TUSCALOOSA, Ala. – With the Western Division hanging in the balance after nine weeks of SEC play, Ole Miss hit the road for the final SEC series of the year, taking on Alabama in Tuscaloosa.
Although the Crimson Tide has had a down year, missing the SEC tournament this season, there was no quit in head coach Brad Bohannon’s Alabama team this weekend.
The Rebels entered the series with the Crimson Tide needing a little help from Georgia in the Eastern Division, as the Bulldogs played an Arkansas team that held a slim, one-game lead over the Rebels in the West going into the weekend. Seeding in Hoover and a possible national seed in the NCAA Tournament were at stake as the weekend began.
Game One: Ole Miss 3, Alabama 2
Ole Miss ace Ryan Rolison turned in another outstanding performance, and the Rebel bats pounded out nine hits to overtake the Tide in game one of the series.
Rolison, the draft-eligible sophomore, notched 1-2-3 innings in the first and third innings and pitched out of jams in the fourth, fifth, and sixth—stranding seven total Alabama runners in the process.
Rolison allowed only two runs on two hits and improved his record to 8-4 on the season.
Reliever Will Ethridge came in and threw a clean seventh inning, facing just three Tide batters and needing only 16 total pitches.
“He’s been so hot for us,” Bianco said of Ethridge.
Closer Parker Caracci took the mound following Ethridge and faced the minimum six batters in the eighth and ninth innings, notching two strikeouts. Caracci picked up a team-high 10th save of year.
“You have a one-run lead with six outs to go, you gotta go with that guy,” Bianco said of Caracci. “He does it a lot for us.”
The Ole Miss lineup would score one run in each of the second and fourth innings, only to see those answered by Alabama in the bottom half of each of the frames.
Senior Will Golsan, along with reigning SEC Player of the Week Tyler Keenan and Dick Howser Award semifinalist Chase Cockrell strung together singles in the second, with Golsan ultimately scoring. First baseman Cole Zabowski homered to lead off the fourth inning; the round-tripper was Zabowski’s eighth of his sophomore campaign.
After four complete, the score was deadlocked, 2-2.
With the score still tied in the sixth, Thomas Dillard hammered a double to center field, before then advancing to third on a fielder’s choice. With two outs, Golsan, then legged out a single to shortstop, barely beating the throw and scoring Dillard. That would prove to be the game-winning RBI as the Rebels defeated Alabama, 3-2.
“We got the timely hit when we needed it,” Golsan said after the game.
The win was the 41st for the Rebels, and it sealed their place in the Ole Miss record books for the most regular-season wins in program history.
Game two: Ole Miss 0, Alabama 3
Senior night for Alabama brought a motivated Crimson Tide squad ready to face the Rebels. Senior pitcher Jake Walters stymied Ole Miss hitters all night, allowing only four hits in his first complete-game performance of the season.
Though Rebels’ pitcher Brady Feigl got tagged with the loss, he pitched very well in the game.
“He (Feigl) pitched his heart out,” Coach Bianco said.
Co-captain Feigl threw five-plus innings and moves to 8-5 on the season.
In the sixth, Alabama’s Keith Holcombe and Chandler Avant singled, with Holcombe advancing on a wild pitch. Holcombe eventually stole home to give the Tide a 1-0 lead over the Rebels.
With the bases loaded and no outs, following singles by Sam Prayter and a walk of Chandler Taylor, Oxonian Houston Roth came on to relieve Feigl. The sophomore was cool and collected, inducing a ground ball, which he fielded and promptly cut off a run at the plate.
Roth then forced Cody Henry to ground into a double play (Zabowski to Kessinger to Roth) that would end Alabama’s threat in the bottom of the sixth. An emotionally-charged Roth spiked the ball in the grass in celebration as he ran off the field with the Rebels only trailing 1-0.
“I’m really proud of him,” Coach Bianco said of Roth. “He comes in in a huge part of the game.”
