A weekend record crowd of 33,070 was on hand to witness the Ole Miss Rebels sweep the #6 East Carolina Pirates on the opening weekend of the 2017 season. A perfect weekend for baseball with rising temperatures and not a drop of rain in sight, the Rebels’ young team showed no nerves as they were able to fight off the resilient Pirates in all three contests.
David Parkinson got the nod as the opening day starter, and after giving up a lead-off home run, the junior lefty got into a groove. Parkinson fanned six Pirates over 7 IP while allowing just two more runs. The Rebel bats picked up their starter and gave him run support all game long. After an RBI double from Ryan Olenek tied the game at one, it was time for the first beer shower of the season. A Will Golsan home run in the 2nd inning gave the Rebels a 2-1 lead.
ECU rallied back, and with a two-run 4th inning, the Pirates took a 3-2 lead. RBI base hits from new faces fueled the Rebel comeback in the bottom of the inning. JUCO transfer Chase Cockrell sent a base hit to the wall and ended up with a triple. Cockrell scored on a pass ball. After a Golsan walk, another fresh face for the Rebels would make his presence felt. Freshman Thomas Dillard’s first career hit came with an RBI, giving the Rebels a 4-3 lead.
Neither Parkinson or ECU’s Evan Kruczynski surrendered any runs over the next three innings. Still leading 4-3, an insurance run came in the form of another Cockrell base hit, scoring Tate Blackman from second.
With a 5-3 lead in the 8th, head coach Mike Bianco turned to his closer, Will Stokes for a 6-out save. The late innings had fans on the edge of their seat after ECU’s Spencer Brickhouse belted a home run to right field. Clinging to a one-run lead, Stokes settled down and shut the door on the Pirates in the 9th to give the Rebels the win. With the win, Bianco is now 16-1 on opening day.
Freshman All-American James McArthur took the mound for Saturday’s matchup with a chance to clinch the series. A solid first frame was followed by allowing a solo home run to ECU’s Luke Bolka in the 2nd inning. McArthur’s day took a turn for the worse with a shaky 5th inning, allowing another run to come across. With the bases loaded, Bianco relied on the bullpen to bail out the starter. Andy Pagnozzi came in and kept the game within reach. An inning-ending double play turned the momentum in the Rebel’s favor.
Down 2-0 in the 6th, senior captain Colby Bortles connected on his first home run of the season. A solo shot cut the deficit to one and energized the crowd at Swayze. Pagnozzi continued to look sharp in the 7th, and the Rebels bats stayed hot late in the game. The heart of the order came to the plate in the bottom of the inning and took control. A base hit from Golsan scored Olenek, and a sac fly from Bortles gave the Rebels a 3-2 lead.
Freshman catcher Cooper Johnson made his presence known both at the plate and behind it. He picked up his first career hit and picked off an ECU runner at first base. Johnson’s arm behind the plate will keep many runners at bay as the season goes on.
Pagnozzi was replaced by sophomore Dallas Woolfolk who retired the Pirates in order in the 8th. Will Stokes came in and for the second straight day recorded the save. Pagnozzi picked up the win in his first appearance of the season.
The Rebels saved the best game for last, as Sunday showed the fight that this young team has. Starter Brady Feigl was roughed up in the 1st inning, giving up two quick runs to the Pirates. The Rebels struck back in the bottom of the 2nd inning with a 2-run home run hit by freshman Cole Zabowski, the first of his career. Tied at 2-2, ECU pulled their starter, Trey Benton, and left their bullpen with seven innings of work to do.
The Rebels managed just one hit over the next three innings. With the score noted at 2-2 in the top of the 6th, the Pirates got hot. Back to back singles started the inning giving the lead back to ECU 3-2. Fegil was replaced by freshman Ryan Rollison, who was able to get the first out of the inning. Runners remained on second and third, and the Pirates brought them home. By the time of the third out, the Rebels trailed 6-2, but they weren’t ready to give in.
Borltes was hit by a pitch to start the inning and was moved over by a fielder’s choice. Golsan ripped a single to left, scoring Bortles to trim the lead to 6-3. After a Thomas Dillard walk, Zabowski continued his strong day at the plate with a 2-RBI single. Down 6-5, Ryan Olenek stepped to plate and delivered once more. A 2-run double gave the Rebels a 7-6 lead in the bottom of the 6th.
After picking up another run in the 7th on a pass ball, the height of the drama came in the 8th inning. A costly error in the outfield put the Rebels lead in jeopardy. The Pirates loaded the bases, and Woolfork was called upon to get the Rebels out of a jam. He did just that as he struck out the side, and put the exclamation point on the weekend series. Woolfork was left in for the 9th and picked up a well-earned save.
Coming into the series, there was a lot of talk about the Rebels’ youth and inexperience. While they may not win every game, it’s safe to say these young Rebels are ready to play. Coupled with the leadership of Ryan Olenek and Colby Bortles, the chemistry will continue to develop.
The pitching staff looked shaky at times, but with a next man up mentality, they were able to bail each other out, which is a great sign for Bianco and the Rebels. Olenek led the way at the plate with 6 hits, followed by freshmen Thomas Dillard and Cole Zabowski with 4 each. Will Golsan is playing his third position in as many years and continues to make an impact for the Rebels. Golsan hit a home run, added 3 hits and 3 RBI. Tate Blackman and Bortles struggled at the plate, so the Rebel offense will only get stronger as they get comfortable in the batter’s box.
The Rebels will take the field tomorrow as they host Arkansas State at Swayze Field. First pitch for the game is set for 4 p.m., but with rain in the forecast, we’ll see.
Steven Gagliano is a writer for HottyToddy.com He can be reached at email@example.com.
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