The ominous storm clouds looming over Swayze Field hours before Thursday night’s baseball edition of the Egg Bowl seemed to foreshadow the game to come.
The Rebels lost 4-3 in a heartbreaker to cross-state rival Mississippi State in the dramatic opener of a three-game series. The defeat dropped Ole Miss to 16-10 on the season and 3-4 in conference play. There was tough pitching on either side; some innings were filled with tremendous outburst of offense, while others were placated by offensive stagnation. In the end, a major error late in the game allowed the game-winning run.
James McArthur got the start on the mound for Ole Miss and did well to control the flow of the game through six, throwing five strikeouts on 85 pitches. Despite his strong performance early on, he allowed two hits in the seventh inning that turned into runs for the Bulldogs. He was then replaced on the mound by Will Stokes, who subsequently allowed another run and let MSU tie the game up at three. He was soon after replaced by Will Ethridge, who threw a single strikeout and allowed no runs in an inning and a half before Dallas Woolfolk came in to close things up.
On the offensive side, the Rebels showed quick flashes of brilliance that showed up early in the season but have eluded them ever since. However, those moments tended to come few and far between as the Rebels’ three runs, as well as all four hits, occurred in only two back-to-back innings.
Things started heating up for Ole Miss in the fourth with Thomas Dillard’s RBI double to left field to break the scoreless deadlock. The next inning saw Tate Blackman, who ran home the previous inning, send two others back home on a triple to right center.
After the brief offensive explosion, Ole Miss seemed to shut down. Batters connected on deep balls but nothing quite made it. Much of this could be owed to Mississippi State’s Riley Self, who allowed just one hit on the night and effectively shut down the chances for any sort of Rebel offensive improvement.
“I thought Self was terrific at the end in the last few innings,” Ole Miss head coach Mike Bianco said. “The left-handers were able to get to him, but we don’t have many left-handers. Our right-handers really struggled against him.”
This struggle continued throughout the game and allowed the Bulldogs breathing room as they attempted to level the score.
State’s comeback started in the seventh inning as it scored three straight to tie things up, taking advantage of the pitching change from McArthur to Stokes to Ethridge. After Woolfolk came in, some stability was restored, but the damage had been done.
Entering the top of the ninth, Woolfolk only needed to keep the Bulldogs from scoring to give his team a shot at extra innings. The Bulldogs were able to get a runner on third with two outs left as tensions mounted. Cole Gordon struck out swinging but the catcher, Cooper Johnson, lost the ball and allowed Gordon to make it to first on a passed ball as Jake Magnum crossed home for the win. The Rebels’ final scoring opportunity in the bottom of the ninth was hindered, once again, by strong pitching.