FAYETTEVILLE – The SEC’s leader in home runs was beaten with the long ball Thursday.
Ole Miss (26-16, 10-9 SEC) hit a two-run homer early in the game and added three more late, winning its series-opener against Arkansas 9-1 at Baum Stadium.
“Sometimes it just happens,” head coach Dave Van Horn said. “You kind of get on a roll, you put good swings on the ball and it jumps out of the park. That’s what Ole Miss did today.”
The Razorbacks (33-11, 12-7) came into the game with 11 more home runs than any other team in the conference, but managed just two hits against the Rebels.
Here is a snapshot of the loss:
Instead of singling out one particular turning point, HawgsDaily will tip our cap to Ole Miss starting pitcher James McArthur.
The sophomore right-hander was spectacular, allowing only one hit and two walks in eight innings. He sprinkled in six strikeouts with a steady dose of groundouts and fly outs.
“The first pitch in most at-bats he really didn’t give you too much to hit,” Van Horn said. “It was always away. He kept a lot of pitches down.”
McArthur’s lone blemish on the night was a leadoff home run by Jared Gates in the fifth inning.
Included in his arsenal were changeups and what Van Horn described as a deceptive fastball, which touched only 90-91 miles per hour but kept the Razorbacks off-balance.
“It had a lot of spin, I guess you could call it,” Gates said about McArthur’s fastball. “It rose, it seemed like. Had a lot of movement to it.”
Knight Bounces Back
Coming off the worst start of his career, Arkansas right-hander Blaine Knight bounced back with a solid outing against Ole Miss.
His final stat line – five earned runs on seven hits in 7 1/3 innings – is not indicative of how he pitched.
“That’s baseball,” Knight said. “I did what I could to try to keep us in the game. I messed up on two pitches and happened to leave them up and in the SEC, you are going to get punished for it.”
Through seven innings, the sophomore from Bryant allowed only two runs on four hits. He had really settled down after giving up a two-run home run to Tim Rowe in the second inning, retiring 18 of 21 batters faced entering the eighth.
Knight then struck out the leadoff man, but gave up three straight hits – including a home run by Colby Bortles and a double by Ryan Olenek – to end his day.
“He gave us a chance,” Van Horn said. “He was running out of gas there a little bit and made a mistake to Bortles.
“The pitch count was up. He kind of hung a breaking ball for the double down the line that ended up scoring.”
He still finished with 10 strikeouts, his third game this season with double-digit strikeouts. That is the most such games by an Arkansas pitcher in a single season since Jess Todd had five in 2007.
Several players on Ole Miss’ roster have recognizable names.
Bortles, the younger brother of Jacksonville Jaguars quarterback Blake Bortles, had the best night of any of them.
After starting the game 0 for 3 with a strikeout, the senior third baseman hit home runs in his final two at bats to blow the game open. The first of his homers came off Knight and gave the Rebels a 4-1 lead, while his second capped the game’s scoring in the ninth.
“He’s a veteran guy,” Knight said. “He’s been in the league forever. He’s been through it all so he sat there and waited on me. He waited for a pitch that was up to punish me on.”
Shortstop Grae Kessinger is the grandson of Forrest City, Ark., product and six-time MLB All-Star Don Kessinger, who was also an All-American baseball and basketball player at Ole Miss.
He went 0 for 3 with a walk, but made several impressive plays in the field, including robbing Gates of a hit in the second inning.
Right-handed pitcher and Fayetteville native Andy Pagnozzi, the son of former Arkansas and MLB catcher Tom Pagnozzi, did not appear in the game.
Gates’ home run in the fifth inning broke up McArthur’s no-hitter. He crushed a hanging curveball off the scoreboard to pull Arkansas within 2-1.
All but one of Ole Miss’ runs came on two-run homers. Rowe hit one in the second inning to start the scoring, while Bortles had two and Tate Blackman had one in the final two innings.
With heavy rain expected Saturday, Arkansas and Ole Miss will finish their series Friday with a doubleheader beginning at noon.
The Razorbacks will have to win both games to avoid losing their second consecutive SEC series.
“(Van Horn) kind of challenged us to come out and compete tomorrow,” Gates said. “He said he had a feeling it was going to go bad (tonight) just because of the energy or the vibe he got.
“He challenged us, lit a fire under us. We’ll answer the call tomorrow.”
The Razorbacks will start junior right-hander Trevor Stephan (4-2, 3.42 ERA) in the first game and the Rebels will counter with freshman left-hander Ryan Rolison (5-2, 1.88 ERA).
About 40 minutes after that game concludes, Game 3 will begin with junior left-hander David Parkinson (5-2, 3.09 ERA) on the mound for Ole Miss. Arkansas has not officially announced its third starting pitcher, but it is expected to be sophomore left-hander Kacey Murphy (4-0, 2.70 ERA).
Both games will be streamed on the SEC Network+, meaning they can be watched online on ESPN3.com or on the WatchESPN app.