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Ninth-inning rally hands No. 12 Ole Miss series loss on SEC opening weekend

Alex Edwards/The Daily Mississippian

 

SUNDAY: AUBURN 3, NO. 12 OLE MISS 2

There were two outs with nobody on base in the top of the ninth inning on Sunday and No. 12 Ole Miss (15-5, 1-2 SEC) was leading Auburn (12-8, 2-1 SEC) 2-1 in the rubber match of the three-game series. Sophomore right-hander Mike Mayers was one out away from recording a complete game win, but then things fell apart for the Rebels.

Auburn center fielder Ryan Tella was one strike away from being the last out of the game before he got a piece of a ball that sliced its way into the left field corner. Junior left fielder Tanner Mathis chased after it but came up just short on a sliding effort. 

“I was probably about a half a foot away,” Mathis said. “Six inches, maybe a half-step. Sometimes the wind pushes it a little too much. I couldn’t quite get there.”

Auburn left fielder Cullen Wacker, who was 2-for-3 going into the at-bat, followed with a double of his own down the right-field line to score Tella and tie the game. That closed the book on Mayers, who finished the day allowing three runs on six hits with no walks and five strikeouts in a career-long 8.2 innings. Head coach Mike Bianco turned to junior right-hander Brett Huber, who gave up a single up the middle to first baseman Garrett Cooper for what proved to be the game-winning run for Auburn.

“It’s a tough one,” Bianco said. “It’s one of those where you felt you had it. Mike was terrific today. Up until 26 outs and two strikes on the hitter, you felt like it was going to be ours and maybe we just out-pitched them just a little bit.

“But you have to credit Auburn hanging in there.”

After Auburn pushed across a run in the third, Ole Miss answered in the bottom of the inning with two runs on four hits. Senior shortstop Blake Newalu led off the inning with a solo home run over the bullpen in left field, then Mathis tripled to right field and scored on an RBI groundout from sophomore Alex Yarbrough.

The Rebels had opportunities to put some more runs on the board, but the Tigers turned in some big defensive plays. In the first, senior first baseman Matt Snyder hit one to the 390 sign in center that was caught at the top of the wall. In the fifth inning, Wacker, who had the game-tying double in the ninth, robbed sophomore catcher Will Allen of a two-run home run.

SATURDAY: AUBURN 10, NO. 12 OLE MISS 4

A five-error first inning and an eighth-inning grand slam propelled Auburn to a 10-4 win against No. 12 Ole Miss Saturday, evening the weekend series at one game apiece.

Senior right-hander R.J. Hively (3-1) battled through the error-stricken first inning before dominating the Tiger lineup. For the game, he gave up five runs, only one of which was earned, on six hits and four strikeouts. 

“It’s something we’re not accustomed to,” Bianco said of the first inning woes. “We really can field. We make five errors and can’t get out of the first, unfortunately for R.J., because he had great stuff today. I thought he was dominant. He pitched great. He got us to the eighth inning and didn’t let them get anything after the first.”

The errors began when senior shortstop Blake Newalu dropped a probable double play ball. From there, Auburn scored on a bunt when a throwing error by sophomore catcher Will Allen, followed by his second error of the inning on a catcher’s interference call in a 1-2 count to loaded the bases.

Two more runs scored on an error by freshman center fielder Auston Bousfield, who attempted to lunge at ball that eventually got past him. The fourth run of the frame came on another bunt. Auburn attempted a safety squeeze, but the runner was heading back to third when Hively rushed the throw home that went to the backstop. Then a sacrifice fly scored the fifth run of the first.

Sophomore Preston Overbey, who got his first start of the season in the right field, Snyder and Allen were a combined 8-for-12 while the rest of the lineup was 0-for-23. 

“You want to get him in (the lineup),” Bianco said. “Kirksey has been hitting so well, so he’s in the DH spot. Snyder, then, has to come to first base. Mistone has played so well, so there hasn’t really been a lot of spots for a guy, who can play any position.”

Bianco handed over the pitching duties to junior left-hander Dylan Chavez in the eighth. Chavez gave up a one-out walk and single before Bianco opted for freshman right-hander Chris Ellis. The Tigers played some more small ball, adding an insurance run on a second squeeze play of the game before Auburn third baseman Zach Alvord ended Ole Miss’ comeback hopes with a grand slam to cap the big inning for the 10-4 win.

FRIDAY: NO. 12 OLE MISS 2, AUBURN 1

Entering the opening game against the Auburn Tigers, No. 12 Ole Miss was averaging more than 8.5 runs per game, but in the Southeastern Conference opener on Friday, the Rebels defeated Auburn 2-1 in a classic SEC Friday night pitcher’s duel. 

“I just thought it was a great college baseball game,” Bianco said. “A typical Friday night in the Southeastern Conference. That’s why kids come to play in the SEC. It was a very well played game by both teams. We got a couple of guys in, but it was one of those days just dominated by pitchers.”

For the Rebels, sophomore right-hander Bobby Wahl (4-0) picked up his fourth win of the season thanks to a few great defensive plays. Wahl pitched six complete innings giving up one unearned run on six hits with one walk and six strikeouts.

“I felt pretty good,” Wahl said of his outing. “My arm felt pretty good tonight. I wasn’t locating as well as I could, but for the most part made some good pitches, and everything was down for the most part. The defense did a great job tonight.”

Auburn’s senior right-hander Derek Varnadore (1-2) was impressive as well on the mound, lasting 6.2 innings and giving up two runs on five hits with four walks and two strikeouts. 

Ole Miss got on the board in the second inning. After the Rebels loaded the bases with one out, sophomore catcher Will Allen singled up the middle to score a run. 

Once Auburn tied it up in the third, senior designated hitter Zach Kirksey drove in freshman center field Auston Bousfield, who led off the inning with a double off the top of the wall.