It’s easy to discount a team when they can’t get a lead and they haven’t shown much offense in a while. That was kind of the case Sunday as Ole Miss and Vanderbilt got after it for the third straight game, and as the game moved on. Make no mistake about it. These two programs wanted this one badly.
Ole Miss and Vanderbilt have quite a rivalry going in the sport since Tim Corbin and Mike Bianco have been on board as head coaches. The Rebels had won three straight games coming into the weekend against the Commodores and now make that five of six. Against Vanderbilt, that’s good. In baseball against just about team, that’s good.
I asked Bianco in the postgame today what he thought about his first three pitchers in the finale. Remember now, they are all freshmen – Will Ethridge, Greer Holston, and Ryan Rolison. He immediately said he didn’t realize that and wanted to make sure we knew the coaches don’t view them as freshmen any more. “They’re all varsity players to us,” he said.
But you have to realize that on this stage at this level those guys have not been in this situation. It was big-time pitching to get the Rebels to their veterans and keep the team in the game. Then came Will Stokes followed by Dallas Woolfolk. When the Rebels finally got that lead at 10-8, the Commodores were done.
So many storylines and angles in this one. Pick a few. Woolfolk. The guy is lights out. He’s like Wyatt Short recently and Stephen Head in an earlier decade. He just lifts his team when he’s out there, and they have so much confidence in him. And Woolfolk has confidence as well, or he wouldn’t be getting it done as he is.
How about Chase Cockrell? He was the Tim Rowe of Friday night, literally. He had the hardhat on following the Sunday victory. Nothing is more pleasing to cover, in all honesty, than the guy who has waited in the wings for his turn. That was Cockrell Sunday as nightfall arrived.
The Rebels trailed 8-6 at stretch time and Rowe solo homered in the bottom of the frame. Hard hat worthy again. But there was more.
Down 8-7, Colby Bortles sent one out of the park in the eighth to tie it, the senior slugger and co-captain willing it out of the park to give his team a chance.
Then came a Will Golsan walk and a big double for Cockrell. As Cockrell headed to second and Golsan headed home, Cockrell crashed into the Vanderbilt shortstop, Connor Kaiser, who had moved all the way over into the base path between first and second. Nick Fortes, in for catcher Cooper Johnson, then singled and got Cockrell home from second.
So many contributors. As Bianco said, 15 position players dressed and all played.
Ole Miss is 14-6 on the season and 2-1 in league play. The Rebels will play in downtown Memphis Tuesday night against the Tigers. Vandy is 13-8 and 1-2.
Ole Miss pinch hitter Chase Cockrell
On his double: “Before that bat, Coach (Bianco) told me to expect fast ball and I went up there with a fast ball approach. I was willing to adjust.” On his crash: “Honestly I just looked up and he was there and there was no way to avoid it. I was just in shock. I didn’t know what happened.” On what Bianco told him after the crash: “Just to keep my composure and don’t do anything stupid.” On the victory: “Definitely a team win. The pitchers fought through it and gave the offense a chance.”
Ole Miss third baseman Colby Bortles
On the offense late in the game: “We had to score eventually. I think (assistant coach Mike Clement) said it best that in the last two games we had good ABs and good swings together and had runners on. We were just waiting on the big hits to clear the bases. We just kept swinging and putting together quality ABs, and it eventually worked for us.” On so many contributors in this one: “We have a lot of guys that can step up and play big roles for us. No matter who is on the mound or who is at the plate, I have tremendous confidence they’ll get the job done. That’s awesome about this team, and I’m looking forward to winning more ballgames.”
Ole Miss head coach Mike Bianco
On the victory and all the contributors: “We dress 15 position players and all 15 played. And certainly a lot of pitchers pitched today. Obviously nice to win and to win this way. We scored eight runs in the last four innings.” On the back and forth of the game, two programs that compete at the highest level: “We needed the offense today to stay in a game like that. Outs were hard to come by. It was hard for both teams to have a 1, 2, 3 inning. Our guys hung in there.” On Cockrell: “He hadn’t had many opportunities the last couple of weeks. Proud of the way he capitalized today.” On the first three pitchers of the game – freshmen Ethridge, Holston, Rolison: “We just look at them as varsity baseball players. Freshmen have to play. They’re three really, really good guys. They compete. Those guys are going to win a lot of games for us.”
