After spotting visiting Mississippi State a couple of first-inning runs, Ole Miss threw down a four-run trump in the bottom of the frame and rolled to a 10-8 victory. The game-two win completed Saturday’s weather-induced twinbill, and clinched the series as well.
It also dropped Mississippi State (36-15, 13-13 SEC) a rung behind the Rebels (35-16, 14-12) in the conference standings, not to mention the speculative race for regional rights. Thus the weekend pressure now rests entirely on the Bulldogs to escape Oxford with a split.
“You have your good days and your bad,” RF Hunter Renfroe said. “You have to come out and do what you do best, tomorrow.”
Game-two was a complete turnaround from the 3-0 game-one defeat, at least in offensive terms. After suffering their first shutout in the rivalry since 2006 the Bulldogs came out swinging and even scoring. Unfortunately State couldn’t score enough to offset shaky showings by most everyone that took the hill.
“It’s pretty easy to say in the first game we didn’t have a great offensive approach,” Coach John Cohen said. “And in the second game we didn’t have much of a pitching approach to speak of.”
Not with starter RHP Kendall Graveman surrendering the lead and four runs in the bottom of the first inning, and six total scores on seven hits in his 4.1 innings. The senior showed just enough of his good stuff to compete with the Rebel batters. Finishing them all off was the issue, most of all with Auston Bousfield.
The Ole Miss centerfielder didn’t beat the Bulldogs alone, as State did put up their own runs in bunches. But his five RBI on a couple of extra-base knocks certainly set the tone. Both came off Graveman (5-5), who had three walks and a strikeout. State pitching did walk six in all though it wasn’t the free passes alone that mattered.
“We got behind and had way too many three-ball counts,” Cohen said. “Kendall wasn’t at his best even though I thought he bounced back pretty well after the first inning.”
Rebel righthander Sam Smith (3-0) got the win on 6.0 innings despite nine hits and three runs, as he didn’t walk anyone and had a strikeout. Yet it was touch-and-go whether Smith was going to get out of the opening inning, when the Dogs exceeded their entire hits total of game-one. One reason State didn’t walk much is they came out swinging and making good contact.
That mattered. Coming so soon after a shutout it was a positive start for sure, yet the Bulldogs did not make the most of it. And as soon as he full-count walked his own leadoff man Graveman was clearly not sharp to start. Unable to generate his trademark sink in the first inning, he struggled to find the bottom of the strike zone and was tagged on anything placed higher.
A single had the tying runs on and a bunt advanced them into scoring positions. Cleanup batter Stuart Turner had to watch a walk, but Bousfield proved just as dangerous. His drive-fly curled into the right-centerfield gap, scoring all three teammates and putting him on third base with a triple. This allowed Bousfield to make it 4-2 on a fly ball. “It was a bad pitch and a bad sequence,” Cohen said.
Graveman did settle down with three scoreless inning and three stranded on singles. State also cut into the deficit in the third as with Renfroe on first and one out Pirtle’s grounder was errored. Rea slapped a single into leftfield for the RBI. It took a fine stab of CF C.T. Bradford’s liner at shortstop to hold the tie, though Frost loaded the bases after that with a surprise bunt single. Smith escaped worse as C Mitch Slauter flew out to rightfield. A two-out Detz single in the fourth went for nought as Renfroe went after the first pitch and popped-out foul.
The way they were swinging a 4-3 deficit didn’t have the Dogs too worried. 6-3 was a whole ‘nother matter. Austin Anderson reached on a grounder Pirtle could only knock down on his knees. A plunking of Stuart Turner had a pair on for Bousfield again, and on full-count he got around—“I thought we almost hit him,” Cohen said--with a drive that dropped inside the line for the two RBI and pitching change.
Even that was something the Dogs could battle back from, they would show, if not for giving away another two runs in the sixth. LHP Ross Mitchell got two quick groundouts before a walk, which ought not have mattered as he rolled a grounder to third base. But Frost’s throw for second was wide for one free base; and Renfroe’s attempt to get the runner at third went wild too, allowing Mathis to score. Mistone’s RBI single made it 8-3 and brought RHP Evan Mitchell to the hill, only to walk Turner and get the quick hook for RHP Myles Gentry to end this one on a grounder.
The Rebels began using their backup arms in the seventh, with Jeremy Massie giving up a fly-ball double to Frazier. Chris Ellis entered with one out to face Renfroe, who somehow got his late swing around in time for a line-drive single and RBI. Pirtle was plunked on the leg, and with both runners moving on full count Rea slapped a single past the diving second baseman for a 8-5 difference.
And, the next pitching change with Tanner Bailey inheriting the pair. He needed one pitch, grounding substitute CF Jacob Robson into the double-play. Just to make it hurt more the Rebels responded as Gentry loaded the bases on two hits and a full-count walk with one out. RHP Will Cox had to take over the mess, and against the top of the order at that. After a couple of full-count foul-aways, Mathis singled in the first two runners for the 10-5 scoreboard.
The Bulldogs kept it interesting though. LF Demarcus Henderson worked a two-out walk, and the top-three in the order all knocked singles with Detz and Renfroe driving in runners. So it was a three-run margin going into the ninth, just as in the first game. And this time State not only got the tying run to the plate, he was on base.
Rea walked and Frost singled with one out. Two were down as Henderson knocked a RBI-hit, leaving runners on corners for Frazier. He stung the ball and for a moment it seemed sure to drop. Bousfield, naturally, got a glove between grass and ball and ended the game, though his diving try risked a roller to the fence that would have set up all sorts of interesting situations.
Bailey got the save despite three runs on five hits, two walks and two strikeouts. State out-hit the home team 17 to 11, though eleven un-scored Dogs made this all the more frustrating.
“I love the way our kids competed offensively, we just didn’t compete at that level in the first game,” Cohen said. “I’m disappointed in that. But we know we have a lot left to play for and tomorrow is the most important game of the season for us.”
It’s important enough for the home team too that they tentatively plan to start Bobby Wahl, the game-one opener who got in a three-strikeout inning before weather suspended the game. State will stay with LHP Jacob Lindgren (4-2, 3.44).
Cohen also said centerfielder Bradford, who left mid-game, was not injured but ill. His status for Sunday is undetermined.