By Parrish Alford
PEARL – Ole Miss banged out 20 hits in a decisive Game 3 win against Mississippi State earlier this month, but the Rebels struggled against MSU left-handers Tuesday night.
MSU first baseman Wes Rea had an error to start a two-run Ole Miss sixth but doubled home two runs in the bottom of the inning, and the No 20-ranked Bulldogs picked up an 8-3 win in the Governor’s Cup game before a Trustmark Park record crowd of 8,496.
The game does not count in the SEC standings.
MSU left-hander Lucas Laster hit six Ole Miss batters but gave up only two hits through 5.1 innings. He was followed by Vance Tatum, another lefty, who threw 3.2 innings of one-hit, scoreless relief.
“After the Ole Miss series we put our foot down because we weren’t playing our brand of baseball. We stated that we wanted to play our brand of baseball and we’ve been doing that ever since,” Rea said.
MSU catcher Gavin Collins had three hits, and the Bulldogs (27-15) pulled away in the latter innings to win their fifth straight.
The No. 16-ranked Rebels (30-12) have been one of the top offenses in the SEC this season but have now totaled just nine hits and three runs over their last two games.
They had just six hits in a 2-0 loss that cost them the LSU series last Saturday. It was the first time Ole Miss had been shut out this season.
“It was really a team win. Since last Monday our kids have really come together and I hope we can stay on a roll here,” MSU coach John Cohen said.
While the bats were ineffective, Ole Miss almost pitched itself out of trouble twice, but the Bulldogs came up with the big hits.
Massie had runners at second and third with no outs and retired two before Collins’ hit drove home both runs for a 2-1 MSU lead in the bottom of the third.
Ole Miss regained the lead with two runs on no hits and Rea’s error in the top of the sixth. Laster hit three batters in the inning.
Preston Tarkington, the third Ole Miss pitcher, allowed the tying run on a ground ball but seemed poised to get out of the inning when Demarcus Henderson’s chopper to second bounced high over the head of Dalton Dulin. Rea was the next man up and got a sharply-hit ball down the third base line.
That made it 5-3, and the Bulldogs never looked back.
“They gave us a lot of opportunities early on. Their guy hit so many hitters, but we couldn’t get the big hit with runners on,” Ole Miss coach Mike Bianco said. “It was the opposite when we were on defense. They got six two-out RBIs, and that’s what wins baseball games.”
By Parrish Alford
OXFORD – Ole Miss could soon lose a member of its 2013 consensus top 10 football signing class.
Offensive lineman Austin Golson, who left spring drills No. 1 at right tackle, is exploring options to transfer, Ole Miss coach Hugh Freeze confirmed.
Golson would like to get closer to his Prattville, Ala., home because of health concerns for two grandparents.
RebelGrove.com mentioned SEC West rival Auburn as a possible destination for Golson.
Freeze told the Daily Journal Monday morning that he “probably” would not stand in the way of a transfer to Auburn based on the circumstances.
“Both granddads are sick, and we don’t want someone here who doesn’t want to be here,” Freeze said.
Golson’s transfer does not appear to be a done deal.
“He’s looking into options. Nothing has been decided,” Freeze said.
Golson told the Ole Miss Spirit he would like to reach a decision “when the semester ends, but I’m not in any rush. I don’t have any for-sure date.”
He also said it’s “not 100 percent” that he will transfer.
Golson’s possible departure would be a big blow to a Rebels’ offensive line seeking to build depth.
ESPN.com rated him the No. 52 player overall and the No. 3 offensive tackle in the Class of 2013. He played extensively as a freshman but mostly at guard.
He was set to enter August practice as the starting right tackle as the Rebels seek a replacement for Pierce Burton, a two-year starter. Now there’s a bit of uncertainty.
Junior college transfer Fahn Cooper is completing course work this semester and is expected to be on campus in June.
He was expected to compete for the job and will become a stronger option if Golson transfers.
Christian Morris is also a possibility. Ole Miss is awaiting a ruling from the NCAA on a waiver request that would allow the former UCLA signee immediate eligibility without sitting out the one year required of most transfers.
Robert Conyers, who was moved from right tackle to center in the spring, and redshirt freshman Davion Johnson are also possibilities.
The waiver isn’t the only hurdle for Morris, who sustained an Achilles injury in a winter workout. It required surgery, and he’s not expected to be ready before late August.