OXFORD, Miss. – In a back-and-forth slugfest that featured 37 different players and lasted four hours and 11 minutes, the No. 14 Ole Miss baseball team rallied to defeat No. 15 Vanderbilt 10-8 Sunday at Swayze Field. Trailing by one, the Rebels (14-6, 2-1 SEC) scored three runs in the eighth to complete the comeback and take the series from the Commodores (13-8, 1-2 SEC).
Ole Miss trailed by two before Tim Rowe and Colby Bortles led off the seventh and eighth innings, respectively, with solo home runs to tie the game. Rowe homered for the first time in his Ole Miss career, while Bortles hit his fourth as the team’s leader in home runs. Coming in initially as a defensive replacement in the eighth, Chase Cockrell smacked the go-ahead RBI double in his first career SEC at-bat as the Rebels never looked back on their way to the win. Scoring the winning run was Will Golsan, who added his team-best sixth multi-hit game of the year with a 2-for-4 afternoon.
Three freshmen made their SEC debuts as Will Ethridge, Greer Holston and Ryan Rolison combined for 6.0 innings on the mound. However, it was Dallas Woolfolk (1-1) who tossed a scoreless 2.0 innings to earn the victory.
The Commodores matched Ole Miss with 10 hits, including three by leadoff hitter Jeren Kendall. Designated hitter Reed Hayes tallied two hits for three RBI as well. Vanderbilt threw seven pitchers throughout the contest as the Rebels pegged freshman starter Drake Fellows for three runs over 4.1 innings. Penn Murfee (0-1) was saddled with the loss after allowing two runs in 1.1 innings of relief.
Vanderbilt used two hits in the first to plate the game’s first run, but Ole Miss responded with a pair of runs in the bottom half of the inning. Tate Blackman and Ryan Olenek singled before the duo advanced into scoring position on a wild pitch. With a sacrifice fly to right field, Bortles brought in Blackman as Olenek moved to third. Following another ball in the dirt, this time for a swinging strike, the Vanderbilt catcher could not complete the play at first. As the throw went down the line, Olenek hustled home to turn the Rebels’ one-run deficit into a one-run advantage, 2-1.
The Commodores scored another run in the third before adding three more in the fourth, taking a 5-2 lead. One inning later, Ole Miss cut the margin to two thanks to an RBI single by Golsan. The Rebels looked to create a big inning with the bases loaded and only one out. However, a groundball double play got Vanderbilt out of the frame clinging to a two-run lead.
In the sixth, another Vanderbilt run brought the game back to a three-run difference, but the Rebels answered with a trio of runs to tie the contest at 6-6. Ole Miss used patience at the plate as well as a Vanderbilt miscue to score all three runs without recording a hit. Three straight walks loaded the bases before Olenek was plunked by a pitch to bring a run across. With the sacks still full of Rebels, the Commodores were able to get a force out at home on a grounder to third. Another groundball to first looked to possibly end the frame, but the double play attempt failed as the shortstop’s throw to first rolled in the dirt. The error allowed two runs to score and knot the game at six runs apiece.
A two-run home run by JJ Bleday broke the tie and gave Vanderbilt the 8-6 advantage. Following the seventh-inning stretch, Rowe sent a blast into the visiting team bullpen to make it a one-run game.
After Woolfolk worked a scoreless eighth, the momentum as well as the scoreboard shifted in favor of Ole Miss. For the second consecutive inning, a Rebel led off the frame with a home run as Bortles belted a solo shot to left to square the game at 8-8. The Rebels didn’t stop there. In his first at-bat of the game, Cockrell roped an opposite-field double that scored Golsan all the way from first. Another Rebel coming off the bench, catcher Nick Fortes, followed with a base hit through the left side to bring in Cockrell and increase the Ole Miss cushion to two, 10-8.
Coming back out for the ninth, Woolfolk made sure the game stayed in the hands of the Rebels. The hard-throwing righty sent the Commodores down in order to secure the conference-opening series.
Ole Miss will spend next week on the road. Before heading to Kentucky for a weekend series with the Wildcats, the Rebels will head to Memphis to face the Tigers for the second time this season (March 21). First pitch is slated for 6:30 p.m. CT Tuesday night at AutoZone Park, home of the Triple-A Memphis Redbirds.