventh inning, but a Rebels’ throwing error on a bunt allowed a run to score and put a Bulldog runner at third who would eventually score.
Caracci’s four innings constituted his longest appearance of the year, and he was charged with just one run and two hits in the outing.
“Today, we just didn’t do enough,” Coach Bianco told Keith Kessinger after the loss.
“It (April) is a tough month, and we’ve got to be tough enough to handle it.”
Coach Mike Bianco
Next Up for Ole Miss
The Rebels continue their longest road trip of the year as they head to Trustmark Park in Pearl to face Southern Miss on Tuesday. This will be the second time in three weeks for the two teams to meet. Ole Miss emerged victorious in the first game, 7-6, after coming back from a five-run deficit. First pitch is set for 6:00 p.m.
Ole Miss will also be on the road for the upcoming weekend series, visiting Music City to play the Vanderbilt Commodores. Action in Nashville starts on Friday at 6:00 p.m., continues Saturday at 2:00 p.m. and Sunday at 4:00 p.m.