Morris signed with UCLA but never enrolled. He transferred and enrolled at Ole Miss in January. Rivals.com rated him the nation’s No. 10 offensive tackle and the No. 128 overall recruit in the Class of 2013.
Last week, Freeze said he hoped to redshirt Morris.
“My gut says a redshirt would be great for him,” Freeze said. “If we get Fahn in and Rod (Tayor) in and Aaron Morris is back healthy, I would tend to try to redshirt him. I would hope we could get through the year without him.”
By Parrish Alford
PEARL – Ten days after playing a decisive third game in an SEC series, Ole Miss and Mississippi State will square off on a neutral field.
First pitch at Trustmark Park in the Governor’s Cup game is 6:30 p.m.
The game does not affect the SEC standings where the two teams are both 10-8 and two games behind West leader Alabama.
An odd twist of scheduling gives Ole Miss an advantage in this game, MSU coach John Cohen says.
Tonight’s game was set before MSU knew it would be playing this week’s SEC Thursday TV game against Texas A&M.
The Bulldogs won three times at Missouri over the weekend and needed extra innings twice – including Sunday, when Ole Miss had an off day.
The Rebels had a Thursday SEC start last week.
“It’s nobody’s fault, but we’re short-handed because of the arms we used, short-rested compared to Ole Miss then turn around and have short rest for the weekend,” Cohen said. “What an unbelievable challenge for our team, and I believe our kids will approach it that way.”
Massie vs. TBA
Ole Miss is expected to start senior lefty Jeremy Massie (2-2, 2.34) tonight. MSU hadn’t named a starter on Monday.
The Rebels struggled against LSU to duplicate the offense that carried them to 6-1 and 12-2 wins in Starkville.
“We lacked that punch … where we’ve always been so good when the game’s on the line,” Ole Miss coach Mike Bianco said. “We just couldn’t manage anything. We couldn’t put an inning together, couldn’t make the pitch at the right time, couldn’t make the play to get off the field.”
The Rebels resume SEC play this weekend at No. 17 Kentucky.
Looking back: The Rebels had no non-conference game last week because it’s weekend series with LSU began on Thursday. Ole Miss was 1-2 against the Tigers, losing 4-3 in 13 innings on Thursday, winning 5-1 in Game 2 and losing 2-0 on Saturday in the finale.
Looking ahead: The Rebels take on rival Mississippi State tonight at 6:30 in the Governor’s Cup in Pearl.
Rankings: The Rebels are No. 16 in this week’s release of the Baseball America Top 25.
In the SEC: The Rebels are 10-8 in the league, tied with MSU and two games behind West-leading Alabama. They play at Kentucky (26-14, 9-9) this weekend.
MVP: Sophomore left-hander Christian Trent improved to 5-0 on the year, allowing only an unearned run in seven innings of work against LSU.
There’s no denying the significance of the one(s) that got away from Ole Miss over the weekend, but a series loss to LSU will not be the final word on whether the Rebels host an NCAA regional for the first time since 2009.
In the quest for host status winning a series against a top 15 RPI team, one who is also trying to earn a host spot, would have been a bright shining bullet point on the resume.
There are 12 SEC games remaining and plenty of time to build your case.
Like this weekend at Kentucky, which sports a No. 8 RPI in the simulated rankings found at WarrenNolan.com, and also has host aspirations.
At some point the Rebels will need to show themselves to be above some of the host competition. They’ve already lost a series to West-leading Alabama and to South Carolina, which is two games behind Florida in the East.
Florida is not on the Ole Miss schedule this season.
Odds are the conference will end up with four host sites. Five is not out of the question depending on what the fifth team looks like.
There were four SEC hosts a year ago.
Arkansas was 18-11 against the league and finished ahead of Mississippi State in the West but did not host, because it’s RPI was 30 compared to the Bulldogs’ RPI of 8. MSU was 16-14 in the SEC regular season.
South Carolina was 12-16 against the RPI top 50 last year. The Gamecocks went 17-12 in conference play and hosted a regional with an RPI of 13.
There’s also no denying the value athletics director Ross Bjork places on postseason baseball at Swayze Field. He’s made that abundantly clear.
With 10 SEC wins in its pocket already, a 7-5 finish would make the Rebels an attractive option, even more so if they beat the right teams along the way.
That puts the Kentucky series in a different light. After Lexington, Ole Miss has Arkansas, Georgia and Texas A&M remaining. Only Georgia is currently in the RPI top 50.
There is time for Ole Miss to stake a claim to a regional host spot, but the Rebels need to differentiate themselves from the pack.
