Game Story By: Jeff Roberson
Sundays are the best days at Ole Miss baseball.
Sundays are when the kids run the bases. From toddler to tee-baller and on up to teenager they get on the field where the Rebels and their opponent just finished a day’s work, and they’re off to the races. Their focus intense; their exuberance off the charts.
The kids finish up and they head over to where the players are leaving the field following the team meeting and postgame interviews. It’s autograph and photo time. For some, it’s a moment they’ll treasure forever.
It’s normally hard to tell which player has the most kids wanting his autograph or picture. This Sunday it wasn’t that difficult.
Standing 6-foot-5 and – as one tweet said on social media this weekend – a guy who can hide behind a pencil, Ryan Olenek drew a crowd as kids truly did look up to the Rebel freshman.
They had to.
And they should have. Moments earlier, with one mighty swing of his bat in the ninth, the freshman from Florida launched one over the left center wall with two Rebels aboard, and Ole Miss was in business in a tie game.
A couple of veterans had reached before that. Tiger reliever Ben Braymer walked Cameron Dishon, and Errol Robinson singled. There were no outs and the place was abuzz. Certainly the Ole Miss dugout was.
It was 5-5 and a shaky Auburn bunch was back on its heels in a big way. The Tigers were competitive but had struggled all weekend in the field. Six errors on Sunday and 12 for the weekend speak volumes as to why these Tigers are now 5-13 in Southeastern Conference play and 18-22 overall.
Would Ole Miss and Auburn play on? Or would the Rebels end it in “regulation?”
After Tate Blackman reached on one of those Auburn errors, J.B. Woodman struck out, and Colby Bortles singled, up stepped Henri Lartigue. Who else would you have wanted?
The Rebel junior catcher was 4-for 5 on the day and had been on fire all weekend. After his RBI single scored the winning run, he finished the weekend 9-for-13. Now that’s impressive.
The six runs the Rebels scored in the final two frames for the 6-5 victory were not indicative of the rest of their day. Down 5-0 in the eighth when Bortles sent one over the fence with Woodman aboard, only then was their life and hope for Ole Miss. But a lot of work still to be done.
Back earlier in the game, the Rebels had two runners on in the first inning and left them stranded. Starter Sean Johnson allowed four runs in the second. But it was Sunday and anything can happen in a SEC finale. And sometimes does.
James McArthur, the freshman who is making a real impact and a statement to move into that final game starting role, along with Dallas Woolfolk, Matt Denny, and Andy Pagnozzi all contributed along the way to keep Auburn down to only one more run. Before the Rebels could get cranked up, that is.
But, boy, did they ever.
“He’s such a gamer,” Mike Bianco said of Olenek. “He’s not scared of the moment. He really wasn’t having a good day and had a lot of bad swings. We said that in the dugout. ‘Get a good swing off. You look defensive up there.’
“You don’t worry about him,” Bianco continued. “He plays so hard. That was about as big of an at-bat as you can have.”
Olenek is level-headed player, low-key and even keel, it appears. Except when he gets a hit, like a double, or a homer, and then he shakes and shimmies and rattles and rolls to the delight of fans. And all those kids, too.
“It’s unbelievable,” Olenek said of college baseball for him in his first season. “Just coming in here, this is the closest team I’ve ever been on. So it’s really cool to win like this.”
The Rebels, now 31-10 and 10-8, have given themselves a chance so that late April and all of May can mean something. We’ll see what that ultimately is. MSU in Pearl Tuesday and LSU this weekend mean it really doesn’t get any bigger than this. Not for Ole Miss. And not for a team trying to win its way into hosting a NCAA Regional.
Sunday is indeed the best day at an Ole Miss baseball game. Unless, like LSU this week, the series begins on Thursday. Then it’s Saturday. And even more so when it's a walkoff win to complete the sweep.
Ole Miss returns to action on Tuesday against Mississippi State. First pitch is set for 6:30 p.m. CT in Pearl, Miss. The game will be televised on the SEC Network and streamed online on Watch ESPN.