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Ole Miss takes first two games from MSU

 

Matthew Stevens

 

OXFORD -- University of Mississippi baseball coach Mike Bianco had a dilemma immediately after Friday night's rainout. 

 

His normal game two starting pitcher and his offense felt a lot better Saturday about his decision following a doubleheader sweep of No. 21 Mississippi State University.  

 

Junior right-hander Mike Mayers made Bianco breathe easier in a 3-0 victory in game one of the three-game Southeastern Conference set. Ole Miss used an offensive explosion in game two later in the day to earn a 10-8 victory that clinched the series. 

 

Less than a hour after seeing him trot to the bullpen and begin a warmup session in the outfield grass, Bianco announced Friday night starter Bobby Wahl wouldn't return to the mound. Wahl, a projected first-round draft pick, threw 15 pitches in the top of the first inning Friday before the game was postponed to the following day. This summer, Wahl was unable to work back-to-back days as the closer of Team USA due to concerns about his injury history.  

 

"We decided last night but didn't want to announce it and get ahead of ourselves," Bianco said. "We wanted to make sure Bobby was OK when he showed up at the field today and wasn't going to be a surprise to us and then have to scratch him. Going with him tomorrow, you've still got to beat a very good team. It's great to have your ace out there, and there's not a guy we'd rather run out there on any of the days." 

 

Instead, the Rebels' 13th-year coach decided to hand the ball to Mayers, his usual Saturday starter. The Grove City, Ohio, native shut out the Bulldogs (36-15, 13-13 SEC) for seven innings, allowing just two hits and striking out five in 94 pitches. 

 

Ole Miss (35-16, 14-12) got both of its first two runs with two outs against senior starter Luis Pollorena. Designated hitter Will Allen started his 2-for-3 day with a solo home run to left-center field in the fifth. The homer landed just out of the reach of left fielder Jacob Robson. After Pollorena (6-3) got into trouble again in the sixth, a bases-loaded walk by left-handed reliever Ross Mitchell gave the Rebels a 2-0 lead. 

 

Ole Miss senior closer Brett Huber made it interesting in the ninth by allowing the tying run come to the plate with two outs. But senior catcher Mitch Slauter, who is nursing a broken bone in his left hand, struck out looking on a pitch that he and MSU coach John Cohen argued as the umpires left the field of play. For Huber, who was honored before the game as part of the Senior Day celebration, the strikeout helped him earn his11th save and 21st in the past two seasons. The right hander leads the Rebels in that category. 

 

The shutout marked the first time this season MSU hasn't scored, and the first time it has failed to score since the opening game of the 2012 Tallahassee Regional (a 5-0 loss to Samford University). 

 

In game two, Ole Miss tagged right-hander Kendall Graveman (5-5) for six earned runs and chased the senior after just 4 1/3 innings. In his past three starts Graveman, who had been MSU's most consistent arm in the weekend rotation, has allowed 12 earned runs and failed to get a win. 

 

"It's pretty safe to say in the first game we didn't have much of a pitching approach," Cohen said. "In the second game, we didn't have much of a hitting approach," Cohen said.  

 

Austin Bousfield (3-for-5, five RBIs) was a home run short of the cycle. 

 

After MSU put up two runs in the opening inning against starter Sam Smith, Bousfield answered with a three-run triple to give the Rebels a lead they never relinquished.  

 

The doubleheader sweep guarantees MSU's first losing series at Swayze Field since 2007, and only the first losing series in Oxford for Cohen as a player or a coach. 

 

"I thought our kids were way too anxious to play these games and didn't let the game come to us at all," Cohen said. "We did not do some basic things on the field to help us win a baseball game. The game on Sunday is the most important game of our season." 

 

The sweep gives Bianco the option of coming back with Wahl at 1 p.m. today in an attempt to get the sweep or saving his ace for the opener of the Rebels' series Thursday night at LSU at Alex Box Stadium. 

 

MSU will end its regular season at home against the University of South Carolina next weekend. It likely will need at least a series victory to have any hope of hosting a NCAA Regional postseason round at the end of the month.  

 

With the Bulldogs at 13-13 in SEC play, no school in the past 10 years of NCAA Regional host selections has been picked to be a host team with a sub-.500 conference record. The only team that was just .500 in league and hosted an NCAA Regional was Texas A&M University in 2007 (13-13 in Big 12 Conference). The Aggies won their league tournament in the final weekend. 

 

 

 

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