That excitement takes some, just some of the edge off this Sunday’s setback. Ole Miss salvaged a split of the weekend series with an 8-5 victory, and left Dudy Noble Field 21-7, 3-6 SEC and in sixth Division place. The Bulldogs hold the top spot at 6-3, 20-8-1 overall, one ahead of Alabama.
Not surprisingly, Sunday pitching was again a letdown for the Dogs. Surprisingly, defense and fielding also had their issues. Most mistakes ended up biting back and making things easier for an Ole Miss squad which came out aggressive already.
“We gave them things today, and I think that was the difference,” said Collins, himself charged with one of the team’s two official errors. Even then the Rebels needed a couple of ninth-inning scores before breathing easier about a split, after State pulled within 6-5 in the eighth on home runs by 1B Nate Lowe and Collins.
Still it was lack of pitching efficiency that let Ole Miss take an early lead and never trail. LHP Daniel Brown returned to the rotation after skipping a weekend and had plenty of velocity at 92 and 93. Those fastballs weren’t moving around much though. Colby Bortles got his team on the board first with a two-out single scoring Ryan Olenak.
In the second Brown’s first pitch was driven over leftfield by Henri Largigue for a solo home run. Another base hit finished Brown with RHP Ryan Rigby, who needed a bases-loaded grounder to keep it 2-0 through two.
“I thought Daniel was giving us a good start,” Collins said. “It just kind of went south. He got pulled and Rigby got the job done, for a while.”
In that while Bulldog batters got to Sean Johnson for a couple of runs in the bottom-second. It would have been more if rightfielder Cameron Dishon hadn’t robbed DH Reid Humphreys of at least a double on a great grab in the gap. Because Collins singled for the first Bulldog base hit; and a four-pitch walk of LF Cody Brown had two on. C Elih Marrero waited for the right pitch and stroked it to the left-center gap for a double and 2-2 tie.
Johnson stranded two in the third and was a walk into State’s fourth when lefty Wyatt Short took over. He would go the next four frames skirting trouble and stranding four Dogs. He also got a lead and good margin to work with when Ole Miss scored twice in their fifth. Rigby plunked Olenak, and Collins didn’t get his glove all the way on a grounder that had Rebels on corners. A wild pitch had the pair in scoring spots for Bortles to single-in.
In the top of the sixth a double and wild pitch had Errol Robinson on third base. State played for bunt, Dishon bounced to shortstop instead and while SS Ryan Gridley’s throw home was in time the collision-call was safe. State didn’t argue.
The Bulldog offense couldn’t cut into the 5-2 deficit and only had it increase by an eighth-inning run. Lartigue bounced one over the fence for a leadoff double and was balked along by RHP Blake Smith. LHP Vance Tatum came in for a line-out and was replaced by DH Reid Humphreys. He coaxed a high, hanging bouncer to Collins who had to cede the run.
Short had the 6-2 lead and lost most of it as the Bulldogs found some power. Lowe got all of one and sailed over left-centerfield for his second homer of the season. Humphreys followed with a single. After a mound meeting Short served up a two-run blast over leftfield for Collins.
Lefty David Parkinson at least had empty bases upon entering. He kept it that way with a grounder and two fly balls. His offense got two of the runs back in the ninth as well, as after Humphreys loaded the bases with two walks and a plunking Lartigue singled in a pair.
“Those things aren’t characteristic of (Reid),” Coach John Cohen said.
Righty Will Stokes picked up his third save by stranding Gridley in the ninth. Short (2-1) went 4.0 official with three runs on seven hits, no walks and a strikeout. The loss fell on Rigby (3-1) with 4.0 innings as well, two runs on three hits and three strikeouts.
Lartique’s 3-of-5 day with three RBI and two runs led the Rebel offense, with Bortles going 2-of-4 for three RBI. State ended up with 11 hits to Ole Miss’ ten, and seven Dogs starters had at least one safety. Collins was 2-of-4 with two runs and two RBI.
Offense wasn’t any issue though. “We didn’t get off to a great start,” Cohen said. “Certainly we didn’t pound the strike zone like we wanted to.” The Rebels made no big mistakes and Bortles was brilliant at third base with the glove to go with his big early hits.
Despite disappointment the Bulldogs are leading a Division and have won all their last four weekends, three of them league series. Yet there’s no room to relax. State hosts UT-Martin in a Tuesday twinbill (3:00, 6:30) which offers opportunity for two easy wins and to work a lot of arms briefly. At the same time it will hurt the season RPI even with victories.
That will be entirely offset next weekend. The Bulldogs visit East co-leader Florida, which ought get votes for #1 in the nation again after sweeping the Texas A&M team which held that ranking. Cohen said he expects a lot of short pitching stints Tuesday, most notably for RHP Konnor Pilkington who might get the next chance for a SEC Sunday start.