Game Story By: Jeff Roberson
HOOVER, Ala. – Four freshmen arms got almost all the way through the game Thursday night as Ole Miss beat Vanderbilt 12-9 to advance to a Saturday semi-final contest in the SEC Tournament.
Starter James McArthur and relievers Connor Green, Andy Pagnozzi, and Brady Feigl took the Rebels all the way to the final out. But with the bases full of Commodores and the score at that point just a four-run margin for the Rebels, Wyatt Short was called out of the bullpen.
The magnificent closer for the Rebels actually gave up a fly ball RBI to Bryan Reynolds that dropped in no-man’s land in shallow center. That made it a three-run margin. But, as Short normally does, he finished things up with the next batter for Vandy.
Now, back to the four freshmen. Tournaments in the postseason allow for things such as this. There may have been some regular season games that had as many young arms on the mound. But not against a powerhouse program like Vanderbilt, both teams fighting for a national seed, and in the environment of the SEC Tournament.
“You look up and there’s a freshman running out there in tough situations,” Ole Miss head coach Mike Bianco said. “I’m just proud of them.”
Starting things off was freshman righty James McArthur. He went 5.1 innings and allowed just two runs. Ole Miss, meanwhile, was building a lead of major proportions. And needed almost all of those runs.
It was 5-0 Ole Miss (43-16) after three innings, and 10-0 after the top of the sixth. But it was far from over. The Commodores (43-16) had much at stake as well, and they were going to battle back.
Bianco said McArthur gave the Rebels exactly what was needed as the Rebel offense built the lead.
“I’m real proud of James to come out and start in this type environment against one of the nation’s best teams,” Bianco said after McArthur got the win and is now 6-1 on the year. “To pitch like that was certainly a huge lift. And we needed what we got from James tonight in tournament play.”
The stat line for the remaining pitchers between McArthur and Short got a little ugly and truthfully a bit skewed. The lead evaporated some and Vandy trimmed it to 10-4 after six innings.
But the Rebels answered in the seventh with a run for an 11-4 lead, but Vandy got another run in the bottom of the seventh to make it 11-5. Ole Miss managed another run in the eighth for a 12-5 lead, and all appeared well. But that’s when the Commodores scored four in the ninth and had a baserunner aboard when it ended with Short getting out of it.
“I thought we played really well tonight,” Bianco said. “You look at how close it was and you look at the box, I don’t think it should take away from how well we played tonight. This is one of those days you try to save some pitching and go at people. I thought the offense was tremendous, especially early.
“A great night offensively for us. We continued to extend the lead, and certainly we needed all those runs.”
Ole Miss will face the winner of Texas A&M-Vanderbilt, who play on Friday afternoon. The Rebels’ next game is Saturday at 12 Noon. The Saturday game is single elimination. One loss and done – or one win and move to the title game Sunday.
Quotes from the press conference:
Henri Lartigue on the offense with 13 hits and 12 runs: “Our guys are going out there and having quality at-bats. That’s all we ask of the entire lineup is just do a good job there and win some pitches. Hopefully win the at-bat more than (the pitcher). It just seems like we’re getting some good pitches to hit. For the whole tournament guys are winning pitches.”
James McArthur on his performance: “What was working was whenever I got ahead I really attacked the zone early. And I put myself in good situations to make a good slider pitch late in the count. Just getting ahead.”
McArthur on his preparation going into the game against Vandy: “The message on the scouting report was to really go after these guys and try to get ahead. Work around the zone and that’s what I tried to do out there. I’d get myself in some bad situations at times, but the bats were going and whenever you’ve got a pretty good lead like that, it’s easy to go out there and just really attack the zone.”
Lartigue on having a day off from games: “It’s pretty hot here so it’s good for us to take a day off and hydrate and get our bodies back underneath us. It’s single elimination from now on, so it’s nice to have a day off underneath our belt so we can be ready to play again.”
Vandy head coach Tim Corbin: “We just didn’t get the start we needed. They jumped on us quick. The outcome will show we still had a chance. I thought we swung the bats very well from inning five on. Just a weird game. Credit OIe Miss.”