JACKSON - Eric Fowler is a baseball veteran - a 22-year-old, fourth-year junior pitcher for the 6th-ranked Ole Miss Rebels. In a sensational performance against Mississippi State in the 26th annual Mayor's Trophy contest Tuesday night, Fowler was the best he's ever been.
The Duck Hill native and Grenada Kirk alum, who had a career-high nine strikeouts just 13 days earlier in the Rebels' 3-0 victory over Southeast Missouri State, struck out 11 Bulldog batters in 7 2/3 innings as the Rebels won their fourth Mayor's Trophy in a row, this time by a 5-1 margin.
With two outs and two on in the eighth, Matt Maloney entered to replace Fowler and got Bulldog Jeffrey Rea to ground out to the second baseman to end State's first real scoring threat of the contest.
Ole Miss Coach Mike Bianco was more than pleased with his starter.
"I'm really proud of the job that Eric did," said Bianco, whose Rebels improved to 20-5 on the season. "He was just dominant. He grew up watching this game with Duck Hill just up the road from here. We needed that type performance from him since we weren't so good offensively, especially early."
"It was about location tonight," Fowler said, who moved to 2-1 on the season, this time with no walks and only three hits. "I felt good out there, and I knew I would go as long as I could. My adrenaline was pumping tonight, being from Mississippi and knowing about this rivalry. I was pumped up and ready to go tonight."
MSU Coach Ron Polk, whose team fell to 17-5 with the loss, was also impressed.
"He is a good midweek guy," said the veteran Bulldog mentor. "If they didn't have such a great (weekend) rotation, he might be in that rotation."
"He had good stuff," said Bulldog junior catcher Thomas Berkery, who went 2-for-4 with a home run. "His curve ball was sharp and he was locating. The key was he stayed ahead of the count and never got behind all night."
The Rebels got a run in the bottom of the second inning to take a 1-0 lead. After Mark Wright walked and C.J. Ketchum struck out, Alex Presley doubled to right center, scoring Wright all the way from first base when the throw coming in was a bit high.
The Rebels got seven hits but just the lone run through seven innings. In the bottom of the eighth, Cooper Osteen got a leadoff base hit right up the middle. Polk then brought in the third Bulldog pitcher of the game - LHP Jesse Carver. With a 1-1 count to Chris Coghlan, a balk was called on Carver, moving Osteen to second. Polk argued and was tossed for the remainder of the game.
With a 2-2 count, Coghlan laced a triple to the right corner, scoring Osteen and giving Ole Miss a 2-0 lead. Stephen Head followed with a long sac-fly to center field, scoring Coghlan from third. Mississippi State went back to the bullpen and called on right-hander Jamie Gant. But the Rebels added two more runs as Brian Pettway reached on an error by the third baseman, and pinch hitter Miles Franklin got a two-run home run over the left corner wall. It was the first UM career home run for the second-year junior.
Coghlan said he was glad to finally help the Rebels get untracked, especially late.
"I was real comfortable at the plate today," said Coghlan, who was 3-for-4 with the important RBI that got things started in the four-run eighth. "I was supposed to get a bunt down, and I fouled it off. I was lucky enough to get a triple that put us up (2-0)."
The Bulldogs made it interesting in the top of the ninth, getting the bases loaded with two outs. But Maloney got pinch hitter Joseph McCaskill to strike out looking to end the game and collect his fourth save of the season.
State starter Brooks Dunn (3-1) got the loss. The Rebels outhit MSU 11-5.
The non-conference series is now tied at 13-13. The Rebels have not only won four in a row but six of the last seven in this contest.
Pettway doubled in the fourth inning to extend his school-record hitting streak to 25 games.
Next up for Ole Miss, Vanderbilt Friday at 6 p.m. in Nashville. Games two and three of that series are at 12 noon Saturday and 1 p.m. Sunday.
Fowler, Rebs dominate Bulldogs in 5-1 victory
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