The best way to do that is to pass some people in the standings.
Parrish Alford (firstname.lastname@example.org) covers Ole Miss for the Daily Journal.
By Parrish Alford
OXFORD – It’s never good when your third-base coach gets tossed, but the reality is there had been no action at Cliff Godwin’s bag anyway.
In fact, no Ole Miss runner reached third base Saturday as four LSU pitchers combined in a 2-0 shutout to clinch the SEC series for the Tigers before 9,741 Swayze Field fans.
The three-game series set a Swayze record with crowds totaling 29,663.
Lake Charles, La., native Sam Smith gave the No. 13-ranked Rebels a quality start, as he has so many times this season.
He didn’t have run support, however. Ole Miss (30-11, 10-8) SEC was shut out for the first time this season.
“It was a bad day offensively. That’s not like us. It really felt like this weekend wasn’t like us,” Ole Miss coach Mike Bianco said. “A few basehits here and there, but we didn’t really mount anything at all.”
Ole Miss had six hits to LSU’s five but none that produced a run.
Smith allowed three hits in the third inning, leading to a 1-0 LSU lead and the game’s only run until Conner Hale homered to left to lead off the eighth.
Smith gave up both runs to LSU (30-10-1, 10-7-1 SEC) and allowed five hits over 71⁄3 innings.
The Rebels went into the weekend second among SEC teams in runs scored with 229 and averaging 6.02 runs per game. They scored 23 runs in winning two of three at Mississippi State last weekend.
No. 12 LSU pitched a freshman, Alden Cartwright, who was making his second start and had thrown only 162⁄3 innings this season.
Cartwright had a perfect game until Auston Bousfield’s one-out single in the fourth.
Smith gained strength as the game went on, retiring 10 straight from the fourth to seventh innings. That streak ended with Hale’s home run.
Cartwright’s limited body of work plus the fact that LSU didn’t announce a Game 3 starter before the series began made it difficult for Ole Miss hitters to get much of an advance scouting report.
“They didn’t let us know who they were throwing until right before the game. In the hitters’ meeting we didn’t really have a scouting report,” Ole Miss catcher Will Allen said.
Not only did the Rebels not score they were not particularly close. Bousfield’s hit was followed with another by Austin Anderson, but Allen’s lazy chopper bailed out Cartwright with a double play to end the fourth.
Sikes Orvis got off several decent swings, one of them a two-out double off the wall in the seventh. Godwin was ejected during Orvis’ at-bat, and Bianco took over in the box – his first time, he thinks, since the national championship game as an assistant with LSU in 1997.
Orvis was left at second when pinch-hitter Holt Perdzock hit a high pop fly to center field.
Perdzock grounded out to second to end the game after Anderson had singled and Orvis had walked.
“They came straight at us and attacked us, but we’re a better offense than that,” Allen said. “To put up six hits and no runs, we’ve got to execute better than that. We know that. We’re more talented than that.”
By Parrish Alford
TUPELO – Any expense incurred by Ole Miss athletics by loading the bus and driving here Thursday was offset in a big way.
As Ole Miss athletics director Ross Bjork addressed a mid-day gathering of fans and alumni at the BancorpSouth Arena meeting rooms – the Tupelo stop on the “Rebel Road Trip” – he let them in on a little secret.
Minutes before he started talking Bjork got the word that athletics had received a commitment for a $2 million gift.
That’s what you call winning the day.
The donation was marked for no specific expense but was given to the school’s “Forward Together” campaign, the centerpiece of which is the new basketball arena. Dirt work has already begun.
“To have people step up pretty much every day toward our campaign, to receive a gift like this today is big for our program to keep that momentum moving ahead,” Bjork said.
The donor’s name has not been released.
The gift brings the capital campaign to $110 million – $10 million short of what Bjork believes he needs to remove the bleachers and begin bowling in the north end zone of Vaught-Hemingway Stadium.
“Hopefully by the summer we can have a lot more momentum to define a timeline and maybe do some things after this football season. If not, then after the 2015 season,” he said.
Women’s basketball coach Matt Insell and football coach Hugh Freeze also addressed the crowd. Freeze, 15-11 entering his third season as coach, before and after he spoke.
On previous visits to Tupelo, Freeze has spoken about the journey of a rebuilding football program and the challenge of guiding it through the “wilderness.”
The message Thursday was more directed to what fans can do to help the program move forward.
