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Rebels lay claim to Governor's Cup

AP Photo/The Clarion-Ledger, Keith Warren

 

Despite an ad on the scoreboard that read “Hail Braves! This is our State,” No. 22 Ole Miss took the Governor’s Cup trophy home defeating rival Mississippi State 6-3 in front of an announced crowd of 5,533 at Trustmark Park in Pearl.

“We played well tonight,” head coach Mike Bianco said. “Obviously, it was good to get off to a good start. I thought we pitched well. The young guys, all of the guys tonight, was there first time out there in this type of game and environment. I thought they were terrific.”

Not only did Ole Miss get a much-needed win, but they got production out of a bullpen that has had flaws as of late.

Freshman right-hander Hawtin Buchanan stole the show, coming in to relieve freshman right-hander Sam Smith, who lasted just 3.2 innings giving up three runs on four hits while walking two and striking out four.

“I just tried to go in there and do what Coach Bianco and Coach Lafferty always do and pound the strike zone,” Buchanan said. “My fastball command was pretty good tonight. My breaking ball was better than it was in previous outings. I was able to control it and throw it for strikes when I need it to.”

And he did just that. Buchanan was named the Governor’s Cup Most Valuable Player after retiring all eight batters he faced. He pitched 2.2 perfect innings with five strikeouts. The Biloxi native now holds a 0.98 ERA with 18 strikeouts in 9.2 innings.

“He was just electric,” Bianco said. “Great stuff. He threw some breaking ball tonight. Usually, he counts on that fastball a lot, which we did tonight, but he threw some breaking balls in there as well. It was his longest stint of the year.

“It’s neat to watch a Mississippi kid run out and have his best game of the year in this game.”

Ole Miss grabbed an early lead in the first inning when junior left fielder Tanner Mathis led off with a single and scored on an RBI single from senior first baseman Matt Snyder.

In the third, Smith worked himself into trouble, and Mississippi State tied the game on a wild pitch with the bases loaded.

The Rebels responded in the fourth with four two-out runs. Snyder and sophomore catcher Will Allen singled, and they advanced on a wild pitch before freshman center fielder Auston Bousfield scored Snyder on an infield single. Senior designated hitter Zach Kirksey then delivered an RBI single to right field to score Allen. An error on the catcher scored Bousfield before junior third baseman Andrew Mistone drove in Kirksey to make it 5-1.

“We haven’t done that in a while,” Snyder said of getting two-out hits. “It’s good to get that back in our game. We went through a good streak there where we did it every time. It’s good to have that happen today and show we can still do that.”

But the Bulldogs wouldn’t go away, as they answered with two runs of their own in the bottom of the inning. After two Mississippi State batters reached on a walk and a single, respectively, and advanced into scoring position, right fielder Hunter Renfroe brought in a run on a deep sacrifice fly to right field. The next batter, left fielder Tyler Fullerton, drove in another run on an infield single to cut the deficit to 5-3.

Alex Yarbrough led off the eighth with a double down the left-field line that extended his hitting streak to 16 games. Snyder stretched the lead to 6-3 with his second RBI of the game, but he was thrown out at second trying to advance on the throw home. Snyder finished the game 3-for-4 with two RBI.

Following Buchanan out of the bullpen was sophomore right-hander Aaron Greenwood, who went 1.0 inning giving up no runs on two hits to go along with three strikeouts. Greenwood was relieved by junior left-hander Dylan Chavez, who picked up his first save of the season. Chavez went 1.2 innings giving up no runs on no hits with one walk and four strikeouts. The Ole Miss pitching staff struck out 16 total Mississippi State hitters in the contest.

“It’s super,” Bianco said. “We didn’t do a lot offensively. We kind of felt like what’s happened to us several times this year where we don’t extend the lead, and it’s kind of up to the pitchers. And they really did. They threw the ball in the strike zone and made big pitches.”

Now, the Rebels will turn their attention toward this weekend’s big series at home against No. 15 Arkansas.

“We’ve played well two games in a row,” Bianco said. “We’ve had some good and some bad this year. One of the things we’re looking for is to have a handful of games to not necessarily have a win streak but to play well for two weeks, three weeks in a row. We haven’t been able to do that, so hopefully, this is the start of something.”