Another Southeastern Conference game comes and goes and another missed opportunity for a much-needed win for Ole Miss. Poor defense and base-running running paired with another pitching decision that will be scrutinized led to another SEC defeat where there was a chance for victory.
No. 1 LSU beat Ole Miss 7-3 in Friday’s series opener in a game where the Rebels had the lead in the middle innings for a brief moment. Though a grand-slam by Tommy White in the fifth inning erased all that hope moments after Ole Miss designated hitter Will Furniss generated it.
Furniss gave the Rebels (21-17, 3-13 SEC) the one-run lead with the three-run home run in the bottom of the fourth inning. The very next half-inning is where things came undone for Ole Miss and starter Xavier Rivas.
Through four frames Rivas had pitched a very strong game, giving up only the two runs that were both unearned — an error by shortstop Jacob Gonzalez and a wild pitch. Rivas’ pitch count was over 90 when he headed back out for the fifth and five batters later a price was paid.
A walk, single and a walk with one out loaded the bases for White. Ole Miss head coach Mike Bianco opted to leave Rivas in to face White and gave up the grand slam, which turned out to be the difference in the game.
“I know it’s frustrating but there’s a couple things that go through your mind,” Bianco said of the decision to keep Rivas in or pull him. “One, I wanted the left-hander to see the middle of the lineup. Their splits are a lot different (against left-handed pitchers). …And (Rivas) is your ace. I knew he was losing it but he was losing it in the fifth and we needed some length. It’s Friday night and so there was a lot of reasons to leave him out there. Obviously, White made us pay for that.”
The feel-good moment for Furniss and Ole Miss was quickly made null and void but it was nice to see the offense.
Runs in bunches has been a waning thing for this Ole Miss lineup since SEC play started. Plenty of factors for it, including facing elite arms like Friday in LSU ace Paul Skenes.
The Tigers right-hander chewed up the Ole Miss batters for 11 strikeouts in six innings, but he did have a blemish with Furniss’ three-run shot.
Furniss, the son of LSU great Eddy Furniss, sent one over the right center field wall as he was sitting on fastballs all night from Skenes. The moment was one that sent a jolt throughout Oxford-University Stadium and the Ole Miss dugout at a time it was sorely needed.
“Felt great in the moment. I was hoping to give our team some confidence,” Furniss said. “Maybe get some offense rolling against (Skenes). Felt great at the time I was rounding the bases. First in-conference home run and I’ve been struggling little bit at the plate. So, I fixed some things and that kind of helped me out a little bit knowing that my work is paying off.”
The defense and baserunning blunders by this team continue to pile up and proving costlier every game.
Ole Miss finished with three errors on the night and a pair of poor base running decisions in key moments in the game.
Along with the pair of Gonzalez errors there was one made by second baseman Peyton Chatagnier in the top of the ninth inning. Chatagnier also had a base running error in the bottom of the frame as he was picked off between first and second when right fielder TJ McCants lined out to LSU’s Gavin Dugas to end the game.
The previous inning saw third baseman Ethan Lege get on after a LSU throwing error that would have loaded the bases and put the tying-run at the plate in the form of Furniss. Instead Gonzalez was tagged out at home after having to try and score when Alderman did not notice the ball stay close to Jared Jones and he ran past second to third base.
“The key to beating an ace is just really make him work hard,” Bianco said. “To try and run his pitches up. We knew that’d he strike out people. …The other way to beat the ace, the other side of it, is you you have to pitch it well and you got to play really good defense and we didn’t tonight. Defensively, we didn’t make some plays and let some runs get across.”
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