OXFORD, Miss. (WTVA/Ole Miss Athletics) – The game was decided by the slimmest of margins.
No. 6 Ole Miss’ 8-6 SEC-opening defeat to Tennessee was decided by a six-run seventh inning in which a 2-2 tie was broken.
Rebel ace Ryan Rolison was a pitch away from escaping a two-on, no-out jam to leave the score knotted at two. After two Volunteer runners reached base, Rolison whiffed Brandon Trammell and Zach Daniels. He ran the count full on Wyatt Stapp, but a fastball sailed down on him and issued a walk to load the bases. Will Ethridge relived him to try to squeeze out of a tight spot.
“I felt as good as I did out of the gates in the seventh,” Rolison said. “I didn’t make a pitch on a that 3-2 count and the best situation was to go to the pen and that is what Coach (Bianco) did.”
Andrew Lipcius laced a two-RBI double down the left field line off Ethridge to break the tie. An intentional walk followed that and then a Brodie Leftridge fly ball to center escaped a diving Will Golsan for a bases-clearing triple to give Tennessee an 8-2 lead.
It came undone at the end, but Rolison battled on a tough night to pitch with the wind howling out. Ole Miss took a 2-0 lead in the bottom of the first on a Thomas Dillard base hit and a Golsan double. Each was 1-for-4 on the night. Tennessee answered with two of their own in the second inning, but Rolison responded by blanking the Vols for the next four frames to get the Rebels to the seventh and keep the game tied at two.
“It was a weird game in a sense,” head coach Mike Bianco said. “You look at the chart and they have three hits on three doubles, but other than that (Rolison) really looked in control of the game. Gets out of the second inning with a couple of runs after that and was really good, really good heading into the seventh. Some really good at-bats by them, but I am proud of him for battling. He gave us all he had.”
Rolison said he lost his fastball command early but found it later on in the game. At one point he had sat down eight of nine hitters in the middle innings. He struck out 11 Volunteer hitters and just two of the five runs tagged to him were earned.
“That’s just who he is,” Grae Kessinger said. “He has a great arm and is a warrior out there.”
Kessinger was 3-for-5 on the night with two runs scored.
Rolison was a pitch away from escaping the seventh inning pinch in what was a pretty solid outing otherwise.
“So many times this year we have been able to make the pitch to get off the field to end innings,” Bianco said. “We just weren’t able to do that tonight."
Ole Miss battled back immediately after Tennessee’s long inning. It put together back-to-back two-out hits from Tim Elko and Jacob Adams to shave the margin to 8-3 in the bottom half of the seventh. Kessinger's base hit paved way for Ryan Olenek to launch a 1-2 fastball over the left field fence to trim the deficit to 8-6.
“This team stays confident," Kessinger said. “We always have the ability to have those big innings. It is huge for us to bounce back and show we won't go down easy. Wish we could’ve gotten a couple more. It is baseball. We will be ready to go tomorrow with a good attitude.”
The home run ousted the Vol starter, freshman lefty Garrett Crochet, who was charged for six earned runs on 10 hits.
“He competed,” Kessinger said of Crochet. “He was locating his fastball really well. I think late in the game we got on him. Credit to him for staying around the zone and making pitches.”
Tennessee closer Zach Linginfelter closed out the game for Tennessee in the final 2.1 innings. Ole Miss will attempt to even this series with Brady Feigl on the hill Saturday in game two. First pitch is slated for 1:30 p.m. CT.