By Brad Locke/NEMS Daily Journal
STARKVILLE – Ole Miss is steadily closing in on the SEC Western Division lead, and doing so with a rejuvenated offense.
At a once-again soggy Dudy Noble Field on Saturday, the No. 14 Rebels got clutch hit after clutch hit in a 12-10 defeat of Mississippi State in front of 1,404 fans.
The game’s first pitch was delayed 39 minutes by rain, but the Rebel bats could not be dampened.
After going 14 consecutive games without scoring more than seven runs, Ole Miss has averaged 9.9 runs over its last seven outings. On Saturday, it got five of its 14 hits and eight of its runs with two outs.
“(Friday) night it was all about pitching and defense,” Ole Miss coach Mike Bianco said of that 4-2 win. “Tonight was more about offense. Tonight we got a lot of timely hits, a lot of big two-out hits and did a good job offensively.”
The Rebels (32-13, 13-7 SEC), winners of nine in a row, now trail division leader Arkansas by just one game and can sweep MSU (20-22, 5-15) with a win today. Ole Miss hasn’t swept a three-game series in Starkville since 1972, but it’s now won four consecutive series here.
First pitch is scheduled for 1:36 p.m.
Ole Miss scored nine of its runs in the fifth and sixth innings. It broke open a 7-7 game with four in the sixth, highlighted by Zach Miller’s RBI single and two errors by MSU second baseman Jet Butler to let two more runs come in with two outs.
“I sound like a broken record,” MSU coach John Cohen said. “Our kids are battling. They’re competing. It seems we have that kind of meltdown the last two nights.”
MSU sliced it to 11-10 with three in the sixth but was shut down the rest of the way by relievers Trent Rothlin and Brett Huber, who earned his seventh save and second of this series.
“I was able to spot my breaking ball, and that was really helpful,” Rothlin said. “I think that was the biggest thing for me tonight.”
Although he allowed three runs in two-thirds of an inning, Matt Crouse (5-1) was credited with the victory.
For the second straight week, MSU freshman starter Chris Stratton was knocked out by a rough middle inning. Ole Miss tallied five runs in the fifth to take a 7-5 lead and chase Stratton in the process.
Stratton allowed seven runs, all earned, on seven hits in 4 2/3 innings, but the loss went to Greg Houston (5-1). Against Alabama a week earlier, Stratton gave up eight runs in the fourth inning of a 9-8 loss.
“He’s a freshman, and he’s acting like a freshman,” Cohen said. “Realize too that strikeouts are horrible for a guy to start out games with, you’re talking five or six pitches to get a strikeout and you’re into late-teens, twenty pitches.”
MSU tied it at 7-7 in the bottom half of the fifth.
Ole Miss starter Aaron Barrett struggled, too, with control problems from the get-go. He threw four wild pitches and hit three batters.
Two Barrett wild pitches and a passed ball by catcher Tim Hightower allowed Nick Vickerson to score the run’s first game in the first inning. MSU scored twice in the third without the aid of a hit, as Barrett hit two batters and had another wild pitch, and Hightower another passed ball.
It was 3-2 MSU at that point.
When Barrett was missing, it was often high. His fourth and final wild pitch of the night sailed over Hightower’s head, allowing runners to advance to second and third with two outs in the fourth.
Vickerson then yanked a double to left to score both and end Barrett’s night and give State a 5-2 edge.
Barrett allowed five runs – four earned – on two hits.
Miller and Hightower had three hits apiece for Ole Miss. Vickerson had three of MSU’s seven hits.
Contact Brad Locke at 678-1571 or firstname.lastname@example.org.