OXFORD, Miss. (WTVA/Ole Miss Athletics) - When Grae Kessinger hit a sharp ground ball to the Little Rock shortstop in the seventh inning, it looked like just the tailor-made double-play ball the Trojans needed to get out of the inning and head to the eighth with a 2-2 tie.
But an errant throw kept the inning alive, and No. 8 Ole Miss made its midweek visitor pay, putting up a four-spot with two outs in the seventh. The Rebels tacked on four more runs in the eighth for good measure, turning a tight contest into a 10-2 rout to move to 12-1 on the season.
“That’s the big thing about this team is that we are able to stay locked in and put together big innings,” said junior catcher Nick Fortes. “We are all focused and we know this is what we have to do to be successful, not only in the midweek games but on the weekend too. We know we have to stay locked in no matter what the opponent is doing.”
In addition to the two big innings on offense, the Rebels got great a great performance their pitching staff.
Freshman left-hander Jordan Fowler made his first collegiate start, but one never would've guessed it. The rookie out of Union City, Tennessee, looked as comfortable as ever on the mound, and efficiently put up five scoreless frames were reflective of that in which he scattered four hits.
“He was terrific,” head coach Mike Bianco said. “You couldn’t draw it up any better. Five shutout innings, seven strikeouts and he is throwing all four pitches in the strike zone. I use the phrase ‘play like you belong’ a lot, and that is certainly what he did.”
Three of the four hits off Fowler came in the first two innings. He cruised through his final three frames in his first collegiate start and said he felt more comfortable as the game went on.
“I figure out the hitters' tendencies and usually get really zoned-in by the third inning,” Fowler said. “Hitting spots and making pitches and really just throwing strikes was the key.”
As Fowler kept throwing strikes, the Trojan hitters kept missing.
“He was filling up the zone like he always does,” Fortes said. “You can always count on him to do that. He throws four pitches for a strike and he’s got swing-and-miss stuff. That’s what we expect out of him.”
Fowler got some run support in the third when Kessinger bounced a ball to third base for an RBI groundout and Ryan Olenek turned on a fastball down the left field line for a two-out RBI double a batter later.
Greer Holston took the baseball from Fowler in the sixth, struck out two hitters between a one-out base hit before Matt Merino deposited a high fastball over the left field wall to tie the game at two in the sixth.
After Holston, Bianco turned to junior Parker Caracci who worked a 12-pitch, three-up, three-down seventh inning that set the table for the offense to strike in the bottom half. It was one of two blank frames Caracci put up. He kept his perfect 0.00 ERA intact, allowing just one baserunner to earn the second win of his collegiate career.
“It shows how impressive he is out there and just how he continues to grow,” Bianco said. “No one deserves it more than him, and he was lights out tonight.”
Ole Miss has had a knack for finding a way to piece together multi-run innings late in games to create some separation for its bullpen, and Wednesday was no different.
Tyler Keenan lingered at first base after a leadoff base hit and, Anthony Servideo drew a one-out walk. Then came the turning point in the night when Little Rock botched the turn on a would-be 6-4-3, inning-ending double play. Keenan raced around to score to give the Rebels a 3-2 lead. Ole Miss made the mistake hurt with two-out RBI base hits from Fortes and Will Golsan. Fortes’ line drive to left plated two, and Golsan drove in Olenek to give Caracci a 6-2 cushion.
Golsan was 1-for-3 on the night, as was Olenek. Eight different Rebels recorded hits on the night, and Thomas Dillard followed up a two-home run game Tuesday with a 2-for-4 night against the Trojans.
Coming off of a big series road win, Ole Miss maintained its focus and put together two clean midweek games, a testament to the budding maturity of this group.
“I’m proud of the way we’ve played the last two days because it has not been easy,” Bianco said. “Coming off this long road trip and everyone is talking about how well you played on Sunday, our guys answered the bell and played pretty well. "
The Rebels strung together their third-straight double-figure scoring output—a first since exactly nine years ago when the Rebels scored 10-plus in six straight contests from Feb. 24-Mar. 7, 2009. Ole Miss went on to win the regular-season SEC Championship that season.
The win bumped Ole Miss’ record to 12-1 on the year. It returns to action with a three-game set this weekend at home against Eastern Illinois. First pitch on Friday is set for 6:30 p.m. CT.