Rebels Blast Bulldogs In Series Opener

Officially, the game lasted 3:27. Realistically? Even before they reached double-digit runs it was obvious the host and #18-ranked Rebels were on their way to a Friday night whipping of #17 Mississippi State. Everything thereafter was simply settling the final 17-7 margin of victory.

Ole Miss pounded out 22 hits, including eight contacts good for two, three, even four bases as the Rebels opened the SEC Western Division series with an impressive offensive effort. Mississippi State fell behind so far, so early that they knew that the weekend wasn't going to begin well. "It's tough when they put up, four, eight…" 2B Jeffrey Rea paused while counting across the post-game scoreboard. "A lot! A lot, in three innings."

Specifically Ole Miss scored four times in both the first and second frames and for good measure poured six more runs across in their third turn. It made the one run scored by the Bulldogs in their top of the first essentially irrelevant. For that matter, all the offense mustered by Mississippi State was of little use besides box-score decoration.

"We scored seven runs which is enough normally to win in a Friday game," Coach Ron Polk said. "But they found holes, put some balls in play and when you do things are going to happen."

Bad things as far as State's two pitchers of the evening were concerned. Starter Chad Crosswhite took a shelling in his 2.1 innings of work, giving up a dozen hits and 11 of the Rebel runs. Eight were earned, as Dog defensive lapses magnified the damage done by Ole Miss batsmen. Crosswhite (5-2) was lifted in the third with lefty Jesse Carver taking care of the rest of the contest, with ten hits and six runs (five earned) on his worksheet. Each struck out just one man.

"Unfortunately we asked Crosswhite and Carver to eat up some innings," Polk said. "Chad could have come out earlier but I only have nine pitchers so I can't throw guys who can help us on Saturday and Sunday."

Rebel starter Will Kline enjoyed plentiful support and was able to take care of just over half the necessary outs with 4.2 official innings. Kline did allow six runs on eight hits, but most of that came well after the game was safely in Rebel hands. He struck out five and walked six. The decision actually went to Brett Bukvich (5-2) on 4.1 relief innings with one run and three hits, and five more fannings.

But of course this wasn't a night for pitchers of either uniform as the respective orders combined for more runs than many entire SEC series typically feature. And the Rebels batted it better. "It seemed like everything they hit found a hole," Rea said. "They did hit some balls hard, but it seemed everything they got on the bat got through."

For all it mattered, the Bulldogs did get the first scoring hits to go through. Rea led off with a walk and came on around via consecutive singles from 1B Mitch Moreland and DH Brian LaNinfa. The lead didn't last out the bottom of the inning as fielding gaffes threw open the door for the Rebels to bat all the away around. Jordan Henry slapped the first pitch into leftfield and was bunted over by brother Justin. With one out Zack Cozart grounded at shortstop, where Brandon Turner waited for the second hop.

Except the bounce skipped by his glove and Henry was able to round the corner and come home for the tying score. State could have kept it even as Crosswhite got cleanup batter Cody Overbeck to ground right to 3B Conner Powers' glove. But the ball came loose, two were on, and trouble brewing. Crosswhite drew a routine fly for the second out, then was tagged for three consecutive singles. Nine-hole hitter Brett Basham nearly made it a fourth as Powers had to leap for his high bouncer and a force at first, but Ole Miss was in charge 4-1.

"We didn't make a play and they score four runs," Polk said.

Crosswhite's evening got very much worse, fast, in the second with the top of the order back up. Jo. Henry led off with a triple to right-centerfield and scored on Justin's double to the other gap. Cozart took one off the ribs, and both runners advanced on a Overbeck ground-out. Not that it mattered what post they were standing on when on a 2-1 off-speed offering Logan Power unloaded a three-run shot over leftfield for a 8-1 score. Zach Miller tagged Crosswhite for another triple before the inning ended.

The starter came back out for the third and was immediately hit for a single and bad-hop double over third base for two in scoring positions. Justin Henry followed with a sharp shot into the rightfield corner for two runs and the third three-bagger of the evening. State let Crosswhite get a pop-foul out, first of the inning, before making the change to Carver.

His very first pitch, to Overbeck, left the yard for a two-run homer. The Rebels added another pair to stretch the margin out to 14-1 before the inning mercifully ended.

The huge margin likely resulted in Kline relaxing a bit, while with nothing left to lose the Dogs hacked away. LF Joseph McCaskill drew a one-out walk and scored on a double from Powers. RF Jeff Flagg got all four bases on a two-run shot that the Rebel leftfielder didn't even bother watching. In the top of the fifth Kline walked both Moreland and LaNinfa on, and with two out they were scored on consecutive RBI singles from Powers and Flagg. A CF Mark Goforth single didn't score anyone but did force a pitching change with Bukvich ending that inning.

"Our goal coming in the game was to get Kline's pitch-count and we were successful in doing that, I thought we had some great at-bats against him," said Rea. "They just stuck the ball tonight, it wasn't like Chad wasn't hitting spots and stuff. My hat is off to them for doing a great job."

And a 14-6 score was as close as the Bulldogs would get, with the Rebels matching both fifth-inning runs aided by more MSU fielding miscues. Overbeck drove in his third RBI and the final Ole Miss run with a sixth-inning single. All that State could manage the rest of the way was in the seventh with consecutive walks to Flagg and Goforth allowing Rea to drive the lead Dog in.

Leadoff man Jordan Henry, who hit State well in the 14-9 Bulldog victory in Pearl a week ago, was even hotter in the rematch with five safeties in six turns and scored four times. Power and Miller each had three hits. So did MSU's Powers, while Rea and Flagg had two hits each.

The Rebels moved into second in the SEC West with a 11-8 record (29-15 overall), while the 27-11 Bulldogs fell behind them and are 9-8 SEC going into Saturday's rematch. "It's tough to bounce back, especially on the road," said senior Rea. "But hey, that's why we play baseball, we'll play again tomorrow."

Game-two is at 3:00 Saturday with regional telecast on SEC-TV/FSN. The Bulldogs will start lefthander Justin Pigott (3-3, 5.58era) against Rebel righthander Lance Lynn (4-3, 2.64).

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