Ole Miss rallies past Murray State with walk-off win

Published 9:31 pm Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Thomas Dillard called it. Then he did his part to finish it.

Dillard scampered home on a wild pitch in the bottom of the ninth, capping a big night for Ole Miss’ sophomore outfielder as the ninth-ranked Rebels rallied for a 7-6 win Tuesday at Oxford-University Stadium. A replay review upheld the call, giving Ole Miss a walk-off victory that capped an unbeaten homestand to start the season.

Ole Miss (8-0) will head to the West Coast this weekend for a series against defending Big West Conference champion Long Beach State starting Friday.

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“I was talking to (infielder) Nick Fortes early on in the game and I said, ‘We’re going to win this game. It’s going to be late and it’s going to be one we have to fight for, but we’re going to win it,'” Dillard said. “Coach (Mike) Bianco always talks about you’ve got to win every kind of game.”

The Rebels scored all their runs over the final six innings to erase a pair of deficits, including a 4-0 hole after half an inning with Murray State (4-4) quickly getting to sophomore Houston Roth in his second career start. The Oxford native allowed four hits in the first inning, including Davis Sims’ three-run homer, but settled in from there, holding the Racers to one hit over his final four innings of work.

Roth faced the minimum in those frames, getting a double play in the third to erase the only other baserunner to reach against the right-hander. He ended his outing by getting Sims looking — his sixth strikeout — with his 80th pitch.

“Just a crazy games that sometimes you see in the midweek,” Bianco said. “Just proud of our guys for hanging in there. It wasn’t our best game obviously. Tough start for Houston, but that’s one of the big stories is how he hung in there.”

Roth’s steadiness gave the offense time to chip away. Ole Miss broke through against Murray State’s Luke Brown in the fourth with Cole Zabowski’s RBI single before chasing the left-hander in the fifth. Dillard provided the big blow with a bases-clearing double into the right-field corner that drew the Rebels even before Chase Cockrell put Ole Miss up 5-4 with an RBI single two batters later.

Dillard finished 3-for-4, scored three runs and stole two bases. Ryan Olenek also had three hits and drove in a run for the Rebels, who finished with 10 hits.

“Offensively it seemed like everything started and finished with Thomas,” Bianco said. “The bases-loaded double, stealing bases and scoring at the end. He did it all tonight.”

Sophomore Parker Caracci (1-0) notched the win after pitching 1 1/3 innings of scoreless relief. Alex Whaley (0-1) took the loss.

Murray State answered with runs in the seventh and eighth to retake the lead before Ole Miss manufactured the tying run in the home half of the eighth when Grae Kessinger worked a two-out walk, stole second and scored on Olenek’s single. Dillard’s leadoff single and two walks in the ninth loaded the bases before Tyler Anderson uncorked a pitch to the backstop, allowing Dillard to sprint home with the winning run.

“I knew I was safe,” Dillard said. “It was a close play, but (third-base) coach (Mike) Clem(ent) was telling me to be ready for anything and be ready for a passed ball. Just listened to Coach Clem and luckily got there.

“You need games like this. It teaches you how to win.”