By Parrish Alford/NEMS Daily Journal
OXFORD – In the end, small ball was bigger than big ball.
Ole Miss hit two home runs, one for a late 5-4 lead on Thursday evening. The Rebels, though, committed four errors, and Mississippi State advanced runners with bunts and steals and stole a 7-6 win in Game 1 of their SEC series before an announced crowd of 8,144 at Swayze Field.
Game 2 in the series is tonight at 7.
Down 7-5 in the bottom of the ninth, the Rebels loaded the bases with no outs, but the Bulldogs gladly traded a run for two outs when Matt Tracy hit into a 6-4-3 double play.
MSU’s Caleb Reed struck out Will Allen to earn his 10th save.
The Bulldogs (31-18, 12-13 SEC) moved ahead of Ole Miss (27-22, 11-14) in the SEC overall standings. The the season ended today, MSU would reach the SEC tournament, Ole Miss would not.
The Bulldogs played their trademark small ball to build a 4-1 lead, then used it again to rally past Ole Miss in the eighth when the Rebels were unable to maintain their prosperity.
Alex Yarbrough gave the Rebels a 5-4 lead in the seventh on a three-run home run off reliever Chad Girodo, but the Bulldogs regained the lead in the top of the eighth against Ole Miss freshman Bobby Wahl.
“We went from one end of the spectrum to the other pretty quickly,” Yarbrough said.
Nick Vickerson led off the top of the eighth with a sharp hit to left center. Jordan King, a defensive replacement in center field, ran toward the gap the whole way, never up to meet the ball when he might have had a play.
Jaron Shepherd followed with a single on a hit-and-run, and Vickerson, at third base, scored the tying run when Ole Miss did not cover first base on Brent Brownlee’s bunt.
The Bulldogs went ahead on an error. Catcher Miles Hamblin threw into left field, trying to nab Shepherd stealing third, and Shepherd scored easily.
“All Miles was trying to do was make a play for us,” Yarbrough said. “He’s been great behind the plate for us all year, and you can’t blame him for that.”
Not shy with his arm, Hamblin spent much of the game trying to pick off runners when he thought their lead off second to be a bit much. He completed those throws without incident.
“That kid’s a very good player, but you can’t force guys into making bad decisions unless you put guys in motion and you try and stress the defense a little bit,” MSU coach John Cohen said. “He probably wouldn’t do that again in 100 tries, but you’ve got to put a guy in motion, especially when you have a guy like Shepherd on second base who’s incredibly athletic and can really get going.”
An RBI hit by Wes Thigpen followed, and when the dust settled MSU led 7-5 with three runs on four hits and two errors. The extra run turned out to be huge.
MSU starter Luis Pollorena didn’t escape damage, but he kept it contained. In his second SEC start the freshman left-hander went a career-long 62⁄3 innings, scattering seven hits and giving up four runs, all earned.
Pollorena left the game after a bloop double by Blake Newalu left runners at second and third, setting the stage for Yarbrough’s shot deep out of the park in left field. Pollorena gave up a solo home run to Allen in the fourth, the Rebels’ second run.
Ole Miss starter Matt Crouse went six innings, retiring 10 of the last 11 he faced.