Up 8-1 late and still you never know. It’s baseball. Ole Miss beat North Carolina-Wilmington 8-6 Sunday to sweep the Seahawks but came within a batter or two, another walk or hit or two, of losing this one, or maybe tying it.
That’s because the dreaded departure curfew was in place for this game as UNC-Wilmington had to get back home. Not another inning was going to begin after 3:30 p.m. local time.
As it turned out, the game ended a few minutes before that, right around 3:23 p.m., according to the official box score. Ole Miss is now 7-0 on the season with the Memphis Tigers here for a Tuesday afternoon game that begins at 4 p.m.
The early lead the Rebels built came, for the most part, in the bottom of the third. Five runs crossed the plate, the latter two the result of a big bop out of the park by senior slugger Colby Bortles, whose bat is coming around just like we all knew it would.
Cruise control for the Rebels, in a sense, set in and it wasn’t until the eighth that things went south a bit. The defensive play of the day, which likely prevented two runs in the sixth, was from Grae Kessinger. The freshman shortstop jumped straight up as a line shot was hit his way and snagged it, much to the delight of the crowd. A less athletic player would not have made the play, and it helped prevent any damage at the time for UNC-W.
Brady Feigl and Andy Pagnozzi had taken the Rebels through seven innings. Then Ryan Rollison came in for the eighth and the Seahawks picked up a run. But it’s good to see the true freshman lefty get some innings and get into the mix. Leading by seven runs is a good time to do that, although there is much confidence in Rollison to enter a game in any situation. He’ll be valuable for a number of years here.
Connor Green started the ninth, but a walk, a wild pitch, a single and a walk ended his day with bases loaded and nobody out. What was a walk in the park for the Rebels made some folks a little antsy with as many Seahawks as there were floating around on the bases. Reliable Dallas Woolfolk came in to take care of the situation, and although two runs scored he was able to end it.
Green is one of those guys, in this case a sophomore with 20 relief appearances for Ole Miss last season, that this team will likely rely on. But he has to get in the mix and get some innings. So for the third time this season he headed out there, but this time he couldn’t get anybody out. He’ll get another chance.
The Rebels, with at least one service ranking them No. 1 nationally in the RPI already, move on from here to close out February – that’s the Tuesday game against Memphis in Oxford. Then it’s on to Texas for what will be a major showdown of excellent baseball programs at Minute Maid Park in Houston. Baylor, Texas Tech and TCU await. A week from now we’ll have quite a sample size of this team through 11 games against quality opposition. Few teams in the country will have been tested as this group will by then.
Senior third baseman and team co-captain Colby Bortles
On his offense coming around: “Always good to see a couple of hits. I felt like I was swinging it well (already this season). Had a couple of tough breaks, swung at a couple of bad pitches. I was trying to just keep my head still up there and swing at the right pitches. I feel like I did that today.” On the team being 7-0 on the year: “Feels good. We’re really confident right now going into the Memphis game and then going to Houston. It’s good to come out victorious.” On some big innings offensively in some games for this team: “Just getting some guys on. We set it up almost every inning and we’re just that big hit away almost every inning it feels like from breaking it open. When they score, we score right back. It’s kind of funny how that works. Get guys on and get the big hit, and it will work for us.” On Brady Feigl: “He’s really good. Really reliable Sunday guy, one of the best pitchers on the team. To see him throw like he does is really good.” On Kessinger’s tremendous defensive gem in the sixth: “Grae’s been making plays his whole life and dreaming of playing in this stadium his whole life. It was awesome. It makes me want to make a great play, makes Tate want to make a great play, makes everybody want to make a great play. He’s that special. He flashes the leather better than anyone I’ve ever seen.”
Freshman shortstop Grae Kessinger
On his defensive play in the sixth that prevented two runs: “When it was hit I was like, ‘I’d better jump really high.’ It all worked out. The pitchers were throwing well, and I wanted to do my best to make a play for them.” On a long throw to first baseman Cole Zabowski for an out after sliding a bit on the grass: “That’s probably my favorite play. I like sliding like that. I’ve done it my whole life. Today it worked out.” On the team at 7-0 so far: “We’re just resilient. Anytime we get punched in the mouth, we bounce right back. We’ve been doing it all year. We have good team chemistry, and we’re always there to pick each other up.” On throwing to big Zabowski at first base: “Great target to throw to. You can miss high, you can miss low, left, right. It gives you some comfort. He’s great over there.”
