FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. (Ole Miss Athletics/WTVA) - Cooper Johnson's ninth-inning home run gave No. 21 Ole Miss a fighting chance at No. 8 Arkansas, but the Rebels' late comeback bid fell short in a 5-3 defeat Friday night.
Johnson crushed a home run over the left field seats with one down in the ninth, and the Rebels brought the tying run to the plate with two down, but the late rally ended there as Ole Miss (18-9, 3-4) dropped Game 1 of the SEC road series.
Arkansas found its way on the board in each of the first three innings. The Razorbacks scored on an RBI double by Dominic Fletcher down the right field line and a single to left by Matt Goodheart in the first. Casey Martin plated the third run on an RBI groundout in the second. The Razorbacks sent another home on an RBI groundout in the third and threatened to add even more, but starter Will Ethridge came through with back-to-back strikeouts to escape a one-on, one-out jam.
The Rebels fought back in the fourth, starting with a leadoff single by Grae Kessinger. After a Tyler Keenan walk, Thomas Dillard smoked a double to the right field wall to bring Kessinger home. Cole Zabowski then plated Keenan on an RBI groundout to cut the Razorback lead to two, 4-2.
Arkansas scored another on a two-out rally in the fifth. Fletcher started it off with a double down the right field line and came home on a single to left by Goodheart.
Houston Roth relieved Ethridge in the sixth and looked as sharp as he has all season. The junior out of Oxford struck out three in the sixth. The first reached on a third-strike wild pitch, but Roth soldiered on, escaping the inning unscathed. Roth finished with 3.0 innings of work, allowing no runs on just one hit and two walks, punching out five along the way.
Ole Miss threatened in the eighth, after a leadoff single by Kessinger and a walk by Keenan, forcing Arkansas to bring out closer Matt Cronin early. The move worked, as the Razorbacks escaped the inning unscathed.
The Rebels had one final charge in the ninth. Cooper Johnson crushed a home run over the left field seats to cut the Razorback lead to two. Tim Elko walked with two outs to bring the tying run to the plate, but the Rebel comeback wasn't meant to be.
Ole Miss will look to even the series Saturday at 3 p.m. CT. Game 2 between the Rebels and the Hogs will be nationally broadcast on SEC Network.
- Ole Miss falls to 18-9 overall and 3-4 in SEC play.
- All nine of the Rebels' defeats this season have come by four runs or fewer, eight of which have come within three runs.
- Grae Kessinger recorded his 10th multi-hit game of the season, second on the team to Ryan Olenek's 11.
- Kessinger upped his team-best batting average to .321 in conference play.
- Houston Roth came through with his best outing of the season, going three scoreless innings with one hit and two walks allowed, striking out five.
- Cooper Johnson hit his third home run of the season and his first in SEC play.