OXFORD, Miss. (WTVA/Ole Miss Athletics) - No. 4 Ole Miss baseball has come from behind to win a baseball game 10 times this season and was close to an 11th on Thursday night, but Blaine Knight and lefty Matt Cronin out of the Arkansas bullpen outlasted the Rebels in a 6-4 series-opening loss to the fifth-ranked Razorbacks.
Ole Miss starter Ryan Rolison battled after being blitzed for four runs the first time through the Arkansas lineup. Four consecutive base hits to start the game plated two in the first and a Carson Shaddy wind-aided two-run home run to right field in the second inning put the Rebels in an early hole.
"I really thought he pitched pretty good," head coach Mike Bianco said. "It was a tough night to pitch. I thought he hung in there. They were really good early with four really good at-bats out the gate. He did what he was supposed to do. He attacked the strike zone. They hit fastballs and breaking balls on both sides of the plate. You have to credit them."
The sophomore lefty proceeded to retire 12 of his next 15 hitters, striking out eight and walking one along the way as he fought into the sixth inning to give the Rebels a chance to get back in the ballgame, and they did.
Cole Zabowski launched a towering solo shot in the second on a fastball over the inner portion of the plate, and the Rebels nabbed three runs in the third inning off Knight to tie the game. Chase Cockrell and Jacob Adams turned the lineup over to start the third with back-to-back base hits. Knight slung a Grae Kessinger bunt into right field to score Cockrell and make it 4-2. Base hits from Ryan Olenek and Zabowski tied the game as the Rebels cracked Knight the second time through the order.
"We noticed he was throwing a lot of offspeed," Zabowski said. "We saw it and went after it that second time around."
Zabowski was 2-for-3 with a pair of RBI and a walk. Olenek had a pair of hits on the night as well.
"I think that is a big difference," Zabowski said. "When we get into games we feel that we have a chance to win no matter what the score is."
Rolison put up zeroes in the next three frames and was chased with one out in the sixth after a Jordan McFarland solo shot to right. Arkansas nabbed one more off Rolison's successor, Will Ethridge to take a 6-4 lead in the sixth.
"I thought it was more of them and less on Ryan tonight," Bianco said. "It was a gutsy performance."
Ole Miss nearly chased Knight in the sixth inning after Zabowski walked to start the frame but fell victim to some poor fortune that allowed him to escape the inning. Will Golsan ran the count full and then fought off an elevated fastball that blooped into shallow right field. Shaddy, the second baseman, appeared to make a fine catch in shallow right field, but the baseball squirted out of his glove, and Zabowski was thrown out as the lead runner at second base.
A groundball induced a double play followed, and Knight slipped out of the frame in what would be his final inning.
"You can see why Knight is so good," Bianco said. "Even though it looked like we were going to knock him out of the game, he hung in there."
Cronin relived him and yielded just one hit over the final three innings of the game to preserve it for the Razorbacks.
"It was a big fastball from a left-hander," Bianco said. "He is a strike thrower and when he does miss he misses up. When guys throw hard and miss up, it is tough to lay off it. When it is down in the zone, it is tough to get to, and when it is up you chase it because you're late. He was really tough the last nine outs on us."
Ole Miss will try to even the series tomorrow with Brady Feigl on the mound. First pitch is set for 6:30 p.m. CT
"A couple balls didn't fall our way," Zabowski said. "We are going to come back tomorrow and look to win."