Notes and thoughts from a Houdini-like series win over Vanderbilt on SEC Opening Weekend …
I’m not a fan of 3 p.m. Sunday start times, especially for games that last 4-plus hours, but I figure The SEC Network got its money’s worth with the Rebels’ 10-8 win over Vanderbilt yesterday.
When it was over I looked around and had to wonder what just happened, how an Ole Miss team that had scored just six runs in 23 innings in the series would jump up and score seven in its last at-bat.
Each time Vanderbilt inched ahead there was the feeling that it would go on and secure the win. The Rebels had done very little – not only in the series but in recent games – to inspire confidence that they were about to get clutch hits.
Even when they scored three runs in the sixth it wasn’t because of clutch hits but off a bases-loaded hit batter and a throwing error.
That changed in the seventh and eighth innings when the Rebels got four of their 10 hits. Only one of those players – Colby Bortles with a solo home run – was a lineup regular. Tim Rowe – who had three hits on the weekend – had a solo home run in the seventh. Chase Cockrell followed with a double to the right field corner – not a bloop double – to give Ole Miss a 9-8 lead, and Nick Fortes added some insurance with a basehit to score Cockrell.
The rally against the Vanderbilt bullpen got the job done and allowed the Rebels to momentarily forget their troubles. They scored just one run Friday – it was enough because they made big pitches at big times – and two on Saturday.
When this team strung together seven-straight wins to start the season I saw a group that was hitting well in spots but had more to give. They clearly didn’t handle the Big 12 pitching in Houston, but the struggle continued when they got back home.
Ole Miss coach Mike Bianco has tinkered with his lineup, and maybe he’s finding guys who can shake it up.
Rowe didn’t have only one big hit. He was 3 for 6 on the weekend and had a game-winning RBI pinch-hit on Friday.
Cockrell is a guy who was hitting well early in the season when Bianco was still shuffling things around. He did not continue hitting and was just 1 for 14 in his previous 15 at-bats before coming through yesterday. Maybe this helps jump start him again.
Freshmen Cole Zabowski and Thomas Dillard also aren’t hitting as well as they were earlier. This is not surprising. They’re freshmen. I thought I would have seen more struggle the first two weekends.
In theory, these guys will get more at-bats under their belts and hit better as the season progresses.
It’s good that Bianco has options among young players. Cockrell and Fortes, a sophomore, came through on Sunday.
The streak of scoreless innings and shutouts for the pitching staff was going to end sometime. Streaks of such dominance often say as much about the opposition as they do the team doing the dominating. Furman, which provided three of those shutouts, won twice against North Carolina A&T over the weekend and scored 34 runs in the process.
I don’t know what that says about Ole Miss pitching, but I think Ole Miss pitching is very good. It’s not so good that the Rebels are going to win many SEC games when they score only one or two runs as they did on Friday and Saturday.
David Parkinson was not at his best Friday but pitched well with men on base. He threw six scoreless innings in spite of allowing four walks and three hits. The leadoff man reached four times.
Will Stokes and Dallas Woolfolk were really good on Friday, allowing no hits, runs or walks over their three innings, two by Stokes.
Woolfolk won an impressive individual battle against Vanderbilt’s Stephen Scott to keep the leadoff man off base in the ninth. Scott fouled off six pitches before finally looking at a third strike.
Stokes was not as good in his second appearance of the weekend on Sunday. He entered with a man on second and no outs. He got a strikeout but then gave up a home run. He later gave up a walk.
Woolfolk was strong again on Sunday with facing the minimum in two shut-out innings to close the game.
Freshman Will Ethridge made his first start. He didn’t leave the ball up in the zone, which makes the ball likely to leave the park, but he left it too low with three wild pitches. He had allowed just two earned runs in 15 2-3 innings to earn a chance to pitch on the weekend, but he gave up five earned runs in 3 1-3 innings against Vanderbilt.
Ole Miss also went this weekend without James McArthur, their No. 2 pitcher. The sophomore right-hander has a 1.76 ERA in 15 1-3 innings but has experienced soreness in his forearm and has now missed his last two starts. There doesn’t seem to be real worry about McArthur right now, but that’s something to keep an eye on.