Ole Miss pumped out 15 base hits, efficiently bunched into just three big innings, to rout Mississippi State 11-1 in the annual Governors Cup game. It was the second Pearl loss for State, after being blanked 3-0 by Southern Mississippi a month before. In the previous nine years Bulldog teams were 12-5 at Trustmark Park.
Past performance was not at all on Coach John Cohen’s mind. “Just a really disappointing showing for our ball club.” And another frustration for a Bulldog team which has now lost seven of the last eight games and is 23-22.
It was a much-needed win for a Rebel team (24-22) battling to stay above break-even overall and remain NCAA eligible. Ole Miss also narrowed the Governors Cup deficit to 5-4, ending a two-year win string for the Dogs.
The Rebels made their offensive case early, scoring a pair off State starter LHP Ross Mitchell and continuing to knock around the other five Dogs who tossed in the loss. More than enough damage was done in the first three innings. Because of the 22 plate appearances in this span, 13 of those Rebels reached and seven scored.
Mitchell (3-3) took the decision on 2.1 turns. He was charged with the first four runs on five hits, a couple of walks and one strikeout.
By contrast Ole Miss got an unexpectedly strong and unprecedentedly long stint from righthander Scott Weathersby (3-1). He worked a career-best 7.0 innings, all scoreless, with six hit and a walk against three strikeouts.
“He fills the zone up and controls his slider, controls his off-speed stuff very well,” said DH Luke Reynolds, a Bulldog batter with success in the evening. Reynolds, who heated up in the Arkansas series, stayed strong with a 3-of-4 showing and the team’s only RBI. That was in the top of the eighth when Reynolds drove in C Cody Walker on his third single. Reynolds also reached on a fielding error.
To Cohen the problem wasn’t so much Weathersby’s pitches as his own team’s swings. “We’re not competitive at the plate. We’re facing a guy that is 85, 87 the whole night and we’re struggling to get our barrel in position.”
That wasn’t a Rebel problem as Mitchell got behind in his first turn. After a quick ground-out he was tagged for consecutive singles by J.B. Woodman and Will Golsan. Mitchell was ahead of cleanup batter Colby Bortles 1-2 before a couple of strikes were fouled away to the right side.
Bortles stayed with the next offering, driving it to the left-centerfield gap. Both runners in front of him scored on the double, and Bortles got to third base on the throw home. C Gavin Collins saved a third run by snagging a way-wide pitch; then with a pair of Rebels in scoring spots SS Ryan Gridley backhanded a grounder and threw in time to keep it 2-0. Mitchell had needed 36 pitches for just the first frame.
Weathersby had an efficient first before running into any issues. In the second two-out singles by LF Reid Humphreys and DH Luke Reynolds had tying runners on, before a fly ball stranded them. 3B Seth Heck led off MSU’s third with a bloop single; and made third base on a RF Jake Vickerson base hit through the right side.
Weathersby fielded a comebacker for an out at first base, before loading everything with a full-count walk of Collins. 1B Wes Rea worked the count full before watching one he thought was low and ump Chuck McElroy said caught the bottom of the strike zone. 2B John Holland’s grounder left the sacks stuffed.
Maybe it was just perception, but failure to cash in seemed to suck all life out of the Bulldogs the rest of the way. “I thought that was a tough break,” Cohen said. “Is it a ball, is it a strike? I don’t know. I do know this, good offensive teams earn those things and right now we’re not a good offensive team.”
A Rebel lineup averaging just .241 in SEC play looked pretty good at the plate against State pitching. A leadoff single and one-out hit had Rebels on corners in their half of the third. It finished Mitchell for RHP Levi Mintz, whose first pitch was in the dirt and wild for Golsen to score. New Rebel shortstop Kyle Watson, who’d entered the previous inning to field, singled through the middle and drove in Sikes Orvis.
A plunking and RBI single, by Cameron Dishon, made it 5-0 and excused Mintz with bases still loaded. LHP Vance Tatum was immediately tagged for a high-chop single for two more RBI. He needed a called strikeout of Bortles, who fanned twice in the inning, to leave the bases full and only a 7-0 deficit.
Weathersby fed from the offense’s outburst to roll through Bulldog batters, sitting 11 of the next dozen and eight-straight in a stretch. Even when an error and two-out single had a pair on in his seventh nothing came of it, with a fly-out stranding both.
More margin wasn’t needed but Ole Miss piled it on in their sixth anyway. LHP Daniel Brown had two quick outs before getting tagged for a pair of doubles around a walk. Austin Knight’s two-bagger scored Orvis, and brought in RHP Dakota Hudson. He loaded everything with a walk before #9 batter Dishon nubbed one into an infield single and RBI. Connor Cloyd kept it going with a single up the middle for the 11-0 lead.
LHP Trent Waddell entered after Hudson re-loaded the bases and ended the inning with a fly ball. He would work the last 2.1 without any more scoring. It wasn’t necessary.
The Bulldogs did spare themselves the humiliation of a second Pearl shutout as they got to righthander Sam Smith in the eighth. Walker reached on a scratch single as the throw from second base was dropped. A walk and grounder had Dogs on corners with one out. Walker didn’t get a good jump on a fly ball to right and went back to the third bag, but he was able to score as Reynolds singled into center.Eight Rebels had a hit, actually six of them had multiple safeties. Order-topper Cloyd was 3-of-6 and drove in four runs, while Bortles and Dishon each had two RBI. Unseasonably cool weather and an afternoon rain threat kept the crowd down from the usual packed-house standards but 6,830 still showed up.
“The positive thing is I think Tatum threw the ball well, and Trent came in and threw the ball well,” Cohen said. “Other than that, we give up eleven two-strike hits, we give up a ton of soft contact that gets through the infield.”
Mississippi State has a short turnaround as the SEC series with consensus #1-ranked Louisiana State runs Thursday through Saturday. These are the final home games of 2015. Ole Miss travels to Missouri.
With three weekends left the Bulldogs are 7-14 SEC and tied for 12th in the league, which is the last slot for the conference tournament. That had to be one of the topics discussed by the Dogs in a very long team meeting in rightfield, only half of it with the coach present before Cohen took care of his radio duties.
“We’re going to do whatever we can to make sure they bounce back and have an opportunity to compete against the #1 team in the country,” Cohen said.