The Rebels had a chance in the eighth when it appeared they might put together a late-inning rally. Chase Cockrell led things off with a double, and Ole Miss loaded the bases with one out, following consecutive hit-by-pitches involving Grae Kessinger and Ryan Olenek.
Alabama was able to get the Rebels to strike out, followed by a Thomas Dillard fly ball that seemed to have a chance to leave the park. The wind, however, had other plans as the ball fell just short of the fence andinto the right fielder’s glove.
In the bottom half of the eighth, Alabama scored two runs to take a 3-0 lead, and that would be the final score. The series was then tied at 1-1.
Game three: Ole Miss 10, Alabama 8
With Georgia defeating Arkansas Friday night, the Rebels still held hopes of capturing the Western Division. Another Arkansas loss on Saturday, combined with an Ole Miss victory over Alabama, would give the Rebels the West.
The Georgia/Arkansas game began two hours before the first pitch between Ole Miss and Alabama Saturday, almost guaranteeing the Rebels would know the results somewhere in the early part of their game in Tuscaloosa.
The score came in at approximately 1:37 p.m. CT; Arkansas lost to Georgia, giving the Rebels an opportunity to capture the West with a win over the Tide.
First baseman Cole Zabowski certainly did his part. The sophomore dominated at the plate all day, accounting for 67% of the Rebel RBIs en route to a 4 for 5 day. He tallied a double and a home run (his ninth of the season) in game three, as well as two singles. His two-run single in the eighth would prove to be the difference in the game.
Cole Zabowski today:
4-5, 2B, HR, SIX RBI 🔥 pic.twitter.com/LSM4RLpnDu
— The Rebel Walk (@TheRebelWalk) May 20, 2018
“He’s had a great year,” Coach Bianco said. “Today, he got a lot of good swings off.”
Catcher Nick Fortes and second baseman Jacob Adams also notched multi-hit games, with two hits each. Left fielder Thomas Dillard also contributed an RBI-double.
Game three was a bullpen-by-committee effort, especially since starter James McArthur’s day was cut short by a two-hour rain and lightning delay.
Will Ethridge took the hill for Ole Miss after the game re-started and threw 3 1/3 innings. Greer Holston then took the mound for the Rebels and would earn the win, his second of the season, in 1 2/3 innings of relief.
Parker Caracci came in to close and threw the last 1 ⅓ to secure the 10-8 victory for Ole Miss.
Rebels clinch the West
With the win, their 42nd of year, the Rebels won the Western Division for the first time since 2014 and secured the No. 2 seed in the upcoming SEC Tournament.
— Ole Miss Baseball (@OleMissBSB) May 20, 2018
Forty-two wins also extends the season-high record number of regular season victories in Ole Miss program history. The Rebels emerged victorious in seven SEC weekend series in 2018.
“This team’s accomplished a lot. They deserve to enjoy it for the next couple days.“
Ole Miss head coach Mike Bianco
“It’s really special here at the end to look back and see how successful we’ve been,” Nick Fortes said.
Next Up for Ole Miss
The SEC Baseball Tournament begins Tuesday. The Rebels have a first-round bye and will await the winner of No. 7 seed Auburn and No. 10 seed Kentucky. The Tigers and Wildcats play on Tuesday in the opening round of the tournament.
The Rebels’ No. 2 seed allows them direct entry into the double-elimination portion of the tournament. The game between Ole Miss the winner of Auburn/Kentucky is scheduled for approximately 1:00 p.m. Wednesday. Ole Miss will continue in SEC Tournament play Thursday, with opponent and time to be announced.
While the regular season has been enjoyable, the ultimate goal is to the reach the College World Series in Omaha. Following the SEC Tournament, the Rebels will await news of their placement in the NCAA Tournament.
It’s generally accepted that the Rebels will host a Regional at Swayze, with most experts believing Ole Miss will be a top-eight national seed. If the Rebels are a national seed and win their regional, they would host a Super Regional in Oxford.
Regional hosts will be announced Sunday, and the Road to Omaha Selection Show is set for Monday, May 28, tentatively airing on ESPNU at 11 a.m.