Petre Thomas

Rebels' NCAA Tournament Hopes in Jeopardy After Short Stint In Hoover

Hoover~ Ole Miss plucked two early runs off of Auburn ace, Keegan Thompson, but eventually succumbed to defensive lapses in a stinging 5-4 loss to Auburn.

The Rebels struck quickly in the first after a Will Golsan single and a Nick Fortes double, and got some healthy cuts off of Thompson early on. A run in the the second inning by way of a Cooper Johnson double and Kyle Watson base hit gave the Rebels an early 2-0 lead. 

"We came out swinging," Golsan said. "That is what we talked about in our hitters' meeting. That was our approach. We tried to do that to the best of our ability. They are two good pitchers, and they held us to it."

Ole Miss actually chased Thompson from the game after three innings. But head coach Butch Thompson called for number two starter Casey Mize, who missed his weekend start against the Rebels last Friday due to shoulder soreness. Mize cut the Rebels down at the plate, surrendering just one earned run on three hits over the final six innings of the game. He was credited with the win.

"It was his splitter," Golsan said. "You have to respect his 89 mile per hour splitter. He had a hard fastball and a good splitter tonight."

Ole Miss didn't help its starting pitcher Brady Feigl much with defense. The Rebels made three errors in the first five innings, and Feigl was chased in the fourth after getting in a pinch and served up a 2-0 fastball that Will Holland shot down the field line for an RBI double that that got Auburn on the board. 

Houston Roth took the ball from Feigl and inherited two runners. Jonah Todd plated both of those on a triple to center field, and the Tigers quickly led 3-2. It was the only hit Roth gave up in 1.1 innings of relief, and all three runs were Feigl's responsibility.

"I just started getting behind a little bit, and made it tough on myself going 2-0 on the last hitter," Feigl said. "He was sitting on a fastball and put a good swing on it."

Ole Miss tied it in the sixth, but Auburn plated a run in the same inning, and the Rebels gifted them an insurance run in the eighth due to botching a sac bunt, and the runner later scoring on a wild pitch.

The eighth and ninth told the story of the game. The gift wrapped run in the eighth made Ryan Olenek's solo shot in the 9th to make it 5-4 far less significant. Ole Miss actually had a pretty good approach that the plate, but simply made too many mistakes in the field to be able overcome the deficit. 

"We had a couple of leads and couldn't hold them," Mike Bianco said. "We tied and couldn't hold them. They had some big at bats."

Ole Miss didn't hold back in a game it knew it had to win. Bianco threw Stokes and Woolfolk late in the game, his two of his bigger guns aside from Will Ethridge. But the Rebels were bad in the field, and it proved costly as it will now sit at home for the next six days and wait on its NCAA Tournament fate to be announced on Monday.

Bianco feels his team has done enough.

"You never know, and it is always tough answer for me because I am certainly partial," he said. "When you look at the resumé. I don't know what it will be after tonight, but the 32 RPI, one game under .500 in our league. Just the teams we played, looking at the losses. 5-5 in our league in weekends. We beat Vandy is supposedly in, we beat Texas A&M, Arkansas on the road. We have some good weekends. And our weekend losses are against teams that are up for national seeds. We lost to LSU on the road two out of three, Florida on the road, Kentucky on the road two out of three. We lost to Auburn on the road two out of three. So four of the five weekend losses are on the road against teams that are supposed to be in the tournament. It certainly was not the year that we expected or wanted, but certainly  worthy of the postseason."

The Rebels' RPI fell to 35 after the loss. They are 13-21 against the RPI top 50, and 16-21 against the top 100. The conference record is on the borderline of qualifying at 14-16, but far from a guarantee. Ole Miss is as squarely on the bubble as it can get. It needs good fortune in the sense that there are no upsets in conference tournaments in leagues like the Sun Belt and Southland conferences among others. It is fortunate to be aided by a weak bubble, and has played a brutally tough schedule.

A win would have made Ole Miss feel comfortable, and the loss will have it biting its nails. For now, all it can do is wait and hope for the best. 


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