OXFORD, Miss. (Ole Miss Athletics/WTVA) - Ole Miss baseball completed its first series sweep of 2019 Saturday, taking both games of a doubleheader from Long Beach State to improve to 8-2 on the season.
The Rebels took the first of two games in dramatic fashion, sealing the deal on a ninth-inning walk-off home run by Thomas Dillard, continuing the torrid start by the junior out of Oxford. After a 7-6 win to start the day, a new hero emerged in the second game as freshman Justin Bench delivered the go-ahead RBI single late in the 5-3 victory to seal the sweep.
Game 1: Ole Miss 7, Long Beach State 6
Dillard yet again emerged as the Rebels' hero after he put an end to a back-and-forth affair with a walk-off home run on a 3-0 count in the bottom of the ninth. The Rebels and Dirtbags combined for ten runs over the final three innings of Game 1, with Ole Miss seemingly putting it away in the seventh, and Long Beach State storming back for the lead in the eighth.
With one out in the bottom of the ninth, however, it was all Dillard's game, and he put a quick ending to the offensive shootout with a solo shot into the student section, securing the 7-6 win and series victory for the Rebels.
Zack Phillips earned the start for the third consecutive weekend, but freshman Doug Nikhazy worked to his first career win after entering in the eighth and closing out the game with just 1.2 innings of work.
Senior Connor Green has been one of the most dependable arms out of the bullpen for the Rebels, and he only upped his stock with another dominant performance today. In four appearances this year, he is still yet to allow a run, and has only allowed four hits in 7.2 innings of work. Green is one of three Rebel pitchers (Will Ethridge, Ryan Olenek) to still have a 0.00 ERA to his name.
Green carried the Rebels through innings six and seven, and faced the minimum with six consecutive outs.
The Rebels outhit Long Beach 11-7, and used a late surge spread out over the final stretch to land a come-from-behind victory and earn the series win over their foes from California.
Long Beach State jumped out to an early 1-0 lead in the first after a Phillips walk came back to haunt him on an RBI single three batters later. The Rebels recouped their losses and evened the score in the second, but were poised for a breakout inning that withered away with three men left on base.
Cole Zabowski and Cooper Johnson led off the second with back-to-back singles to the outfield, before a Tim Elko walk loaded the bases with just one out in the inning. Each runner moved up 90 feet on a wild pitch during the at-bat of Anthony Servideo, but no Rebel was able to record an RBI in the inning, and a Ryan Olenek fielder's choice closed the second with three men left stranded.
The Dirtbags would record another run in the top of the fourth after a few early hits off of Phillips, including a one-out RBI single to center, but the junior was able to make it out of the inning after a few outs in the field.
Phillips was able to go through the fifth, extending his career-long outing to 5.0 innings pitched. He also struck out a new career-best five, and allowed just two runs on four hits.
The Dirtbag starter, Adam Seminaris, was able to go one out into the seventh, and made hits for the Rebels hard to come by in his 6.1 innings pitched. He finished with five strikeouts, two walks, and just one earned run in his time on the mound.
Green entered to start the sixth inning with the Rebels trailing 2-1, but he ensured that the deficit wasn't getting any larger. He would face just six batters over 2.0 innings pitched, striking out two on the way and paving the way for Parker Caracci's entry in the eighth.
In the seventh, however, the Rebels took their first lead of the game with a few timely hits from the middle of the Rebel lineup. Tim Elko got it started with a leadoff single, and his pinch runner, Carl Gindl, managed to make it around the base path after a couple wild pitches to tie the game at two. Tyler Keenan followed an Olenek double with a two-RBI base knock of his own, a double down the right field line, to give Ole Miss a 4-2 lead.
Back on the other side of the ball, however, the Dirtbags immediately answered, plating four of their own off of Caracci in the eighth inning. Three walks from Caracci in one-third of an inning brought the entry of Nikhazy, who was able to mitigate the damage and close out the top half of the eighth with the Rebels trailing by just two.
Servideo and Kessinger each knocked in a run in the bottom half, however, and brought the game back to a 6-6 tie to set the stage for a dramatic finish.
Long Beach State had to face the damaging trio of Keenan, Dillard, and Chase Cockrell in the bottom of the ninth, with all of them due for a big moment. It was Dillard who took home the heroics, however, when one swing of the bat ensured the Rebels' second series win of the year.
Game 2: Ole Miss 5, Long Beach State 3
A pair of unlikely heroes carried the Rebels to a game two victory and helped them earn the series sweep against Long Beach State. A low-scoring affair practically all ballgame, freshman Justin Bench earned his stripes with the go-ahead RBI base hit late in the eighth inning, while fellow first-year Rebel Taylor Broadway made sure the Dirtbags weren't mounting any late comebacks with three scoreless innings to close out the game.
Bench's RBI single, the first of his career, ensured Broadway earned his first career win as the two emerged as dominant forces in the third win of the series against the Dirtbags.
Freshman Gunnar Hoglund earned his third career start, and threw 5.0 quality innings with just a lone run coming on a solo home run in the second. He struck out three on the way before being relieved for Tyler Myers in the sixth inning.
Keenan and Dillard got the scoring started early with a pair of RBI singles in the first inning. The Rebels were able to land five runners on base before the first out was even recorded, but only sent two across the plate due in part to a Cole Zabowski line out that forced a double play later in the inning.
The Dirtbags answered with a solo home run off of Hoglund in the top of the second, but an Anthony Servideo RBI double an inning later evened out the two runs.
Long Beach State's only other runs on the game again came on a home run, late in the sixth inning as the Dirtbags tied it up at three apiece with a two-run shot from the bat of Luke Vander Wal.
The game would stay knotted at three until the freshman Bench took a 3-2 pitch right back up the middle and brought Cooper Johnson and Olenek home.
The Rebels will be back in action Tuesday night, March 5m against Little Rock, set for a 4 p.m. CT first pitch.
- Ole Miss improves to 8-2 on the year and 6-2 all time against Long Beach State.
- Thomas Dillard's game-winning homer in game one was the Rebels' last walk-off home run since Tate Blackman did it on April 8, 2017 against Alabama. Coincidentally, Blackman was also threw out today's ceremonial first pitch.
- Dillard entered as the team leader in home runs with five, and extended on his lead with his sixth of the year in game one.
- Junior Zack Phillips set new career bests in game one with 5.0 innings pitched and five strikeouts.
- Senior Connor Green has been one of the most dependable arms in the Rebel bullpen this season, and he didn't disappoint in game one today. He has still yet to allow a run all year, after going 2.0 scoreless innings today with no hits and a pair of strikeouts.
- Ryan Olenek trailed just Cooper Johnson in doubles with two, but took sole possession of the team lead with a pair of doubles in the first game.
- Taylor Broadway got his first career win after going the final 3.0 innings of the second game.
- Justin Bench had his first career hit in a very opportune moment, bringing in two go-ahead runs on a single in the eighth inning.