An illness and a defensive lapse in the sixth inning were an unorthodox formula to produce Ole Miss’ first blemish of the season, but that’s exactly how it shook out as the Rebels were defeated 9-6 by Memphis on Tuesday at Swayze Field.
Ole Miss was forced to scratch scheduled starter Will Ethridge due to the flu, which also caused freshman left fielder Thomas Dillard to miss his second game in a row. Fellow freshman shortstop Grae Kessinger was feeling under the weather as well, though he wasn’t diagnosed with the flu.
“Especially just living in the dorm you just walk in and feel kind of sick,” Kessinger said. “Hopefully we can stay healthy, and fly and not pass it around to the whole team.”
Freshman right-hander Greer Holston took the ball in Ehtridge’s absence and struggled against the Tiger lineup who saw his fastball well, touching him up for five runs on as many hits in four innings of work.
“They played well and they swung it well. They got after Greer a little bit,” head coach Mike Bianco said.
Ole Miss scored the game’s first run before Memphis put up a three-spot in the top half of the second inning. But just as the Rebels have done for much of the season, they responded immediately.
Kessinger may not have been feeling his best, but that didn’t stop him from hitting his first career home run, a three-run bomb in the second inning that matched the trio of runs Memphis had put up in the top half with one swing of the bat. He was 1-3 on the night.
“I got down in the count early, really quick 0-2 and then I just got in my two-strike approach to do anything to get the guy in,” Kessinger said. “Then he left me a changeup up (in the zone) and I put a good swing on it.”
Memphis regained the lead at 5-4 with a run in the third and fourth innings in a game that hinted at becoming a slugfest.
“It looked like it was going to be one of those with a ton of runs scored today and the wind was blowing out to left. It was hard to keep the ball in the ballpark,” Bianco said. “But it ended up turning into the team that just didn’t play well defensively loses the game.”
The arrival of the sixth inning brought trouble for the Rebels. Ole Miss committed four errors on the night, three of which came in the sixth inning alone which allowed the Tigers to add three more insurance runs off of Greer Holston’s successor Andy Pagnozzi, none of which were earned. The 8-4 Memphis lead was more than enough to sustain it as the Rebels fell to 7-1 on the year.
“We had to lose some time,” junior second baseman Tate Blackman said. “I am glad we got it out of the way so we can flush it and learn to bounce back.”
Blackman was 3-4 on the night and has found a rhythm in the last three games after a sluggish start at the plate.
“Just sticking to what I do best which is my approach and not getting ahead of myself,” Blackman said. “The first couple of games I thought I was trying to do too much. But the freshmen kept us in it. Me and Colby (Bortles) haven’t swung it the best but we are starting to do it. They’ve kept us in games and I am very proud of what they’ve done and how they’ve handled the situation with everything they have done. We are going to bounce back from this loss and keep moving on.”
Next up for Ole Miss is a trip to Houston where they will play in the Shriners Hospitals For Children Classic. The team will play against Baylor, No. 10 Texas Tech and the number one team in the country in TCU. It will be another test for this young bunch, one they feel ready for.
“It’s going to be awesome playing in that atmosphere against those teams and showing what we can do on the road,” Blackman said. “Our freshmen believe that we are good, and our older guys think that we are good. That’s all it is. It is all about believing.”