All looked well for the Rebels through the first five innings. They found the timely hit that had eluded a scuffling offense for the last ten games. Ole Miss mustered two 2-out extra-base hits in the fourth and fifth innings to take a 3-0 lead. Thomas Dillard's two-out double put Ole Miss up 1-0 in the fourth, and Tate Blackman's bases-clearing two-out triple to the right-center gap in the fifth pushed the lead to 3-0 and eventually chased Mississippi State starter Konnor Pilkington, who was on the hook for the loss at the time.
James McArthur took a one-hit shutout into the seventh inning in which he recorded two outs, but an infield single and a base hit from Jake Mangum ended McArthur's night. He went 6.2 innings, and was charged with the two runs Stokes gave up on four hits and two walks. He struck out five hitters.
He turned it over to Will Stokes who inherited runners at the corners and needed just one out. Stokes has struggled this season and that continued on this night. He faced three hitters, got behind on all three and gave up a double to Brent Rooker that made the game 3-2. He then walked Ryan Gridley and then gave up a game-tying base hit to pinch hitter Cole Gordon, who was hitting .143 on the and had only five hits.
Statistically, Stokes' numbers are about like they were last year, but the junior is falling behind in counts more often and his fastball is getting tattooed as a result. The game really swung in State's three-run seventh inning that tied the game.
The top ninth inning mirrored the seventh in a lot of ways. Mangum doubled off of Will Ethridge with one out, and then Rooker was intentionally walked. Mike Bianco called for his biggest gun in Dallas Woolwolk with two men on and one out in the ninth. The sophomore was burning 96 on the radar gun, and did his job. He got a weak bounce out to short for the second out that was nearly an inning-ending double play, and then blew 95 by Gordon but Cooper Johnson dropped the third strike and Mangum scored from third.
Ole Miss played with fire on a couple of occasions in this game with some blunders in the field, and got burned in the final inning.
Even before Johnson's passed ball, Cole Zabowski dropped Tate Blackman's relay to second that could have been an inning ending double play before Gordon got to the plate. It was was going to be a close play regardless, but the drop removed all doubt.
This loss will sting for this young team. It got the timely hits early on that it hadn't been getting. It chased one of the SEC's beast pitchers after five innings.
But Ole Miss also left two runners on in the eighth, and Colby Bortles left the bases loaded to end the game after his fourth strikeout of the night. The Rebels tallied just one hit off of a Bulldog bullpen that has had six or seven guys go down with Tommy John surgery. Despite how it looked through the first five innings, this loss was defined by missed opportunities and defensive lapses. It's not an ideal start for a team trying to make up some ground in the SEC by hosting two struggling ball clubs the next two weeks in Mississippi State and Alabama.
David Parkinson will try to right the ship tomorrow night in a game Ole Miss badly needs with Ryan Rolison making his first SEC start on Saturday in the finale.
Mike Bianco, on getting to Pilkington early: "We had plenty of opportunities. The big inning, we couldn't get off of the field, and an opportunity there in the ninth to get off of the field two different times and couldn't do it. Then we had an opportunity to have our comeback and couldn't do it."
On Will Stokes' struggles: "He faces three hitters, we intentionally walk one and gives up two doubles. He fell behind to Rooker. We wanted to pitch tough obviously, he is one of the best hitters in the conference. You have to credit him on 3-0 he gets a fastball in and then they pinch hit Gordon. He gets to 1-2 and the slider was probably a little bit up, but it is hard to say now."
Bianco on passed ball if Johnson got crossed up: "No, he just missed it."