The largest announced single-game crowd in Ole Miss home baseball history - 12,117 - got what it came to see Friday and that was a victory for the Rebels. In the season opener, eighth-ranked Ole Miss (Perfect Game) got past sixth-ranked East Carolina (Baseball America) 5-4.
The freshmen and newcomers were a big part of the game, as anticipated. Four freshmen – shortstop Grae Kessinger, catcher Cooper Johnson, left-fielder Thomas Dillard, and first baseman Cole Zabowski - started and one junior college transfer – DH Chase Cockrell - also started. What might not have been expected was that the co-captains were hitless on the day. Tate Blackman in the leadoff role and Colby Bortles in the three hole were 0-for-3 and 0-for-4 respectively. And the Rebels still won against a top-notch ECU team.
Cockrell, a sophomore, went 2-for-4 but it was his eighth-inning RBI single that allowed Ole Miss to lead 5-3 with a run that ultimately proved to be the game winner.
Zabowski at first base had some terrific defensive plays and was 1-for-3 at the plate. Dillard got turned around a bit on a couple of line shots his way in left, and he’ll get more comfortable. He’s not at catcher anymore. Dillard helped the Rebels’ cause greatly with a RBI double in the fourth that put Ole Miss up 4-3, a lead it would not relinquish.
Johnson handled the catcher role like a veteran. On one particular throw after a third strike ball got loose, he zipped the throw down to Zabowski at first to prevent another Pirate runner from reaching.
Sophomore Ryan Olenek was the most productive Rebel at the plate going 3-for-4, with a double in the first inning and scoring on a throwing error to tie the game at 1-1.
The game was close throughout but never really had the feel the Rebels would lose. Much of that had to do with starting pitcher David Parkinson, who went seven innings allowing three runs on six hits, with six strikeouts and a walk. He faced 26 batters and threw first-pitch strikes to every one of them, according to the stats.
Will Stokes came in for Parkinson and made the eighth and two outs in the ninth look easy. Then he gave up a solo home run to Spencer Brickhouse to cut the UM lead to just a run. A popup to Blackman at second by Luke Bolka ended things. Stokes was effective and the Rebels had the insurance run from the eighth to allow him to give up the run in the ninth Defensively the Rebels were clean with no errors.
All in all a good start for Ole Miss against a talented and veteran East Carolina team. Game two is set for 1:30 p.m. Saturday. Game three is at Noon Sunday.
Ole Miss head coach Mike Bianco
On the pitchers: “All the pitching on both sides was terrific. Their reliever and our reliever, and against two very good offenses. David (Parkinson) gave up a home run in the first, and you do that and you don’t know. His first time on Friday night, and he showed why he is the Friday night guy. Right after that batter he got a couple of strike outs, ran off the field, and took control of the game.” On ECU: “They make it hard on you. They’re terrific, as you know a Cliff Godwin team will be. We’ve got our work cut out for us (the next two games).” On Parkinson late in his seven-inning performance: “I thought he was strong. I thought the fast ball had more life even than we’ve seen in the scrimmages. It stayed there and was touching some 90s late in the game and mixing four pitches like he’s done all year for us.” On Cockrell’s RBI in the eighth to make it 5-3 Ole Miss: “It’s the game winner now. Anytime you can extend the lead is huge. Chase is the guy, and you don’t bat him fourth because you don’t think he’s going to get hits. He’s there because you think he’s going to drive in runs. The ball just jumps off his bat with tremendous power. He’s going to swing and miss and that’s part of what those guys do. The good part is they’re going to drive in runs.” On Zabowski’s defense at first base: “I think he’s a really, really good defensive first baseman. He continues to get better. We’ve never had the big left-handed first baseman since I’ve been here. We’ve had some big ones, but they haven’t been left-handed. To watch him on some of the throws, to be able to elevate and catch balls, it’s going to make us a better defensive team.”
Sophomore center fielder Ryan Olenek, 3-for-4 in the game
On his offensive day: “I expect to do well when I come out to play. I just have fun when I’m out here. We can hit. We have a lot of good hitters on this team.” On the new players in the lineup in game one: “They acted pretty much like they have all year since they’ve been on campus. They hold us themselves to a higher standard. They pretty much acted exactly as we expected them to. They stayed pretty even keel.”
