OXFORD – Phillip Irwin was about to be bumped from the SEC rotation because of his recent inconsistency, but Scott Bittle’s injury changed things.
Irwin got a second chance and gave a Bittle-esque performance to help No. 7 Ole Miss salvage the final games of its series with rival Mississippi State. Irwin pitched deeper into the game than he has in a month and recorded a career-high 10 strikeouts in an 8-1 win over the Bulldogs before a Swayze Field crowd of 6,077 on Sunday.
Usually the Saturday starter, Irwin pitched a day later on the weekend than he has for most of the season. He hit spots and threw his breaking pitches for strikes, blanking the Bulldogs, who had put up 17 runs in the first two games.
State (23-27, 8-18 SEC) didn’t score until recording an unearned run in the ninth against closer Jake Morgan in his third inning of work.
“I just looked at this as another chance. I wasn’t really far off, but I did struggle in the last two outings,” Irwin said. “It feels great to get out here and have some success.”
Ole Miss (37-15, 17-10 SEC) began the weekend tied with LSU and Florida for the overall lead. The Rebels, with their most SEC wins in three seasons, now go to Arkansas a game back of LSU and a half game behind Alabama, which is tied for the third spot with Florida.
“I think that kind of got to us a little bit this weekend. With State being here and controlling our own destiny, we kind of got away from what we’ve done all year, which is just play, don’t worry about anything and just worry about the next pitch,” Ole Miss coach Mike Bianco said.
The next pitch to Luke Adkins in the fifth was a big one that almost turned in the Bulldogs’ favor and could have changed the tone of a scoreless game. Adkins took a 1-0 fastball into the left-center gap. Scott DeLoach, who had reached on a single, was waved home, but Jordan Henry hit shortstop Kevin Mort, who threw a strike from shallow center.
Irwin also pitched out of trouble in the fourth. The first two batters reached, Ryan Collins with a walk and Connor Powers with a single, but Irwin fanned Ryan Duffy, Russ Sneed and Jet Butler to get out of the inning.
“Mort put it right on the money, and Jordan really got there quick … He can fly,” Irwin said. “I’m not usually a strikeout pitcher, but I got those in the fourth. Those were big innings.”
Ole Miss got on the board in the fifth with a solo home run by Evan Button.
The Rebels finally got clutch offense against MSU starter Devin Jones in the sixth when David Phillips and Mort registered back-to-back two-out hits. Mort drove in Kyle Henson, and Phillips scored on a wild pitch to make it 3-0.
Ole Miss opened things up against the MSU bullpen with four runs on two hits, three walks and a hit batter. Matt Smith had a two-run home run, and defensive replacement Michael Hubbard had an RBI double.
After the freshman Jones, who lasted 52⁄3 innings, four MSU pitchers allowed five runs on five hits and five walks.
“I think if we put pressure on them early and score runs it’s a different game,” MSU coach John Cohen said. “We might even have left Devin out there a little longer.”
NEMS Daily Journal