East Carolina leadoff hitter Dwanya Williams-Sutton trotted around the base path after a delivering a tone-setting solo shot to left field to lead off the game, the glimmering product of an 11-pitch at bat that immediately put Ole Miss starter David Parkinson on the ropes a bit.
He exhaled, and then settled in.
“There was really nothing I could have done about that at bat. I made a good pitch, he just capitalized on it,” Parkinson said. “All I could do was come back and face the next batter.”
The junior lefty went seven innings, surrendering three runs on six hits and earning a win in his first outing that saw him toss first-pitch strikes to all 26 batters he faced. It helped produce the Rebels’ first win of the season over 10th-ranked East Carolina 5-4.
“Right after that batter he gets a couple of strikeouts and runs off of the field and really takes control of the game,” head coach Mike Bianco said. “I was really proud of his effort. They make it hard on you. They’re terrific as you know a Cliff Godwin team would be with two strikes.”
Ole Miss immediately responded in the bottom half of the first inning when Ryan Olenek stole third after his one-out double and scored on a throw that sailed into left field. A Will Golsan home run to left field in the next inning put Ole Miss ahead 2-1. Olenek went 3-4 and Golsan was 1-3 and scored two runs
The Rebels answered each punch East Carolina threw. The Pirates hit three-straight two-out doubles that produced two-run fourth inning and helped them re-gain the lead at 3-2.
Ole Miss responded by way of a Chase Cockrell hit, and a Thomas Dillard RBI double. East Carolina helped the cause by letting Cockrell’s base hit get to the wall and allowing him to get to third, and later score on a wild pitch. The Rebels had the lead again at 4-3
“We can hit. We have a lot of kids that can hit on this team, not just hit it hard but hit any pitch,”Olenek said.
East Carolina starter Evan Kruczynski matched Parkinson’s effort with seven innings of his own, giving up three earned runs and an unearned run on six hits. He struck out six batters.
The two pitchers threw up zeroes in their final three frames as both were relieved of their duties in the seventh with Ole Miss leading 4-3. That’s when Bianco went directly to junior closer Will Stokes for the final six outs.
East Carolina didn’t fade easily. Cockrell added some insurance with an RBI base hit in the 8th off of Pirate reliever Matt Bridges, giving Ole Miss some wiggle room that it would end up needing.
Stokes retired the first two batters in the ninth before Spencer Brickhouse homered with two strikes to make it 5-4, but a Luke Bolka pop-out ended the threat and etched Ole Miss’ first win of the season in stone.
Ole Miss took down a top 10 team on opening day, and the offense came from all over. Colby Bortles and Tate Blackman were 0-7, but the slack was picked up elsewhere, which is certainly a good sign.
Sure, there were miscues on opening day, that’s to be expected with a any team, but particularly one starting four freshmen. Dillard looked a little uncomfortable on some balls hit deep into left field, but were certainly difficult plays to make.
“It is tough. Those were tough plays,” Bianco said. “For a converted catcher, balls slicing from you, balls up against the wind. You got to rememver this park doesn’t usually play small like that. I thought it played a little small tonight with the south wind blowing out. He hasn’t really practiced that. This is probably the most the ball has jumped since we’ve been out here in the spring.”
There were some good ones too by the young guys. Cole Zabowski extended for some balls at first base, and is really the first athletic, left-handed first baseman Bianco has had in his time at Ole Miss.
Cockrell got two big hits, and Dillard put Ole Miss the fourth with his double.
“I thought they swung it well, but some young guys (too). Cockrell swung it well tonight, so not a lot of offense, but the offense that we got that I was proud of,” Bianco said. “The young guys ran out there and acted like they belong, and that is important.”
All in all, it was a good opening day win for this young team, and from a pitching standpoint, it was about as clean as one could draw it up with Parkinson going seven strong and Stokes recording a six-out save.
Ole Miss got the outing it hoped from Parkinson, one certainly the caliber of a Friday night guy in the SEC.
“He was unbelievable. He did everything that we wanted him to,” Olenek said. “He went deep in the game. He was hitting his spots with every pitch. It was almost like he didn’t make a mistake. It was really impressive.