Greer Holston and Ole Miss had already played with fire twice by pitching to the SEC's most dangerous hitter, and walked away unscathed the first two times, including striking him out once.
This time there were two runners on base with one out in a scoreless game. Holston got ahead of Rooker 0-2. After missing away, Holston tried to paint a fastball on the outside corner. It sailed in, caught too much of the plate and likely had Rooker salivating. He crushed it over the left field fence and gave the Bulldogs a 3-0 lead. A gleaning example of the small margin for error when playing good teams surfaced in an instant. Holston had gotten ahead, and went for a kill shot. He paid for it.
"That shows you how good he is," Mike Bianco said. "Fastballs up, fastballs in, fastballs away, fastballs that you tried to miss, change ups. He is just having a terrific year. He (Holston) tried to throw it off of the plate, and happens. It was one of his very few mistakes. I think it was a young pitcher in this setting trying to do too much."
Holtson had pitched effectively to that point, until one costly mistake. He went six innings and allowed the three runs on one swing and yielded six hits.
At the time, the Ole Miss offense had failed to capitalize on five walks from Mississippi State starting pitcher Hunter McQuary, and had stranded eight runners to that point. McQuary had thrown 70 pitches by the third inning, yet kept the Rebels off of the scoreboard.
Rooker altered the game with one swing, but Ole Miss had plenty of opportunities before that to do so.
The freshman righty overcame his mistake, and put up a zero in his sixth an final inning. Ole Miss struck for two in the bottom half of the inning to trim to the lead to just one. Thomas Dillard roped a one-out ground rule double into the right field corner. Cooper Johnson scored him with a base hit, and Tate Blackman later plated Johnson with a two-out RBI double.
Johnson had two hits on then night and has continued to make strides at the plate since being inserted back into the lineup. He's got four hits in the five games he has been back.
Rooker torched Ole Miss in the eighth inning again. He shot a leadoff double into the gap on an offering from Holston's successor, Brady Feigl. Rooker scored moments larer on a Ryan Gridley base hit that proved for some valuable insurance. Mississippi State led 4-2 and held on to win the game.
Ole Miss played well in some aspects. Johnson threw two runners out stealing, and his two hits were a pleasant sight for Mike Bianco. Nick Fortes made a couple of great plays at first. This lineup appears to be cementing itself with those two playing well at their respective positions.
"I think just shortening up my swing was a big one, making it less busy," Johnson said. "But really just honestly going up there with confidence and think more of 'I am going to hit this ball, rather than I hope to hit this ball,' mentality. You can work on mechanics all you want, but I feel like hitting is just so mental and so much about confidence."
But overall, this game will be remembered for what could have been. The Rebels stranded 13 runners on the night, compared to Mississippi State's five.
They had men at the corners with one out in the seventh in what was a 3-2 game at the time. Andy Cannizaro elected to go with left-hander Trysten Barlow to face lefty Tim Rowe. Bianco moved his chess pieces and brought Michael Fitzsimmons to the plate, who promptly grounded into an inning ending double play. Fitzsimmons is a .115 hitter against lefties. Chase Cockrell hits .290 against them and was on the bench.
The team had men at the corners in the eighth inning, but a Will Golsan groundout left those men on base. Golsan had two hits, but needed one more.
Ole Miss had a base open each time it pitched to Rooker, whose triple slash line is eye popping (.400/.449/.441) and has terrorized teams all spring. He had his fingerprints on all four Mississippi State runs, and it resulted in the Bulldogs going 4-0 against the Rebels on the season for the first time in 20 years.
The Rebels return to action on Thursday night at Arkansas. First pitch is set for 6 p.m.
On if he considered walking Rooker before the home run: "Walking the bases loaded with one out? No. I didn't care if we walked him, but I wasn't going to intentionally walk the four-hole guy with the bases loaded and one out. But we talked about the mound that we were going to pitch him really tough. If you walk him, you walk him. Once he went to 0-2, you try to go for it and he missed a pitch. You've got to tip your hat to him."
On Cooper Johnson swinging it well: "He's playing really well, and of course not only the hits, but the defense is superb."
On a quick turnaround: "We've got to go on the road and get ready to play some baseball. It is unfortunate that we came down here and didn't play a little bit better. You've got to credit them. They played really well tonight. We just didn't get the big hit tonight. We had several opportunities early and couldn't push a run across."
On leaving 13 men on: "We had a couple of chances to get them in, and couldn't get those hits back-to-back-to-back. It's part of the game is getting those big hits when you need them."
On facing Denver McQuary: "For me, I picked a zone out and he had to throw it in that zone for me to swing the bat. If he didn't throw it in my zone then I wasn't going to swing until I got two strikes, and then go into my two-strike approach."