By Parrish Alford/NEMS Daily Journal
OXFORD – Tennessee is SEC winless no more, and with the weekend series now even at a game a piece, Ole Miss is forced to confront its Sunday demons.
The Vols never led in dropping Game 1 Friday night, but P.J. Polk changed that in a hurry.
Tennessee’s left fielder homered on the game’s second pitch, and the Vols never trailed in snapping a seven-game SEC losing streak with a 5-2 win over No. 11 Ole Miss before 7,429 fans at Swayze Field Saturday.
Polk homered again in the eighth and was 4 for 5 on the day as the Vols out-hit the Rebels 12-4.
If Ole Miss (21-7) is to win its third-straight SEC series it must snap a four-game Sunday losing streak, a span in which it has been outscored 47-15. First pitch today is at 1:30 p.m.
Ole Miss coach Mike Bianco said he has not decided on a starting pitcher. Right-hander David Goforth, who gave up two runs on three hits in 52/3 innings in his first-career start Tuesday night against Mississippi State, is a candidate, as are Matt Tracy and Trent Rothlin, who have shared the Sunday starts this season.
“It’s not hard to figure out what happened today. Twelve hits to four, and they get three home runs,” Bianco said. “We had opportunities early. We normally get the big hit with runners in scoring position, but we didn’t do that today.”
Stephen McCray, a finesse throwing right-hander, struggled with walks at times but was otherwise untroubled, allowing just four hits over seven innings, his longest SEC outing.
The Vols (14-14, 1-7 SEC) dealt starter Aaron Barrett his first loss after opening the season with six straight wins.
Barrett’s body of work over 62/3 innings wasn’t bad, but most of his eight hits allowed were rockets, two of them home runs, one a double, one a triple.
Polk drove a run home with an RBI single in the third to make it 2-0 Tennessee.
Ole Miss tied the game at 2 in the bottom of the inning when Matt Smith led off with a single, and Matt Snyder homered to the deepest part of the park in left-center.
But the Vols quickly untied it in the top of the fourth when Barrett gave up a leadoff home run to Duffy, Duffy’s second of the year.
Snyder said McCray kept Ole Miss hitters off balance with his slider.
“He was good. It broke away to lefties, down the righties, and we didn’t get our best swings off,” he said. “Aaron battled and kept us in it, but we didn’t give him anything to show for it.”
The Rebels had chances to get to McCray in the early innings but couldn’t cash in, stranding five through the first two innings.
The first two batters reached in the first on Tim Ferguson’s single, and Alex Yarbrough’s HBP, but Ferguson was thrown out at third on a double steal. Yarbrough was caught between second and third on a high chopper by Smith, and Zach Miller struck out with two men on to end the inning.
McCray walked three with two outs in the second, but Yarbrough’s pop-up left them on base.
Three Tennessee pitchers totaled seven walks and three hit-batters, but Ole Miss left nine runners on base.
“McCray struggled early, more than I’ve seen him struggle all year,” Tennessee coach Todd Raleigh said. “But he found his rhythm, and when he got himself in trouble he made the big pitch.”