As long as the game is played, when a team doesn't take advantage of some early scoring situations, it will often come back to haunt them. That was the case today in Vanderbilt's 7-4 win against Ole Miss in game two of the SEC series. Ole Miss won game one 6-2 Friday night.
You don't get the runs home. An ump's call or two turns things one way or the other. A coaching decision or two doesn't work out. The sun gets in an outfielder's eye to open the door for what proves to be a big inning. An opponent that isn't a great hitting team hits the baseball in some clutch situations.
Today was about all of that, magnified early in that the Rebels left the bases loaded in the second inning and only got a run. In the third, the Rebs again left the bases loaded and only got a run.
Then in the fourth, Stephen Head got a solo homer to give Ole Miss a 3-0 lead. With Head on the mound, you had to feel that even with the missed scoring opportunities, the visiting Rebels were in pretty good shape.
But host Vanderbilt had other ideas. On the day that the Commodore family memorialized Charles Hawkins, the man for which the new baseball facility at Vandy is named, the Commodores eventually saw an opening and, unlike the Rebels, took advantage.
After making a couple of very nice catches near Vandy's green monster in left field, Rebel left fielder Mark Wright lost Aaron Garza's long fly ball in a partial sun sky to open the the bottom of the fifth. The ball bounced off the wall far enough from Wright that Garza had a leadoff triple.
Still trailing 3-0, the Commodores took advantage of not only that situation but several to follow. Stephen Shao then reached on a pitcher's inteference, a questionable call when the umpire ruled Head, simply going for the baseball near the basepath, interferred with Shao. Garza stayed at third, and Vandy had runners on first and third.
Before the inning was over, the Commodores would put up four runs, including a two-run home run from Warner Jones. Head got Brian Hernandez to strike out to end the inning, but what earlier appeared to be a game that the Rebels were almost comfortably ahead in now found them behind 4-3.
Oh those "left on base" earlier.
After Head got the Commodores three up three down in the sixth, the home team added three more in the seventh as Head appeared to be losing some gas on the mound. With two on and one out, Coach Mike Bianco visited the mound as Rebel relievers warmed up in the bullpen. But the very next batter, Mike Baxter, sent one over the right field wall, and Vandy lead 7-3.
Head came out and Will Kline relieved with no more damage. After Ole Miss added a run in the top of the eighth, Vandy got two runners aboard in the bottom of the frame, both by walk, and Tommy Baumgardner came in to stop the surge.
Ole Miss coudn't make anything happen in the top of the ninth, and the series was tied 1-1 with the rubber game Sunday at 1 p.m.
Ole Miss outhit Vandy 10-9. Four Commodore pitchers, including starter Ryan Mulllins, winner Jeff Sues, and Michael Wagner who got the save, combined for 10 strikeouts. Head got his first loss of the year and is now 5-1.
"The bottom line is they outplayed us today," Coach Mike Bianco said. "We had the opportunties early and coudn't deliver the knockout punch. Maybe we get by if Stephen pitches a gem. But they had their big innings. Sometimes you can get some single runs and pitch and play great defense. But in college baseball, the team that usually wins is the team that can put an inning or two together, and they did."
In two games of this series, Ole Miss has scored 10 runs. The Rebs have scored only one run in any one inning except once - Friday night's sixth inning when the Rebels scored two runs.
Ole Miss is now 21-6 overall and 5-3 in SEC play, while Vandy is 19-7 and 4-4. Tomorrow's pitching matchup has Rebel junior RHP Anthony Cupps (5-1, 3.55 ERA) and Vandy freshman LHP David Price (1-0, 1.19 ERA).
"Tomorrow's real important," said Rebel senior second baseman Cooper Osteen. "We have to walk out of here with two wins."
"We have to bounce back tomorrow and do better in every area," said Head, who allowed seven hits and four earned runs with six strikeouts and three walks in six and a third innings. "And we have to get some runners in when we have the chance to."
Otherwise the Rebels might be going home with their first SEC series loss of the season.