Rebels Cash In On State Eighth-Inning Errors

Coach John Cohen only thought he'd seen all the ways his team could beat itself. Friday night revealed yet another, though, as three Bulldog errors directly contributed to just as many runs in the top of the eighth inning and provided Ole Miss their margin of 4-2 victory to open the weekend series at Dudy Noble Field.

Ole Miss improved to 31-13 and 12-7 SEC, while the host Bulldogs lost a fourth-straight league game and are 20-21, 5-14. And while this defeat wasn't quite as dramatic as the blown big leads in a lost twinbill last Sunday, it was just about as traumatic as State watched a 1-1 tie crumble under failed fielding plays. No wonder Cohen could call it all "a little bit ridiculous." "These things are happening to us for some inexplicable reason. I think everybody is trying to do a little bit too much, and it's probably my fault."

Though that would not be giving enough credit to the winning team. The Rebels still had to cash in on those presented opportunity, and did so with a bases-loaded walk, nub-single, and fly ball. The winning runs might not have been officially earned but Ole Miss did earn their W by making plays.

And, pitches. Reliever Matt Tracy (3-2) may well have picked up the decision but it was the work of starter Drew Pomeranz and closer Brett Huber that were decisive. Pomeranz came in undefeated and stayed that way, shrugging off a first-inning run to go 6.1 frames with five hits, a walk, and eleven strikeouts. In an overpowering stretch after giving up the one run, Pomeranz didn't just retire 14 of 15 faced; he struck out ten of eleven outs.

"You can't afford to chase on him, I think we got a little overwhelmed a times swinging at pitches out of the zone," said State RF Luke Adkins, the only Dog to have consistent success against Pomeranz with three hits in three chances. Having seen him two previous seasons State knew what they were facing and still barely managed to dent his stat-line.

"We swung at a lot of ball-fours," said Cohen. "We did the film work and scouting report, we just can't execute. But he's good, he's the guy on a championship level club."

Yet for a while State starter Tyler Whitney (0-2) was working on just about as high a level himself. The lefthander took the loss despite his most impressive outing of the senior season. In seven-plus innings he struck out eight against seven hits and two walks. He left with a tied 1-1 game, but also with the bases loaded and no outs. All three would score, albeit unearned.

"It seems every time I've pitched against them I've had some success," said Whitney, who'd earned a win last year in Oxford. "They just keep grinding and wait for the big inning. Unfortunately for us it came late and we weren't able to battle back."

"We're pleased with what Tyler did, he pitched very well," Cohen said. "He did a heck of a job, that's the best he's thrown a baseball since I've been here for sure. But in the eighth inning he got about five outs, we just didn't record them."

Whitney's beginning looked iffy as a walk and pair of chink singles loaded the bags for the meat of Ole Miss' order. It was an early make-or-break moment, yet the senior responded with a strikeout, pop-out, and ground-out. The Rebels ran themselves out of the second, with a runner on first and two outs. Tim Ferguson's hot shot glanced off the glove of Ogden far enough that Taylor Hightower tried for third. Ogden recovered in time for a throw and tag by 3B Nick Vickerson. Whitney took care of the side in his third before both teams retired to their dugouts for a 65-minute weather delay.

Prior to that State had scratched against Pomeranz. Vickerson and Adkins bounced base hits through the right side for Dogs on corners, so despite grounding into a double-play 1B Connor Powers was able to push Vickerson across. Pomeranz had two more runners on with a walk and single before check-swinging 2B Jet Butler into a strikeout. He fanned the side in the MSU second, then struck out three in the third around an Adkins single. Fourth inning? Three more Ks to the account. "He was better after the break than before," said Cohen.

Ole Miss evened things up in the fourth, after Whitney had struck out two. On 2-1 Taylor Hashman turned on one and the line-drive stayed just inside the left foul pole for the solo home run. "I knew the wind was blowing across and probably at first I thought it was foul, I felt he made a pretty good pitch on the inner half." In the UM fifth Kevin Mort reached as Vickerson deflected his grounder for an infield single; then the third baseman misread a Smith hopper into a two-base error and pair in scoring positions. Whitney shook off the threat to fan both Snyder and Zach Miller.

The Bulldogs finally resumed making some contact on Pomeranz, if just for three ground-outs in their fifth turn. Adkins was able to reach with a leadoff single in the sixth and steal second on the 100th pitch. He got no further.

But Pomeranz' 118th offering, one out into the Bulldog seventh, smacked LF Ryan Duffy right in the helmet. It was his last too as Tracy was called in to keep pinch-runner Ryan Collins on first. He didn't as CF Jaron Shepherd chopped a high hopper to first baseman Hamblin. He looked to second base, saw Collins was going to make it ahead of any throw, and tried flipping to Tracy.

Shepherd reached the bag first. But Tracy escaped with a swinging strikeout of Ogden and ground-out from Vickerson.

Whitney returned for the eighth, and wasn't close on his four pitches to Snyder. He rolled a perfect double-play grounder to Ogden, only to have the shortstop just flat drop the ball pulling it from the glove a bit too quickly. "Trying to create a quadruple-play instead of a double-play, he hurried himself," Cohen said. Ole Miss played the bunt game and while Whitney fielded Alex Yarbrough's sacrifice in time, he threw high of first and only Butler backing up the bag saved a run.

But all runners were still safe and all bases occupied with no outs. And, "I was starting to wear-down a little bit," Whitney said. "It was the first start in a while I probably had a little bit of endurance issues." Caleb Reed was handed this nigh-impossible situation and didn't help by walking Hashman to force in the go-ahead run. Chad Girodo was immediately summoned to try his (left) hand. He got Hightower to pop up for an infield-fly out, then Hamblin nubbed one along the third base line that Girodo fielded as he slipped down allowing Miller to score. A sacrifice-fly by Tim Ferguson meant a 4-1 lead that would stand up.

The Rebels didn't waste time after a leadoff walk of Adkins, bringing Huber for the meat of MSU's order. He flew-out Powers and struck out Sneed before a wild pitch/error advanced Adkins to third. Freeman stroked a drive to the leftfield track that Hashman appeared to grab, only to lose control. It was ruled a double and RBI. Huber walked Butler on four pitches but on a full count Collins watched strike three.

Shepherd singled to start State's last chance and stole second unchallenged. But Huber was able to shoot down pinch-hitter Trey Johnson, Vickerson, and Adkins to run out the evening.

"Obviously we swung at too many elevated fastballs," said Whitney. "We struck out way too many times, and didn't make the defensive plays when we needed to. I thought Tyler did a great job tonight, I hate he had to come away with a loss."

As did his coach, who could only shake the head over a routine grounder turned not into two outs but the door-cracking moment. "We have an outstanding shortstop not convert a double-play and that was just a killer in the ball game," Cohen said.

Mort had three of the nine Ole Miss hits, matching Adkins' three safeties for State. Shepherd and Freeman had a pair of hits each.

Saturday's game-two is set for 6:30 telecast by SportSouth, and to allow for morning and afternoon graduation functions at Humphrey Coliseum. More weather is forecast for the next two days as well. State has booked freshman righthander Chris Stratton (4-3, 4.97) for the start while Ole Miss is expected to throw righthander Aaron Barrett (6-2, 3.36).

"Tomorrow we'll compete our tails off, and we'll throw a freshman and see what happens," said Cohen.

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