Ole Miss heads to Houston for the big tournament that’s been anticipated for a while, but not with the sparkling unblemished record it appeared the Rebels might have. That’s because a sloppy performance at certain points against Memphis and a solid effort by the visiting Tigers led to a 9-6 loss for Ole Miss.
The Rebels head to Shriners Hospital for Children at 7-1 on the season, and now the focus is a Noon game against Baylor Friday at Minute Maid Park, home of the Houston Astros. Saturday it’s Texas Tech at Noonand Sunday a matchup against TCU at 1:30 p.m.
Looking back at Tuesday’s loss to Memphis, flu for some and other illness had begun to play havoc for the Rebels. Starting pitcher true freshman right-hander Will Ethridge was set for his second collegiate start but was scratched from the lineup because of the flu. In his place true freshman right-hander Greer Holston took the mound.
Joining Ethridge with the flu was true freshman Thomas Dillard, who also missed Sunday’s game against UNC-Wilmington because of it. Rebel shortstop true freshman Grae Kessinger also has come down with some form of sickness, but that didn’t prevent him from lifting his team early with a three-run homer that gave Ole Miss a 4-3 lead.
Still a three-error sixth inning after Holston had allowed five runs through five innings all took their toll. And Memphis moved on to victory. The Tigers are now 5-2 this season.
The game simply wasn’t characteristic of the Ole Miss team that was on Swayze Field for the first seven games. Fans sometimes wonder why a team might not be as sharp against a local rival like Memphis. It’s baseball. It happens. It could have been Arkansas State last week or Georgia State next week. We’ve said all along there would be some bumps along the way and some losses. Now they have experienced one. Three headliners await them this weekend.
It was positive to see Tate Blackman go 3-for-4 and Kyle Watson go 2-for-4 in the contest. It was positive to see true freshman pitchers and former Oxford High teammates Houston Roth and Jason Barber pitch effectively, the latter in his first collegiate outing.
All in all, simply a bad game, but not for the entire game. Just enough blips against a decent team like Memphis and you lose. We’ve seen that before. They’ll get another shot at the Tigers at Autozone Park on Tuesday, March 21. But now it’s only Baylor and after the Texas Tech and TCU on their minds. And getting collectively well as a team this week.
Junior second baseman Tate Blackman
On his offense lately: “Just sticking to what I do best with my approach. Not getting out of myself. The first few games I was trying to do too much.” On being in the leadoff spot: “After the first inning it’s all the same thing. It’s just like hitting second or third. There’s nine batters and you just rotate.”
Freshman shortstop Grae Kessinger
On the sickness plaguing the team right now: “Hopefully we can all stay healthy and all be able to fly and not pass it around to the whole team. A few guys are feeling under the weather, but we’ll be ready to go.” On his first college home run: “I got down really early 0-2. And then I just got into my two strike approach, doing whatever I could. He left me a changeup up and I was able to put a good swing on it and it found its way out. With the wind blowing out, I knew it had a chance. Fortunately it made it over.”
Ole Miss head coach Mike Bianco
On the game: “It looked like at the beginning it was going to be one of those with a ton of runs scored. The wind was really blowing out to left. But it ended up to be the team that didn’t play very well defensively loses the game. They (Tigers) played well. They swing it well. We gave them too many opportunities. We hit five guys and made four errors. For the first time all year we couldn’t get off the field. We gave them too many big innings.” On the illness throughout the team: “They put everybody in the dorm on Tamiflu. There’s not a ton you can do. It is what it is. They’ve all had flu shots. This year it seems like the flu shot’s not helping a whole bunch. Just got to fight through it.”
OXFORD, Miss. – (Ole Miss SID) The No. 8 Ole Miss baseball season saw its unbeaten start to the season come to an end Tuesday evening as Memphis claimed a 9-6 win at Swayze Field. The Rebels (7-1) could not overcome four errors that led to five runs for the Tigers (5-2).
Ole Miss and Memphis scattered nine hits apiece throughout the contest, including a game-high three by junior second baseman Tate Blackman. Freshman Grae Kessinger added his first home run of his Rebel career with a three-run shot in the second inning, while junior Kyle Watson went 2-for-4 in a multi-hit performance.
With Will Ethridge a late scratch as the probable starter due to the flu, fellow freshman Greer Holston (0-1) was called upon to make his first career start. Holston pitched four innings on short notice and struck out four Tigers looking. Two other freshmen pitched in the contest as Houston Roth tossed 2.2 scoreless innings of relief, and Oxford native Jason Barber made his debut in the ninth.
Andy Bowman, Colton Neel and Alec Trela recorded multi-hit games for Memphis. Bowman hit two doubles, while Neel and Trela both hit home runs. The Rebels pegged Memphis starter James Muse for four runs in 2.0 innings, but the lefty duo of Drew Crosby and Hunter Smith pitched 5.0 scoreless frames. Jonathan Bowlan (3) pitched the ninth to earn the save.
Holston retired the side in the first, and the Rebels wasted no time putting a run on the scoreboard. As the leadoff hitter, Blackman singled to left before advancing to second after a Ryan Olenek walk. The pair of Rebels advanced 90 feet each after a failed pickoff at second, and Ole Miss took advantage of the miscue. Will Golsan hit a ball to center field deep enough to score Blackman and give his team a 1-0 after the first inning of play.
The lead didn’t last long as Memphis answered with three runs in the top of the second. The Tigers used an RBI and two sacrifice flies to take a 3-1 lead, but the Rebels countered to turn the game back in their favor. Chase Cockrell took one for the team, getting hit by a pitch, and Watson doubled down the left field line. With two ducks on the pond, Kessinger left the yard with a three-run blast into the Ole Miss bullpen. Just like that, the Rebels had the lead back at 4-3.
Memphis added runs in back-to-back innings to regain a one-run advantage, 5-4. Neel homered down the left field line in the third, while the Tigers’ third sac fly of the game broke a 4-4 tie in the fourth. The visitors looked to build their lead one inning later, loading the bases with one out against reliever Andy Pagnozzi. However, the righty worked out of the jam, striking out the slugger Bowman to keep Memphis scoreless in the frame and the deficit at one.
An error-filled sixth inning allowed three more runs to cross the plate and increase the Memphis lead to four, 8-4. Three unearned runs were surrendered due to three errors made around the infield.
Ole Miss cut into the margin in half with a pair of runs in the bottom of the eighth. Colby Bortles and Cole Zabowski started the scoring frame with a couple of singles, while Cockrell moved the two over on a groundout to the pitcher. With a grounder to the right side of the infield, Nick Fortes knocked in Bortles, and Zabowski scored on a wild pitch during the next at-bat.
Memphis added an insurance run in the ninth on a solo blast by Trela. Bowlan, the Tigers’ closer, sent the Rebels down in order to earn the save.
Looking to get back to their winning ways this weekend, 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, Ole Miss will face three Big 12 teams in Baylor (March 3), No. 10 Texas Tech (March 4) and No. 1 TCU (March 5) at Minute Maid Park in Houston, Texas.