“I don’t know what your strengths are, but I know you have something that is of value to us and to the place you love, something you can give,” Freeze said. “Here would be my challenge to you: Do what you have been doing and one extra thing.”
Something extra could include a monetary donation, but it could also include writing encouraging notes to players and coaches or perhaps praying for people in the program.
Seemingly small contributions are meaningful, Freeze said.
He also challenged the group to remain focused on moving the program forward and to not been thrown off track by criticism.
“We’ve had some good times, we’ve had some disappointing times, but I think everyone would say we much farther along than we thought we’d be at this point,” Freeze said.
TUPELO – Linebacker Denzel Nkemdiche is back working out with his Ole Miss football teammates for the first time since his suspension was announced by Rebels coach Hugh Freeze prior to the start of spring drills in early March.
Linebacker Serderius Bryant was also suspended then but was allowed to go through spring drills. The “suspension” tag still applies to both, Freeze said Thursday when the Rebel Road Trip made its Tupelo stop.
“Both are doing exactly what we’ve put in place, so I’m pleased. The minute I jump out there and become very optimistic, we could have a setback. I just know to this point they’re doing everything,” Freeze said.
Both were involved in misdemeanor arrests in January and were given tasks to complete before regaining their good standing with the team.
Nkemdiche’s list was longer, and he’s been suspended for the Aug. 28 opener against Boise State in Atlanta.
Prior to this week, Nkemdiche had been allowed to work out in the football weight room but only on an individual basis.
“I met with him this morning before we left. His grades look good. He seems to be making better decisions and is more responsible with the platform he has,” Freeze said.
Ole Miss vs. Memphis
Ole Miss will play half of a scheduled four-game football contract with Memphis before it plays its first basketball game with the Tigers.
The regional rivals last played football in 2009, a 45-14 Ole Miss win at Memphis.
A football renewal was contingent upon the basketball series also renewing, Ole Miss athletics director Ross Bjork said.
Ole Miss will play Memphis in football this season in Oxford and next season in Memphis.
The first basketball game will be played in for the 2015-2016 season in Memphis. Bjork described it as a “December type” game.
The Tigers will play in Oxford in 2016. The new Ole Miss arena is expected to be open by then.
The basketball dates aren’t in place sooner because basketball scheduling is done more “real time,” as opposed to football, which is done several years out, Bjork said.
The teams last played basketball as part of the 2010 NIT in Oxford.
“Our deal was a package deal … football and basketball. It helps both our programs. For us, the city of Memphis is huge from a market standpoint,” Bjork said.
The health of defensive end C.J. Johnson and quarterback Bo Wallace, plus uniforms and the Egg Bowl are the most asked-about topics during the Rebel Road Trip, Freeze says.
Johnson, called the Rebels’ best defensive player by coordinator Dave Wommack, was limited to four games last year because of injury.
He is healthy going into spring, and so is Wallace, who will be a third-year starter and is now one year removed from shoulder surgery.
“When we open up for questions they want to know if CJ Johnson is healthy. They want to know about Bo’s arm. We’re always going to get a uniform question. Then, are we going to get the Egg Bowl back. Those are probably the four things. There are others too, but those are pretty frequent,” Freeze said.
Ole Miss lost possession of the Golden Egg trophy when it dropped a 17-10 overtime decision at rival Mississippi State last November.
Freeze is 1-1 against the Bulldogs.
By Parrish Alford
OXFORD – Ole Miss didn’t face LSU right-hander Aaron Nola in Baton Rouge last year, but the Rebels will get a first-hand look at the Tigers’ dominant ace tonight.
SEC play starts a night early as the No. 13-ranked Rebels and No. 12-ranked Tigers begin their conference series at Swayze Field.
First pitch is 6:30 p.m., and the game will be televised by ESPNU. The series resumes Friday at 6:30 and concludes Saturday at 1:30.
Ole Miss (29-9, 9-6 SEC) is a half game ahead of LSU (28-9-1, 8-6-1) in the Western Division standings. The Tigers tied Georgia earlier this season when the two teams couldn’t finish before the Bulldogs had to leave Baton Rouge.
Ole Miss could again be without its top reliever, Aaron Greenwood, who missed last weekend’s Mississippi State series with an abdominal strain. Greenwood hasn’t allowed an earned run in 19 1/3 consecutive innings, a streak that dates back to Feb. 28 against Central Florida.
