OXFORD – Ole Miss lost a game, a series and its best reliever in the span of one sun-drenched Sunday afternoon at Swayze Field.
Alabama executed in the bunt game early, got a two-run home run from Taylor Dugas and kept at bay all day an Ole Miss offense still trying to find itself.
The Rebels got off better swings but no more production, and the Crimson Tide won 6-4 to take the SEC-opening series before a crowd of 8,544.
The biggest loss of the day may have come with one out in the ninth when right-handed pitcher Jake Morgan left the game complaining of soreness in his shoulder.
The senior from Canton missed the entire 2010 season coming off Tommy John (elbow) surgery. He had been the Rebels’ most effective reliever with no earned runs allowed in 171/3 innings, a 2-0 record and five saves, one of them Friday night in Game 1 against Alabama.
Ole Miss coach Mike Bianco was hopeful Morgan would be able to have an MRI performed on his shoulder later Sunday evening.
“It’s not his elbow. It happened about five pitches before his final pitch. He was starting to feel some pain, but it was bearable,” Bianco said. “He was out there competing, and we didn’t know anything about it. Then he threw a pitch and had a shooting pain in his shoulder that kind of ran up through his neck.”
After hurrying through some some warm-up pitches on the mound, Eric Callender took over for Morgan with the Rebels trailing 6-4. Callender got two quick outs, but the Rebels got nothing in the ninth with two pinch-hitters and nine-hole hitter Blake Newalu going in order.
Alabama (13-7, 2-1 SEC) jumped on Ole Miss starter Austin Wright in the second inning, laying down a squeeze bunt as part of a two-run effort. The Tide tacked on three more in the fourth, and Wright’s day was done after Dugas homered to the right field bullpen.
The Rebels (15-6, 1-2) were batting just .206 for the first two games. They were 9 for 33 (.272) on Sunday, frustrated by hard-hit balls that didn’t fall for hits.
In back-to-back at-bats in the second inning Matt Snyder lined hard to second base, and Matt Tracy was caught at the wall in center field.
Later on Newalu lined to second for an inning-ending double play, and Tracy lined out hard to center field.
In the fourth, Alex Yarbrough, who had singled, was the third out of the inning at second base after Alabama third baseman James Tullidge made a diving stop to rob a hit from Preston Overbey.
“We had nine hits, and we probably could have had between 15 and 18 if we had balls find holes,” Yarbrough said. “We’re all proud of the way we swung the bats. All that was missing was the ball to get through a hole and provide an exclamation point.”
The Rebels scratched back against Alabama starter Tucker Hawley to make it 5-3 after six innings, but the Crimson Tide bullpen, as it did in Saturday’s 7-5 Alabama victory, stopped Ole Miss again. The Rebels managed just two hits and one run over the final 3 2-3 innings against relievers Taylor Wolfe and Jonathan Smart. Smart got the save, his second of the weekend.
The Alabama pitching staff began the series ranked No. 9 in the SEC with a 3.31 ERA.
“We need more (offense) obviously, but I thought the at-bats were better today,” Bianco said. “We swung the bats much better today, hit some balls hard. Again, it can be better.”
Parrish Alford/NEMS Daily Journal