Stumbling Start

Ole Miss had been hitting pretty well all year and had just come off a 22-hit, 18-run performance in a 18-8 win at Louisville. Then Auburn came to town and Rebel bats fell silent. Southeastern Conference pitching can be a great equalizer.

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Mike Mayers from Jeff Roberson on Vimeo.

The Tigers, coming into the weekend third in the SEC in batting average, won Sunday 3-2 to claim the series after a 10-4 win Saturday. Ole Miss got the opener 2-1 Friday night.

The Rebels came into the series as the second-best hitting team in the league at .322. Scoring eight runs in a home weekend series means a team's defense and pitching has to be nearly perfect. The Rebels were good enough, except for a nightmare top of the first inning on Saturday.

That five-error frame put them behind 5-0 before ever coming to bat. They got it close at 5-4 but Auburn again pushed the lead out with another five-run inning, in the eighth.

But on Sunday they had the opportunity had the bats responded. Defensively they were solid, with no errors on the day.

Pitching was strong, as starter Mike Mayers rolled most of the day and into the ninth, having only allowed one run on four hits to that point with five strikeouts and no walks.

So the table was set to take the series after splitting the first two days. But SEC pitching – in this case Auburn – equalized things.

"We can't score eight runs (in three games) and expect to win a lot of weekends," Tanner Mathis said. "As good as our offense has been, we can't let that happen. We've got to do a better job of having quality at-bats and getting the timely hit."

One moment that likely could have been the difference for the Rebels was two-run home run robbing/leaping catch by Tiger left-fielder Cullen Wacker in the bottom of the fifth that would have put Ole Miss up 4-1 and Auburn in a deep hole, given SEC pitching, in this case Ole Miss pitching.

The Rebels cruised into the ninth, clinging to a 2-1 lead. Ole Miss head coach Mike Bianco had Dylan Chavez and Brett Huber warming up. He chose to send Mayers out for the ninth.

"I felt good. I wanted to go back out there," Mayers said.

"Mike was terrific today," Ole Miss head coach Mike Bianco said. "I asked him and he said he felt terrific. His stuff was good and his velocity was still there."

Two quick ground outs, and the Tigers were down to their last at-bat. But it would not be their last at-bat.

Mike Mayers
Bruce Newman

Ryan Tella, with his only hit in the game, was actually down to his final strike. He doubled in a place that was just inside the foul line and just out of reach of a racing left fielder Tanner Mathis.

"Down to the final strike and threw a ball inside. He fought it off and hit it down the line," Mayers said. "The next guy just made a good swing."

Mayers thought the ball was headed into a position that Mathis could get it. But it kept moving toward the line.

"When it first went off the bat, I thought it was going right to him," Mayers said. "And then it was one of those that kept slicing. I was just like ‘Please go foul. Please go foul.' And it looked like he almost had a good shot at catching it. Just one of those things."

Mathis said he was close to getting to it.

"Probably about half a foot away, maybe half a step," he said. "I got a good jump, and the wind held it up just a little bit. But that's what happens when the wind pushes it just a little bit too much. You can't quite get there."

Wacker then doubled to get Tella home and the game was tied. Bianco brought in Huber who immediately gave up a single to score Garrett Cooper.

In the bottom of the ninth, Auburn sent closer Justin Bryant to the mound. Andrew Mistone walked to give the Rebels a start. Senquez Golson pinch-ran, and was sac bunted to second by Austin Anderson.

Zach Kirksey struck out looking, and Sikes Orvis popped up to the second baseman.

After the Tigers took a 1-0 lead in the top of the third inning, Blake Newalu led off the bottom of the third with a solo home run to left, his first round-tripper of the season. Mathis tripled immediately after that and scored on a ground out by Alex Yarbrough.

Cory Luckie, the second of three pitchers for Auburn, got the win. He had replaced AU starter Daniel Koger, who pitched six innings of six-hit, two-run baseball.

Mayers fell to 2-2 with the loss.

And that was it for the scoring until the top of the ninth. Mathis said the Rebels have to put this one behind them and move on from here.

"Like Coach (Bianco) told us (after the game), they had like three two-out hits in a row (in the ninth). That hadn't happened all weekend," he said. "It's baseball, but it does hurt."

Freshman RHP Sam Smith is the scheduled starter for the Rebels against Southern Mississippi in Oxford Tuesday at 6:30 p.m.

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