Petre Thomas

Eighth Inning Proves Costly as Rebels Fall to Razorbacks

Fayetteville ~ Arkansas pinch hitter Dominic Fletcher came to the plate to face Will Stokes with one out in the eighth inning with a runner on second base, looking to break a 4-4 tie and help his team avoid being swept by Ole Miss.

He chopped a hard hit ground ball to Tate Blackman, who elected to stay back on the ball and let it take another hop. It ate the junior second baseman up and allowed Fletcher to reach safely. Ole Miss had played two error free games in the series in Fayetteville, but this was the second one of game three, and it immediately proved costly. 

Two batters later Jax Biggers laced a base hit up the middle to give Arkansas a 5-4 lead, making good on the extra out that the Rebels gave the Razorbacks. Two more crossed in the inning, and Arkansas salvaged a game in a 7-4 win over the Rebels.

"We always say the game is one and lost on five pitches," Mike Bianco said. "There are a lot of them thrown on each side, but if you can make a couple pitches and get off of the field that is how you win. The first two guys, McArthur and Rolison were able to do that,  David (Parkinson) was not able to do that."

Blackman knows he should have made the play and didn't shake responsibility for it either.

"I should have made the play regardless," Blackman said. "It was an easy chopper. I should have come and gotten it, but instead I sat back on my heels and it cost us one. 

Ole Miss was close to sweeping all three games from a top 15 opponent, and quickly jumped out to a 3-0 lead thanks to a Tate Blackman solo shot in game's first at bat, and a Thomas Dillard towering home run in the second. Ole Miss ousted Kacey Murphy in the second inning in his first career SEC start.

But eventually the Razorback offense woke up and plated four runs off of David Parkinson, who lasted 4.2 innings. Arkansas scored its initial two in the third on a Grant Koch two-run shot into the left field bullpen. 

Koch tied the game in the fifth with a an RBI double that followed a Chad Spanberger solo home run in an inning that shifted the momentum of the game. Arkansas had its first lead of the series at 4-3.

Parkinson's counterpart for his last three innings, Jake Reindl, kept Arkansas in the game. He relieved Murphy, and gave a gusty 6.1 innings of relief and carried the Razorbacks all the way to the ninth inning. He played the biggest part in the Razorbacks comeback, even with the two home runs the Razorbacks hit.  Ole Miss couldn't figure out the sophomore righty.  

Ole Miss got it back in tied it back up in the seventh thanks to a double from Tate Blackman and an RBI base hit from Colby Bortles. The two combined for 10 hits and nine RBIs on the weekend.

Brady Feigl tossed 2.1 innings of scoreless relief and got the the eighth before it came unraveled due to a costly error and ineffectiveness from Stokes.

But as a whole, this was arguably Ole Miss best series of the season. It played two errorless games, and stuck two big time wins on an NCAA Tournament resumé that was not strong enough. McArthur and Rolison gave two quality outings, and the Rebel pitching staff held one of the SEC's most dangerous offenses to two runs on seven hits in the first two games. This team was a few pitches and breaks away from taking all three, and will leave Fayetteville with an 11-10 record in SEC play after a 2-6 start. 

"We played well. It is tough to walk away after losing, but we played well," Bianco said. "We were a few pitches away from sweeping a really good team on the road. We got two, and swung it better. There are things that we haven't done, like the extra base hits, putting the at bats together that were were much better this weekend. If we pitch like that and continue to swing it like that, we are going to be all right."

One of Ole Miss' flaws even when it has hit is that the lineup has been top-heavy. Despite Blackman and Bortles combining for 10 of the 29 hits on the weekend, production came from elsewhere. Cooper Johnson had a hit in all three contests. Dillard hit a home run. Grae Kessinger got a hit in two of the three games, and Tim Rowe had the most productive night of anyone at the plate on Thursday with three hits in the opener.

"They've been coming. Cooper, Kessinger, Dillard had a big home run today," Bianco said. "Watson gets a start, and hits a big double and gets a walk in game one. If we can get those guys to be productive like that, and the top half of the lineup to swing it like we know they are capable of swinging, again that is where the production is going to come."

A double header wasn't ideal today, especially in terms of pitching. But Ole Miss will now get a couple days of rest tomorrow and Monday, with a light workout Sunday to prepare for a five game week that includes a weekend trip to play Florida.

Ole Miss did what it needed to do in Fayetteville and greatly improved its NCAA tournament stock, as well as its position in the SEC standings.

Quotable:

Ryan Rolison:

On what was working: "I think I did a good job of finding my curveball early. They're a good offense and I knew they were going to be aggressive in counts early so it was going to be big to me to get ahead early with my off speed to keep them off balance."

On composure: "I give all the credit to my defense. Being a pitcher here, you have a great defense behind you. You can just trust to throw the ball in the strike zone and let them get the outs for you."

Mike Bianco:

On the entire weekend: "I think when we step back tomorrow and evaluate a little bit, we will see that we played well for most of the whole weekend. I thought we pitched it really well for 27 innings against a really good offense. I thought we swung it terrific. I thought those first two guys were terrific. They have had success in this league."

On Rolison's maturity: "It was the fifth inning when he got the strikeout of Shaddy and Gates, and that was really probably a game winner right there because that was when they were making their rush, and he was able to bear down and make some pitches."


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