Ole Miss and LSU met on the final SEC weekend last year. The Tigers were locked into their spot in the standings, and coach Paul Maineri decided to rest Nola prior to the SEC tournament.
“We just have to continue to do what we do, get on base, put pressure on guys, and not really think of that as a huge step up,” Ole Miss catcher Will Allen said. “We face great arms, week-in and week-out.”
Through the first half of the SEC season, the Rebels have had success against those great arms.
Ole Miss is hitting a collective .296 in conference games, second to Kentucky’s .299.
Rebels’ left fielder Braxton Lee has scored an SEC-high 16 runs against league competition. Austin Anderson and Sikes Orvis have each hit four home runs. Only Kentucky’s A.J. Reed, with six, has hit more.
“We faced (Spencer) Turnbull at Alabama a couple of weeks ago. He hasn’t had the hype that maybe Nola has, but we all know he’s a dominant pitcher and will probably go high in the draft,” Anderson said.
Florida was able to beat Nola 2-1 in a March 29 game in Gainesville on the strength of a couple of home runs and its own good pitching.
Nola (7-1, 0.70) set a career-high last Friday night with 13 strikeouts against Arkansas. He scattered four hits, two walks and gave up two runs over seven innings in a 5-3 LSU win.
He leads the SEC in strikeouts and earned run average and ranks in the NCAA’s top five in both categories.
He’s been especially difficult the first time through a batting order. Opponents are just 9 for 88 against him over the first three innings this season.
“We’re just going to stick to our approach. Our offense has been swinging it well. We’ll come out aggressive and be ready to go,” Anderson said.
Tonight: Ole Miss RHP Chris Ellis (5-0, 1.81) vs. LSU RHP Aaron Nola (7-1, 0.70)
Friday: Ole Miss LHP ChristianTrent (4-0, 2.44) vs. LSU LHP Jared Poche (6-2, 2.54)
Saturday: Ole Miss RHP Sam Smith (5-2, 2.30) vs. LSU TBA
By Parrish Alford and Logan Lowery
Rick Ray added one final piece to his 2014 class at Mississippi State on Wednesday by signing Jones County Junior College forward Johnny Zuppardo.
The 6-foot-9, 240-pounder took an official visit to Starkville over the weekend and committed to the Bulldogs on Tuesday. Zuppardo also had offers from Washington, Wichita State, St. Bonaventure, Iona and Kent State.
The former St. Stanislaus standout began his career at Arkansas State where he appeared in 24 games as a true freshman averaging 1.3 points and one rebound. From there Zuppardo transferred to Southern Miss where he was forced to sit out the 2012-13 season due to transfer rules.
Zuppardo helped lead the Bobcats to the NJCAA National Championship this past season averaging 15.2 points and 6.9 rebounds per game. He earned was selected to the NJCAA All-Tournament team.
Zuppardo is the fourth member of the MSU signing class joining fellow forwards Demetrius Houston and Oliver Black along with guard Maurice Dunlap, who all signed in the fall.
Smith chooses Rebels
Ole Miss basketball has signed Terrence Smith, a 6-foot-4 guard from Tennessee-Martin, to a postgraduate scholarship, Rebels coach Andy Kennedy announced on Wednedsay.
Smith, a native of Russellville, Ala., is scheduled to graduate from UTM in May.
Smith averaged 14.6 points and 2.8 assists on a Skyhawks team that wen 8-23. He shot 42.9 percent from the floor, 43.8 percent from 3-point range.
Wednesday was the first day of the spring signing period for basketball.
The Rebels also signed Rod Lawrence, a 6-4 wing from South Plains (Texas) Community College.
Lawrence averaged 13.1 points and 6.1 rebounds in 31 minutes a game last year while shooting 32.8 percent from 3-point range.
Thomas commits to Bulldogs
Mississippi State football added another playmaker to its 2015 fold as three-star athlete Deddrick Thomas became the Bulldogs 10th commitment.
The 5-foot-9, 170-pounder from Memphis is rated as the No. 16 prospect in Tennessee and the nation’s 52nd-best at the “athlete” position according to 247Sports.com. The latest commitment has the Bulldogs’ class ranking 10th nationally.
Thomas also had offers from Cincinnati, Duke, Marshall, Memphis, Middle Tennessee, Ohio, Ole Miss, South Alabama, Southern Miss and Troy.
Thomas is expected to be a slot receiver in college.
Last season, Thomas helped lead Central High School to an 8-4 record and into the quarterfinals of the Class 6A state playoffs.