A night after one of its most sluggish performances of the season, the Rebels bested one of the best pitchers in the SEC, and evened the series at a game apiece thanks to a gem from freshman Ryan Rolison.
Houck gifted Ole Miss a run in the first by walking Will Golsan, and hitting both Colby Bortles and Ryan Olenek. A Tim Rowe bounce out to first brought Golsan home, and gave Rolison an early cushion.
That lone run is all Rolison and the Ole Miss pitching staff would need. He overcame some early command issues that resulted in four walks in the first two innings, and threw six innings of shutout baseball. He attributed it to a mechanics issue, and said that the solution was slowing down and going through his motions in the dugout. It got into his head a little bit, but he settled down over the course of his last three innings and gave Ole Miss an outing it needed. Rolison rode his fastball more than usual. He said he threw a couple of breaking balls and change ups, but his fastball was so explosive today that he stuck with that, and it certainly worked.
The freshman lefty struck out nine hitters and yielded only one hit. He's continued to mature as a pitcher, and his outing on this rainy Saturday afternoon was further proof of that. Rolison showed the ability to miss bats, and went toe-to-toe with one a veteran Friday night arm with in the SEC and won. Mike Bianco knows he has something special developing in his freshman lefty.
Rolison woke up at 8:30 a.m. Saturday morning to a text message from assistant Carl Lafferty informing that David Parkinson had come down with the stomach bug, and would not be available to pitch.
"I just said, 'I'm ready to go coach,'" Rolison said. "I woke up this morning thinking I was throwing on Sunday. I got a text and I had to get mentally ready. There are always going to be changes, you have to be ready for it."
He received more support in the fifth when Ole Miss sparked a two-out rally that began with a Tate Blackman walk. Golsan followed it with a single, and then Bortles delivered with a base hit up the middle that plated both of them. The Rebels had some wiggle room at 3-0, and would need some of it.
Will Ethridge relieved Rolison in the seventh and retired all six batters he faced to run through a quick two innings. Ethridge is another freshman pitcher that continues to flash maturity, and is as good as an arm as Mike Bianco has to call on for middle relief.
The ninth inning was a little messy when Bianco called for closer Dallas Woolfolk. The gunslinging righty gave up a leadoff home run to Trey Harris, who caught every bit of a fastball. Brett Bond followed him with a double off of the right field wall that nearly left the yard, too. Woolfolk put the tying run on after a walk, but settled in to get two strikeouts and a pop up to preserve Rolison's gem.
This was an impressive win for a team that had its back up against a wall to a degree. A 7-10 mark in SEC play would have been a tough hole to climb out of to get back into the postseason picture, and it avoided that by beating one of the SEC's most dominant arms. Bortles came up with a timely hit and the lineup was able to scrap for three runs and ride its pitching the rest of the way on a day that hinted at offense being sparse. But it all comes back to Rolison, and his rapid maturity that has merited stability in Ole Miss' rotation
This win will give Ole Miss a chance to climb back to .500 in SEC play with a win tomorrow. Mike Bianco said after the game that he felt "pretty good" about Parkinson being able to pitch tomorrow. The junior was not at the ballpark today at any point. The medical staff brought medicine to his apartment, and he has been there since. The sense is that he will pitch tomorrow and try to secure a series win.
On Rolison overcoming slow start: "He had a big fastball today, and the first couple of innings he struggled to get it down in the zone. Usually when they are up it is not so much in the first inning overthrowing, but more so adrenaline taking over and mechanics rushing out a little bit. He was able to fix that up and had a dominant fastball."
On Rolison's continued maturity: "He is so good. There is a lot more in that tank."
On Bortles' timely hit: "It's a game winner. Even in the first inning, though. Nobody talks about it. Houck struggled a little bit with a walk and two HBP's. We have one out, and first pitch Rowe is aggressive and rolls over the ball. That is the one where it doesn't go on the scoreboard as a hit, you don't see RBIs and that is the one we haven' been able to get. That is the one that's a double play or we strike out. So I thought that was huge."
On Woolfolk stuggling: "It happens. He's been so good. I think a better way to look at it is that he was tough enough to handle it. A lot of guys can't handle that. It's only three runs, and then it gets to two and then you've got the winning run at the plate. He is so good, and so tough. There is nobody we would have rather had going than him."
On settling in: "I was rushing with my body a little bit, and it kind of got in my head a little bit. I tried to overthrow a couple of times, and then tried to under throw a little bit. I just had to stop thinking and keep my weight back and drive some balls through the zone."
On getting ready on short notice: "It was different. I just had to get mentally ready. There are always going to be changes. You have to be ready."