Andy Pagnozzi made the jog from the bullpen in left field to the pitcher’s mound at Swayze Field with one out in the fifth inning and a daunting task at hand. East Carolina had loaded the bases on Ole Miss starter James McArthur without a ball leaving the infield. The Pirates were up 2-0 with a prime opportunity to blow the game open sitting in front of them.
Pagnozzi threw Eric Tyler a 1-0 curve ball that was supposed to be a fastball. It spawned a ground ball and an inning-ending 6-4-3 double play that kept the Rebels within striking distance, which they later took advantage of in their 3-2 series-clinching win over East Carolina.
“I was supposed to be a fastball. I don’t know what happened, but I threw a curveball, and it worked out somehow,” Pagnozzi said. “It was a big relief.”
The game began to turn soon after. Colby Bortles hit a solo shot to left field an inning later in the sixth on a 3-1 fastball, cutting the deficit in half. After Pagnozzi threw up his final scoreless frame in the seventh, the Rebels grabbed the lead with two runs in the bottom half of the inning. McArthur made it 4.1 innings, surrendering two runs on two hits. He walked two and struck out three.
“You feel good going with Andy–a freshman All-American–that has certainly been in that situation plenty of times last year,” head coach Mike Bianco said. “Certainly that’s the big play today, coming in bases loaded one out and getting a double play ball to get us out of the inning. Because at that point you’re feeling pretty bad with some missed opportunities with a walk, you don’t cover the bag on a bunt, HBPs (hit by pitch) give them another run, and they’re a single away from really busting the game open.”
The top of the Ole Miss order sparked the rally that helped it seize the lead. A Ryan Olenek base hit was followed by a towering Will Golsan double to the left field corner that tied the game at two. Olenek (2-5) and Golsan (2-3) each had a pair of hits on the day.
Bortles scored Golsan two batters later on a sacrifice fly to deep center field. He was 1-3 on the day with two RBIs. After five scoreless innings that saw the Rebels leave eight runners on base, Ole Miss took its first lead. The runs came off of Sam Lanier, who relieved East Carolina starter Jacob Wolfe after five innings. The Rebels were certainly glad to see the left-hander leave.
“He was really good mixing up pitches, a soft-tossing lefty kind of guy. He wasn’t overpowering but had a really good changeup, and we were off balance the whole game,” Bortles said. “We stuck with our approach and were able to get him out of there.”
The Ole Miss bullpen carried the weight from the fifth inning on and preserved the lead in the final two frames. Dallas Woolfolk recorded a scoreless eighth inning, and one night removed from his six-out save–Will Stokes closed the door in the ninth and picked up his second save of the weekend.
“The truth is, I didn’t know Stokes was going to pitch today. I thought probably in my mind coming to the ballpark we’d probably give him the day off because he threw two innings last night and 20 pitches,” Bianco said. “But he said he felt great, and I said, ‘Okay, we will use you if it is really close in the ninth.’ Of course, when your best guy says he is ready to go, you’ve got to go him.”
The win secured the series for the Rebels, and they’ll attempt to go for a sweep of the 10th-ranked Pirates at noon Sunday.
This was a big leap forward for a young team looking to pick up momentum out of the gates. East Carolina has the pieces to get to the college world series and played two tough games, both of which Ole Miss won. They faced two good left-handed arms on back-to-back days, struggling against Jacob Wolfe on Saturday. But Ole Miss was able to spike his pitch count enough to get him out of the game in the fifth and then preyed on the East Carolina bullpen for a second consecutive game.
- Ole Miss is searching for a leadoff hitter, and Ryan Olenek may be an unconventional answer. He’s got four hits on the weekend. He hit in the leadoff slot in Saturday’s game after Tate Blackman led off opening day. Olenek bunted for a hit and had quality at bats. He’s an aggressive hitter and not really your prototypical leadoff guy, but he was effective today.
“He brings so much energy. He can leadoff. He is a sensational leader. He doesn’t take a lot of pitches, so he is not your traditional leadoff guy,” Bianco said. “But certainly he can bunt. He can run, and he is aggressive. I like him. That is the thing we’ve got to figure out is the lineup. The good news is that we have a lot of depth and have different lineups we can run out there.”
- Cooper Johnson is really good behind the plate for Ole Miss. Bianco said he is a game changer and has already emerged as a leader in the locker room.
“He’s sensational back there. He’s got a terrific arm. He blocks. He is going to hit. He’s going to be alright offensively and has made some big improvements,” Bianco said. “One of the things that we all love about him is how coachable he is and what a leader he is.”
- Will Golsan is an unsung hero. The guy has played three positions in three years and has made the transitions look seamless. He continues to produce from the plate and has played well this weekend, too.
“This year he is probably where he needs to be in the outfield. He is so athletic. He runs. He has a cannon for an arm, and he is the ultimate team guy. Each year when I’ve told him, ‘Hey, we are going to move you to first; we’re going to move you to the outfield,’ he has never batted an eye, and I think he is going to have a big year for us,” Bianco said.
This is a solid series win to add to the résumé for Ole Miss and a strong start to an incredibly difficult non-conference schedule.