Sweeps don’t come without effort and solid play. They often don’t come without drama, and while three wins for Ole Miss against Arkansas didn’t have drama from start to finish, it did for key moments.
Like Saturday night when the Rebels went to the ninth with a nine-run lead, and Arkansas kept swinging away.
It already looked like Game 2 was in the bag after seven innings when Ole Miss led 8-1 only to see Arkansas score four in the eighth. The Rebels responded with six in the bottom of the frame, and the game was a laugher again.
Game 2 deteriorated to one of those wild finishes where anything could have happened. It ended on a 4-6-3 double play that was close at first base. If the guy is called safe there It’s a 14-10 game, and Arkansas is still batting with a man on base.
The wild finish that favored Ole Miss in last year’s Game 3 against Mississippi State in Oxford flashed through my mind.
There was a little drama on Sunday when Ole Miss, three outs from the sweep, took an 8-5 lead to the ninth.
Chad Smith, who had been the Saturday starter before the Arkansas series, had thrown 1 1-3 innings of hitless, scoreless relief when he gave up a one-out single then a home run. It was suddenly 8-7.
Will Stokes, making his third appearance of the weekend, came in and got two quick outs for the save, his fourth. Stokes was good in the ninth inning of Game 1, not so good in the ninth in Game 2. He’s clearly Mike Bianco’s choice as closer if Bianco decides to stay with Wyatt Short, his closer for the last two years, as the Game 3 starter.
I doubt Bianco elects to change his rotation again this weekend at Alabama. Why mess with success as the Rebels are coming off an Arkansas sweep?
Brady Bramlett has been the most sure thing in the rotation this season, and he had a career game on Friday against the Razorbacks with seven innings, three hits, 12 strikeouts and only one walk.
David Parkinson and Short were new weekend starters.
Parkinson, a sophomore left-hander, went 5 1-3 innings, scattering three hits and two walks. He allowed only one run, that in the fourth inning.
Short has come in from the bullpen many times and been lights out. That wasn’t the case in his first career start. He hung four zeroes on the board to start the game, but when the wall came it came fast, and that was in the fifth inning.
Even before the fifth Arkansas was spraying the ball around the field with five hits. The key is all of them were singles, and Short wasn’t putting extra runners on base. In that same span Arkansas was 0-for-5 with runners in scoring position and hit into three double plays.
In the fifth inning, Arkansas, which couldn’t hit its way on to the board, got on the board without a hit as Short walked two batters and in between dropped a pop-up on the infield after calling off first baseman Will Golsan and catcher Henri Lartigue.
Eventually three runs – two earned – would be charged to Short in the fifth.
With 4 1-3 innings pitched Short didn’t go long enough to qualify for the win. That went to Fayetteville, Ark., freshman Andy Pagnozzi, who came on and limited the damage in the fifth with a couple of big strikeouts.
Bianco touted his offense on the weekend, and the Rebels desperately needed some touting in that department.
The Rebels hit .382 for the weekend, had three-straight double-figure hit games and scored 35 runs.
As I said last week, this was a pitching staff that Ole Miss needed to hit. Arkansas is not a bad offensive club but has some pitching issues right now.
Alabama will be much better with a 3.28 ERA.
The Rebels played their way back into SEC relevance this weekend. They are currently one of three SEC West teams at 6-6 in the league – Alabama and LSU are the others – sitting a game behind second-place Texas A&M and two games behind division-leading MSU.
It was a much-needed weekend for the Rebels. Now they’re going to have to hit and score against better pitching on the road, and that new rotation – whoever it turns out to be – is going to have to hang zeroes on the board again.