Miscues doom Ole Miss in first loss of season

Published 8:03 pm Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Ole Miss didn’t give itself much of a chance to stay perfect Tuesday.

Some sloppy defense by the 24th-ranked Rebels helped Memphis pull away, and Ole Miss’ seven-game winning streak to start the season ended with a 9-6 loss at Swayze Field. The setback snapped Ole Miss’ two-game winning streak against the Tigers, who won for just the second time in the teams’ last six meetings.

Four Ole Miss pitchers combined to hit five batters while Memphis scored four unearned runs thanks to four Rebel errors, the most Ole Miss (7-1) has had since committing four at Arkansas on March 26, 2015. Three of the miscues helped the Tigers (5-2) plate three runs without recording a hit in the sixth inning as Memphis extended its lead to 8-4.

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“We gave a good team too many opportunities,” Ole Miss coach Mike Bianco said. “We hit five guys, made four errors. For the first time all year, we looked like we just couldn’t get off the field.”

Ole Miss got three hits in the bottom of the eighth and cut into the deficit against Memphis reliever Jonathan Bowlan. Nick Fortes’ groundout plated Colby Bortles, Cole Zabowski scored on a wild pitch, and Kyle Watson’s two-out single brought the tying run to the plate in pinch-hitter Tim Rowe, but Rowe grounded out to end the inning.

Memphis added to its lead in the ninth with Alec Trela’s solo shot off Jason Barber, who made his collegiate debut, and the Rebels went in order in their final at-bat.

Tate Blackman went 3-for-4 in his second straight game in the leadoff spot. Freshman shortstop Grae Kessinger hit his first collegiate home run and had three RBIs while Kyle Watson, filling in for a sick Thomas Dillard in left field, had two hits.

Ole Miss doesn’t have much time to think about it with a daunting weekend ahead in the Shriners College Classic at Houston’s Minute Maid Park. The Rebels open the tournament Friday against a 9-0 Baylor team before taking on No. 19 Texas Tech on Saturday and TCU, the nation’s unanimous top-ranked team, on Sunday.

“Any time you lose, it’s not as fun,” Kessinger said. “But we’re going to learn from it, flush it and get ready to get after it this weekend.”

Right-hander Greer Holston (0-1) got his first career start in place of fellow freshman Will Ethridge, who has the flu, but lasted just four innings after allowing five runs (four earned) on five hits and striking out four in the loss. Holston’s counterpart, James Muse, went just two innings with Kessinger providing the big blow with a three-run shot into the bullpen in left to give Ole Miss a 4-3 lead in the second.

“Just got into my two-strike approach and doing whatever I can to get the guy in, and he just left me a changeup up,” Kessinger said. “I was able to put a good swing on it and it found its way out.”

But Holston gave up a solo homer to Colton Neel in the third and a sacrifice fly to Jason Santana in the fourth that put Memphis ahead again before things fell apart in the sixth. Five of the Tigers’ eight batters that inning reached by being hit or with an error or a walk with two of Memphis’ runs coming on two errors on the same play.

“It ended up turning into the team that didn’t play very well defensively loses the game,” Bianco said.

Drew Crosby (2-0) got the win with two scoreless innings in relief of Muse.