SEC play began for the Ole Miss Baseball team this past weekend as the Vanderbilt Commodores came to town. While Friday saw the return of Friday Night Fireworks, the real fireworks came on Sunday for the deciding game of the series.
Coming into the first game of the series, the Rebel pitching staff had put together four straight shutouts while the offense provided spotty run support. The mentality of the Rebels was “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” for the team’s first foray into conference play.
David Parkinson got the start once again on a Friday and showed why he’s the team ace. One week after an 8-inning, one-hit performance, Parkinson proved it was no fluke. The junior lefty went 6 innings and allowed just 3 hits. Parkinson did put four runners on base by way of the walk but was able to shut down the Commodore’s offense when he got in tough spots. The third inning saw Vandy load the bases, but Parkinson remained calm and got the Rebels out of the inning with a double play.
The Rebels were unable to convert a bases-loaded opportunity of their own in the 4th inning. In a “what are the odds” kind of moment, a hot shot from Thomas Dillard hit baserunner Colby Bortles, ruling him out and the play dead. The 0-0 tie remained in tat after Vanderbilt got out of the jam.
It took the Rebels until the bottom of the 6th inning to finally get a run across. JUCO transfer Tim Rowe stepped into the box with two on and two out and delivered a base hit that gave the Rebels a lead they wouldn’t surrender. Parkinson’s day was done, and the rest was up to the bullpen. Will Stokes stepped out of his closer role into a setup role and played it perfectly. Stokes completed two innings without surrendering a hit. Dallas Woolfolk entered the game for the 9th and retired the Commodores to pick up his fifth save of the season. The Rebels 1-0 win was their third 1-0 win of the season.
It took five games, but the pitching staff finally crashed down back to earth. The streak of five consecutive shutouts was going to come to an end eventually, and it did just that on Saturday. With James McArthur still out due to injury, Brady Feigl took the mound in game 2 of the weekend series.
Feigl cruised through the first three innings and took a 1-0 lead into the 4th after Vanderbilt botched a fielder’s choice on a Grae Kessinger ground ball. A poor throw to the plate saw Kyle Watson get across safely. A lead off base hit put Feigl in a tough spot, and the unrelenting Commodore offense was just getting started. Back-to-back home runs put Vanderbilt on top 3-1. A scoreless 5th for both teams went by, but Vandy was able to plate another run and stretch their lead.
The Rebels cut the deficit in the 7th with a Thomas Dillard solo home run. Now down just 4-2, it was up to the bullpen to keep the score within striking distance. Unable to do so, Andy Pagnozzi gave up a run in the 8th, and Houston Roth allowed one in the 9th. The Rebels had just six hits throughout the game, one being Dillard’s home run and two from Will Golsan in the lead-off spot. The Rebels were unable to put together a string of hits, leading to meaningful offensive production.
The 6-2 loss snapped the Rebels five-game win streak, and left it up to Sunday’s game to decide the series.
In his first two starts, freshman Will Ethridge looked untouchable striking out 10 batters in each outing and posting a 1.15 ERA. Sunday was a different story, as Ethridge allowed five runs in just 3.1 innings of work. Lucky for Ethridge, the Rebel offense decided to show up.
After an opening frame run from Vanderbilt, the top of the Rebel lineup quickly went to work. Tate Blackman and Ryan Olenek singled and advanced on a wild pitch. Colby Bortles picked up his 15th RBI of the year on a sac fly, and Olenek scored on a swinging third strike in the dirt. With a 2-1 lead, Ethridge went back to work but ran into trouble once again. The Commodores tied the game in the 3rd and jumped out to a 5-2 lead thanks to a three-run 4th inning.
The Rebels weren’t done yet, though. A Will Golsan single in the 5th gave the Rebels a fighting chance. The Commodores responded in the top of the 6th with a run, but their defense would fail in the bottom of the inning. Three walks loaded the bases, and Ryan Olenek took one for the team, and the lead was cut to 6-4. An error by Vandy on a double play attempt let two runs score, and the game was knotted at 6-6.
A Vanderbilt home run in the 7th put Vanderbilt back on top, but Tim Rowe gave the Rebels life once more with a solo shot. Dallas Woolfolk shut the door on the Commodores in the 8th, and the Rebel offense did the rest. The beer showers continued with a Colby Bortles home run that tied the game at 8-8. Will Golsan scored from first on a Chase Cockrell double, and Cockrell was brought home by pinch hitter Nick Fortes. A 10-8 was enough for Woolfolk, and he retired the side for his sixth save of the year.
It took a while, but the offense showed up when the series was on the line, and they delivered. With 10 hits from seven different players, they were able to bail out their starting pitcher, just as the pitchers have done for the offense in recent weeks. The Rebels were also able to draw seven walks by being patient at the plate on Sunday. If the Rebels can find a balance between solid starting pitching and maintain this type of performance at the plate, they’ll be in good shape moving forward. Ole Miss will travel to Memphis Tuesday to take on the Tigers at 6:30 p.m. and will travel to Kentucky for a three-game series beginning Thursday.
Steven Gagliano is a writer for HottyToddy.com. He can be reached at email@example.com.