The last four innings differed drastically than the first five for Ole Miss’ in its third game of the SEC tournament, but it did enough to pull a 12-9 win out of the fire against Vanderbilt on day three of the SEC tournament.
It wasn’t easy at times, and Ole Miss (43-16) survived a four-run Vanderbilt (43-16) ninth inning, but the win earned it a birth in the semifinals in the SEC tournament on Saturday for the first time since 2010, and a day off on Friday.
“I thought we played really well tonight,” Ole Miss head coach Mike Bianco said. “At the end you look up and see how close it was, but I don’t think that should take away from how we played. It was one of those days where you try to save some pitching and go at people.”
Bianco saved weekend starter Chad Smith from going on short rest, and instead sent true freshman James McArthur (6-1) to the mound to square off against Vanderbilt ace Jordan Sheffield (8-5). Sheffield came into the game with 2.38 era and consistently touched 97 mph on the radar gun, but it was McArthur who stole the show on the mound early on.
“What was working well was me getting ahead and being able to attack the zone early,” McArthur said. “We just had to go after these guys and try to get ahead. The bats were going early,and when you have a lead like that it is really easy to just go out there and attack the zone.”
McArthur pitched 5.1 innings, and walked off of the mound to an ovation from the crowd of red and blue behind the third base dugout having surrendered just one run to Vanderbilt on the night. The right hander was the latest Ole Miss pitcher to receive an early cushion from a lineup that has scored 27 runs in its three games in Hoover.
“I thought the offense was tremendous, especially early on against Sheffield,” Bianco said. “You hope to have a night like that against a guy as good as Jordan Sheffield.”
Ole Miss scored four in the second inning on a pair of doubles. The first came from Colby Bortles as he shot one to the gap in left-center that plated Henri Lartigue. After two walks, Cam Dishon did the same with a double to a similar spot that cleared the bases and put the Rebels ahead 4-0 after its second at bat.
“It just seems like we’re getting good pitches to hit,” Lartigue said. “Guys like J.B.(Woodman) and Colby are getting in hitters counts and putting good swings on balls.”
Woodman added another in the third when he took a 93 mph fastball from Sheffield into the trees behind the stadium in right field. Ole Miss, up 5-0 at that point, had all of the momentum after three innings. It was Woodman’s second home run of the week. He was 1-5 at the plate.
The lead got to 9-0 following a four-run fifth inning when Ole Miss took advantage of an Alonzo Jones error at second base, and turned one run into four when Bortles snacked his second double of the game that cleared the bases and brought across three more. Bortles was 2-5 with 4 RBIs.
Ole Miss flirted with the SEC Tournament’s ten-run rule after a run in the sixth to go up by that many. But as the sky above Hoover Metropolitan Stadium changed from day to night, so did the direction of the game. Vanderbilt got its feet under it.
“We just didn’t get off to the start we needed,” Vanderbilt head coach Tim Corbin said. “They jumped on us quick and I think the kids felt that too, that we had a long way to go.”
A four-run sixth chased McArthur for Andy Pagnozzi, who allowed three of the four runs, but two of them belonged to his fellow freshman predecessor.
Both teams traded runs in the seventh, and Ole Miss added another in the 8th, making it 12-5, giving it seven runs with which to breathe and retire three more batters. As it often goes in SEC baseball, those three outs didn’t come easy.
Brady Feigl got the first two outs on a pair of strikeouts in bewteen a walk, before another walk and a hit batter loaded the bases. Jeren Kendall wasted no time in getting them home with a three-RBI triple down the line. It was now a 12-8 game, and Mike Bianco had seen enough. He went to his junior closer Wyatt Short to end the game.
“I thought we swung the bats well from inning five on,” Corbin said. “Just a weird game, credit Ole Miss.”
After Short surrendered a bloop single to Jones that made it 12-9, and put the tying run on deck, Short secured the Rebels’ third win in as many days, and a day off that only two teams in this tournament will receive, and one that it really needed.
The tournament now becomes single elimination for Ole Miss, and it will face the winner the Commodores and Texas A&M at noon on Saturday.
“It’s big for us to get they day off, and be able to hydrate and get our legs back underneath us,” Lartigue said. “It’s single elimination for us now, so you don’t get that courtesy loss, so it’s nice to have that day off underneath our belt so we can be really ready to play on Saturday.”