Junior starting pitcher David Parkinson
On coming back from the leadoff home run: “He was battling. He wasn’t giving up. I wasn’t giving up. He was either going to hit it, or I was going to get him out. And he hit a home run. I just had to come back the next batter.” On how he felt in the later innings: “I felt pretty good, honestly. I thought I’d be a little fatigued, but my arm felt good.”
OXFORD, Miss. – (Ole Miss SID) The No. 8 Ole Miss baseball team began the highly anticipated 2017 season on Friday afternoon, and Rebel Nation was sure not to miss it. In front of a Swayze Field record-setting crowd of 12,117, the Rebels overcame a leadoff home run to capture a 5-4 win over No. 6 East Carolina.
With five newcomers making their Rebel debuts, Ole Miss (1-0) improved to 16-1 on Opening Day under head coach Mike Bianco. The Rebels took the field under the watchful eye of 12,117 faithful fans, a Swayze Field single-game record that eclipsed the previous record of 11,729 against Alabama (April 13, 2013).
Starting pitcher David Parkinson (1-0) struck out a career-high six ECU (0-1) batters in seven innings of work. The junior got the Opening Day nod after an impressive first season in 2016 as a Junior College transfer and the No. 2 pitcher in the rotation.
Parkinson's day did not start off as he would've dreamt up when ECU's Dwanya Williams-Sutton hit a leadoff home run to cap off an 11-pitch at-bat. Parkinson would settle in to not give up another hit until the fourth frame, while striking out three.
Sophomore Ryan Olenek led the way for the Rebels at the plate by going 3-for-4. Olenek kickstarted the Rebel offense with a 1-out double down the right field line before stealing third and scoring when the catcher's throw went into left field.
Junior Will Golsan kept the offense going in the second when he blasted a leadoff home run to left field for the first of 2017 and the fourth of his career, setting off a Swayze Shower in the right field bleachers.
In his Ole Miss debut, junior college transfer Chase Cockrell went 2-for-4 as the Rebels’ designated hitter. The sophomore righty provided a key single in the eighth that ended up being the game-winning hit.
ECU, however, brought some offense of its own. The Pirates finally broke through to Parkinson with three straight doubles putting them ahead 3-2 in the fourth.
The Rebel bats would catch fire again in their half of the fourth. Cockrell led off by hitting a ball into center that rolled all the way to the wall, putting him at third with nobody out before he scored on a passed ball.
After a Golsan walk, freshman Thomas Dillard recorded his first career hit and RBI when he scorched a ball to the left field wall, scoring Golsan all the way from first and putting the Rebels back ahead 4-3.
The game became a pitcher's duel between Parkinson and Preseason All-American Evan Kruczynski (0-1) of ECU for the next three innings, with Kruczynski retiring seven straight and Parkinson retiring seven of nine.
Junior closer Will Stokes was called on in the eighth inning for a rare 6-out save. The hard-throwing righty retired the Pirates in order in the eighth, including back-to-back strikeouts to end the frame.
The Rebels went into their half of the eighth looking to add some insurance to their 4-3 lead. Matt Bridges had taken over on the mound for ECU, and after Tate Blackman was hit by a pitch, Olenek added his third hit of the night on a single to third base. Two batters later, Cockrell ripped a ball into left, scoring Blackman from second and pushing the Rebel lead to 5-3.
Two quick outs in the ninth got the record crowd Swayze Field on their feet, but ECU wouldn't go away without a fight. Freshman Spencer Brickhouse blasted a ball over the right field wall, making it 5-4 in Ole Miss' favor and giving ECU life. However, a popout to Blackman would end the game and give the Rebels an Opening Day victory over the No. 6 team in the country.
Ole Miss will get right back to the field tomorrow afternoon, looking to clinch the series over ECU. Sophmore James McArthur will toe the rubber for the Rebels, matching up against southpaw Jacob Wolfe. First pitch from Swayze Field is scheduled for 1:30 p.m. CT on SECN+.