KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WTVA/Ole Miss Athletics) – The Ole Miss Rebels got out to a hot start, but fell behind late and couldn’t overcome some costly mistakes as Tennessee defeated the visiting Rebels, 7-5, and took the series in Knoxville.
Despite a four-hit day by Thomas Dillard and a strong start from Doug Nikhazy, Ole Miss saw a 2-0 lead slip away after a potent Tennessee offense attacked the Rebel bullpen. Austin Miller (4-2) was the pitcher of record after he allowed one run in the eighth in what would turn out to be the game’s winning run.
Tennessee took the lead with a three-run eighth inning against the combined arms of Miller, Kaleb Hill and Parker Caracci to take the series win.
Ole Miss struck early with a pair of runs in the game’s opening frame. Newfound leadoff man Dillard led off the inning with a double in the left-center gap before Ryan Olenek moved him to third on a sacrifice bunt. Grae Kessinger reached on a four-pitch walk one batter later, and both Rebels on base would find their situations benefited by an errant throw to the next batter.
Dillard was very aggressive on the base path, scoring on the wild pitch that only skirted a few feet away from the Volunteer catcher for the game’s first run, whereas Kessinger was able to go all the way from first to third on the throw. Tyler Keenan plated Kessinger on an RBI groundout, and the visiting team would take a 2-0 lead onward.
Nikhazy rolled through his first time through the Volunteer order, retiring nine of the first ten batters he faced. The Tennessee starter Garrett Crochet, however, found less fortune on the mound. A line-drive laced off the bat of Olenek in the top of the third resulted in a scary moment when the ball struck Crochet in the face, leading him to immediately walk off the field and into the home dugout.
The injury would result in about a fifteen-minute delay as the training staff worked to check on Crochet and allowed the time for Tennessee to warm up a pair of arms. Crochet was not able to return, meaning his day was ended at just 2.1 IP, and the Volunteers sent in freshman right-hander Camden Sewell to fill in for their injured starter.
Sewell was able to handle the Rebel bats for the next two frames, whereas his counterpart Nikhazy found life in the fourth and fifth innings a little bit more difficult. The Vols were able to send their first three batters to base on a walk, single, and walk, respectively, and later sent all three home with a sac fly and a two-RBI single into left.
The Rebels entered the fifth trailing by one, but quickly recouped their losses with a run in the top half. Justin Bench reached on a leadoff walk, before Dillard singled to right for his second hit of the night. Olenek attempted a bunt but pulled back and slashed at the last second and smacked one right to the second baseman, who mishandled the ball but quickly made up for it by catching Dillard stuck between second and third and getting the out between third and home.
Ole Miss, however, was still able to score a run in the inning, after Kessinger added to his run total with an RBI groundout, and they took a tied ballgame into the bottom of the fifth.
After two straight scoreless innings at the plate, Ole Miss finally cracked through with one run in the eighth. Johnson reached early in the frame with his third walk of the day, and came around to score on a fly ball from Kevin Graham that was misplayed by the Volunteer left fielder that resulted in an RBI double from the Rebel first baseman. Tennessee, however, answered with three runs of their own in the bottom half of the inning to take the lead for good.
The Rebels were able to push one across in the top of the ninth after Dillard’s fourth hit of the night, but it wasn’t enough to overcome the deficit, and Ole Miss fell by a score of 7-5.
Ole Miss will look for a win on Saturday’s series finale, with a first pitch set for noon eastern time, 11 a.m. CT.
- Ole Miss falls to 32-23 on the year, and 49-40 all-time against Tennessee.
- After a 2:12 series opener Thursday, Friday’s game lasted 4:01, almost two hours lengthier than yesterday’s contest.
- The Rebels used six pitchers tonight: Doug Nikhazy, Houston Roth, Tyler Myers, Austin Miller, Kaleb Hill, and Parker Caracci.
- Thomas Dillard had four hits tonight for his second four-hit game of the year.
- Ole Miss hitters drew nine walks in tonight’s game.
- The pitching staff managed to strand 11 Volunteer runners over the course of the game.