The last two nights were arguably the two biggest wins of this team's season after a treacherous 12-5 loss on Friday night that made any shot at the postseason feel like a long shot both in the standings and with how this team was playing after five straight conference losses.
This series was, perhaps, a snapshot of how this season has gone. There have been ugly, head-scratching losses triggered by bad pitching from a staff that's been the backbone of a team that has struggled to score runs. But Ole Miss has responded from them more times than not.
The offense was good enough to back the pitching today, though not great. Ole Miss was 1-16 with runners in scoring position and left 11 men on base. But it scored two early runs on Aggie starter Stephen Kolek, who has pitched as well as anyone in Texas A&M's rotation over the course of the last month. But Ole Miss scored in other ways, like Tate Blackman and Colby Bortles launching two towering home runs over the left field fence in the eighth inning. The two shots would prove to be useful insurance as things got hairy in a ninth inning that saw Dallas Woolfolk surrender two runs and Texas A&M bring the tying run to the plate.
Parkinson pieced together his best start in over a month, and Mike Bianco described it as an outing the the team really needed as it had its back against the wall. Parkinson went six innings, and struck out five while walking three on 95 pitches. He still didn't have his best stuff but was able to battle and made pitches when he was put in tight spots. When the junior lefty has struggled this year, it has been fueled by compounding his mistakes and letting a base runner or two turn into two and three run innings. He escaped a bases loaded, one-out jam with just one run of damage in the fourth and kept Texas A&M off the board for in his last two innings of work.
Will Stokes served as the seventh inning bridge directly to Dallas Woolfolk in the eighth, who tossed a scoreless frame before running into manageable trouble in the ninth and picked up his 12th save of the season.
The importance of the last 24 hours for this team cannot be overstated. From the series-altering, four-run eighth inning Saturday night to closing it out today, this team simply had to add wins to its resumé if it wished to have any shot at the postseason. It did just that thanks to three-hit games from Will Golsan and Ryan Olenek. Golsan had seven hits on the weekend, and if this series proved anything, it is that Olenek is vital to this lineup in all facets. He helps defensively, at the plate and maybe most invaluably with the energy he plays the game with. Bianco noted that he doesn't like to get into "what if" scenarios" but added that they really missed the sophomore center fielder in Gainesville last weekend.
This team as a whole is swinging the bat better. Cooper Johnson had two hits in the finale, and has pulled his batting average up to .218 after a 7-51 start to the season. That is not easy to do. Ole Miss hit Brigham Hill well, and scored 17 runs on the weekend. It tallied 30 hits.
Pitching has fueled this team this season, and briefly let it down over the last two weeks, but if it returns to form like Parkinson's outing today, the offense appears to be ready to match it.
Ole Miss drastically changed its NCAA Tournament hopes over the last 24 hours. It now sits at 31-21 (13-14). It will need at least 14 SEC wins, and possibly 15 without work needing to be done in Hoover. That mark now looks a lot more manageable than it did on Friday evening.
The Rebels return to action on Tuesday at Arkansas State, and will finish the regular season at Auburn next weekend.
On Parkinson: "A performance that we really needed, and I think were due for after the way we pitched all year. You look at the last few weeks, that is really been then thing that has left us. You wonder why you fell into a tailspin when you've actually been swinging it better. We haven't pitched it. From the back end, to the front of the game. You can't get a lead because they have a lead almost from the first inning. But today he was terrific."
On responding after Friday: "The way they responded in the last two games, it is like what he have talked about. The great thing about this league is that it has so many good teams, you just have to survive it sometimes, the blows and handle it. You have to be tough enough to survive it, and if you are good enough to compete then the game is going to even out and you are going to have good things happen to you. I am proud of our guys.
Olenek: "He brings a lot. We don't like to talk about what ifs, but it would have been nice to have him in Gainesville, and any time he is not in the lineup I think we are a different team."
On battling in tight spots: "I felt good. I fell behind in a few coutns, that is probably the biggest thing I did today. My off speed was there for a strike. I needed that today because they were out in front, so I needed to establish an off speed pitch so I could build off the fastball."
On getting out of the fourth: "That was big. I knew we needed that. 2-1 at that point. Cooper and I talked, and I think the biggest thing was trying to win pitches."
On staying patient for timely hit: "It seemed like everyone's approach was good. We were all over it, hitting it hard and they just weren't falling. It's how baseball goes."
On seeing it well: "I felt really good in the box today, just comfortable. I am not necessarily seeing it that well, I just feel comfortable, which is a good feeling to have. It has been a while."
On it being a must win series: "Every series is a must-win series. You play our heart out and your hardest in every single game and every single pitch. It is a hard to say it is a must-win series because you want to win every one."