Ole Miss head coach Mike Bianco
On Colby Bortles getting some hits after a tough start to the season: “Proud of the way he’s bounced back after a slow start. It’s tough. I’d rather (the veterans) get off to slow starts (than the newcomers), because you know eventually they’ll get out of it. You know they can play. Happy the younger guys have gotten off to good starts. Certainly we needed that out of Colby today with a big home run and a sac fly.”On the team so far: “You’ve got to be pleased through two weekends, seven games. There’s still a lot to clean up. But it’s hard to imagine we could have done much better against some really good competition. It’s one thing to win seven games, but six of them are against teams in the top 25. Proud of the way we’ve played.” On Kessinger’s jump and grab of the line drive: “Great timing. He has those instincts. To jump and catch that ball, that’s two runs (saved), if that ball gets into the gap which it was. Big play.” On Brady Fiegl’s day: “A guy that’s got great stuff, and really I thought today was a tough game to pitch with the wind and all their right-handers in the lineup. He pitched that competitive baseball that you need. He was excellent today.”
OXFORD, Miss. – (Ole Miss SID) For the second straight weekend, the No. 8 Ole Miss baseball team swept a ranked opponent at Swayze Field. The Rebels (7-0) remained undefeated on the 2017 campaign with an 8-6 victory over No. 23 UNCW Sunday afternoon.
Ole Miss scored three runs in the third to jump out to an early advantage. The lead grew to as much as seven before the Seahawks (3-3) attempted a late-inning comeback. However, the Rebels held on to move to 7-0 for the first time since 2013.
Seven different Rebels recorded base hits, including designated hitter Tim Rowe. The junior college transfer went 2-for-4 in his first start at Ole Miss, earning his first RBI as well. Speaking of RBI, senior Colby Bortles post a team-high three to go along with his second home run of the season. Reigning SEC Player of the Week Ryan Olenek added two runs and two RBI to help the Rebels sweep the series.
Ole Miss starter Brady Feigl (1-0) earned his first victory of the year, allowing just one run on three hits and two walks. The redshirt-sophomore did not allow a hit until the fifth inning and tied his career high with six strikeouts. Sophomore Andy Pagnozzi pitched 2.0 scoreless innings of relief, and Dallas Woolfolk (3) collected his second save of the weekend.
UNCW was limited to six hits as Robbie Thorburn and Josh Hernandez picked up two apiece. Starter Logan Beehler (0-1) was saddled with the loss after allowing six runs on five hits and three walks through 4.2 innings.
As was the trend all weekend long, an Ole Miss starting pitcher got off to a hot start. Feigl struck out five of the first nine batters he faced through the first three innings. In the bottom of the third, the Rebels sent eight hitters to the plate to put together another big inning. Cooper Johnson recorded the first hit of the game with a single, and after a Grae Kessinger walk, Tate Blackman played small ball with a sacrifice bunt to put the two Rebels in scoring position. The plan worked as Olenek singled to center field, plating the first two runs of the game. Ole Miss wasn’t finished as Cole Zabawski tallied a RBI base knock before Bortles left the ballpark with a two-run bomb to left. Another monster inning had the Rebels out in front, 5-0.
Feigl continued to keep the Seahawks hitless before Terence Connelly found the gap in right-center field for a one-out triple in the top of the fifth. The UNCW third baseman scored two batters later on a base hit up the middle by the catcher Hernandez. The pair of hits cut the Ole Miss lead to four, but the margin didn’t stay there for long. Blackman started the bottom of the frame with an infield single. A steal, groundout and wild pitch brought the junior second baseman around to score and gave the Rebels the run back to keep it a five-run ballgame.
The first two hitters for UNCW reached base in the sixth, forcing Feigl out of the contest. However, Pagnozzi came on in relief and got out of the jam thanks to the help of two web gems by the left side of the Ole Miss infield. First, Grae Kessinger climbed the ladder to rob a liner that would have scored a run. Then, with two outs, Bortles went into the stands to snag a foul ball and end the inning without the Seahawks crossing the plate.
The Rebels scored twice in the seventh, which ended up being two legitimate insurance runs that they needed at the end of the contest. The first three hitters reached base to begin the frame, with Golsan’s single to center field increasing the lead to six. Bortles added his third RBI of the game on a deep sac fly that made it 8-1 in favor of the home team.
Despite the seven-run deficit, UNCW continued to fight, tallying one run in the eighth before putting together a scary ninth inning for Ole Miss. Another run crossed the plate, and the Seahawks loaded the bases with nobody out, forcing head coach Mike Bianco to bring in the hard-throwing Woolfolk. A base hit and RBI groundout doubles UNCW’s score to six and brought the tying run to the plate. However, Johnson made a diving catch on a foul ball to end the game and stop the comeback.
The Rebels will close out their eight-game homestand by hosting Memphis on Tuesday (Feb. 28) at Swayze Field. First pitch is slated for 4 p.m. Following the midweek contest, Ole Miss will hit the road for the first time this season to participate in the Shriners Hospitals for Children College Classic (March 3-5). Competing in one of the most prestigious regular season tournaments in the country, the Rebels will face three Big 12 teams in Baylor (March 3), Texas Tech (March 4) and TCU (March 5) at Minute Maid Park in Houston, Texas.