Ole Miss rallies past UNC Wilmington, clinches series

Published 4:29 pm Saturday, February 25, 2017

Ole Miss had a lot of baserunners Saturday. Getting them in was the problem.

The Rebels eventually solved it.

No. 24 Ole Miss watched a 3-0 lead evaporate late only to rally for an 8-4 win over UNC Wilmington at Swayze Field. Ole Miss (6-0) trailed 4-3 heading to the bottom of the eighth but put up a five-spot to stay unbeaten.

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Ole Miss will go for the sweep Sunday at noon.

“What are we at, 6-0 now? But it hasn’t been an easy 6-0,” Ole Miss coach Mike Bianco said. “A lot of close games, games that we’ve had to work for and games that we’ve been behind or lost the lead. The guys have always answered, gotten off the mat, played hard and played the game through. Been proud of them.”

Ole Miss was 5 of 18 with runners on and just 3 of 14 with runners in scoring position at one point, statistics that proved costly when Nick Feight put Wilmington (3-2) ahead with a three-run homer off Will Stokes in the top of the eighth and spoiled a strong start by right-hander James McArthur, who stayed in after taking a ball off his foot in the fourth and didn’t allow a hit until the sixth while striking out a career-high 11.

But the Rebels had four hits in their final five at-bats with runners in scoring position, the biggest coming on freshman Bryan Seamster’s first career home run — a two-run shot over the bullpen in right — to put the Rebels ahead for good in the home half of the eighth. Tate Blackman, Colby Bortles and freshman Cole Zabowski, who had four hits, also had RBI knocks in the inning, and fellow freshman Will Ethridge pitched a clean ninth to clinch the Rebels’ second straight series win.

“I didn’t know it was out of here off the bat, but I knew I hit it well,” said Seamster, who came on as a pinch runner in the seventh. “It was a fastball. I guess he left a mistake out over the middle of the plate. … I didn’t think I was going to have another chance through the lineup to get another (at-bat) around, but I was just glad to get in the game and help the team.”

Blackman and Bortles each went 3-for-5 while Bortles drove in two runs for Ole Miss, which finished with 15 hits and still left 13 runners on base.

The Rebels had a particularly tough time breaking through against Wilmington hard-throwing starter Josh Roberson, who allowed seven hits, walked two and hit a batter but struck out eight in five innings. The Rebels’ best opportunity to strike early came in the third when they loaded the bases with no outs before Will Golsan’s liner found the glove of third baseman Terence Connelly, who doubled off Grae Kessinger, and Roberson fanned Chase Cockrell to end the threat.

“I thought we got some good swings off, but he’s throwing the ball in the mid-90s with a breaking ball and a changeup,” Bianco said. “He was filling up the strike zone.”

Ole Miss got on the board with Cooper Johnson’s sacrifice fly in its next at-bat and packed the bags again in the sixth. Ryan Olenek pushed the Rebels’ lead to 2-0 with another sac fly, but the Rebels stranded two more runners when Wilmington reliever Austin Warren got Blackman swinging for the final out.

The Seahawks ran McArthur with Feight’s leadoff double in the seventh and trimmed the lead when Mason Berne’s RBI single off Greer Holston closed the book on McArthur, who finished three outs of shy of matching the longest outing of his career.

“The last couple weeks, the slider really hasn’t been there,” McArthur said. “Today it was, and I was able to locate that and even get ahead sometimes in the count with it. That really helped me.”

Ole Miss got the run back on Bortles’ RBI double in the bottom half of the frame but left two more on before Feight came up with runners at first and second and sent one over the wall in left-center to give the Seahawks a one-run lead. But Ole Miss pounded out six hits in its final at-bat, drawing even on Blackman’s RBI single before Seamster delivered the go-ahead blow on a full-count offering from Austin Magestro (0-1), who took the loss after yielding five runs — all earned — in 1 1/3 innings of relief.

“You don’t think you’re going to get a home run out of (Seamster) necessarily, but you know you’re going to get a really good at-bat,” Bianco said. “It was 3-2, he gets a fastball and gets the barrel out.”