Ole Miss right-hander Parker Caracci, pitching on back-to-back days, took the mound in the bottom of the ninth inning in the rubber match against Arkansas Saturday afternoon.
Head coach Mike Bianco needed his stopper, for Caracci to slow a Razorback offense that had battled back from deficits of 8-2 and 11-6 with a pair of four-run innings in the seventh and eighth. No matter that Caracci, the night before, had logged a stressful, six-out save. Or that he’d just gotten the final two outs of the eighth inning. Or that he was trying to pick up his fifth save in nine days (seven games), sixth of the season and third this week.
Bianco was looking to slam the door, to secure Ole Miss its seventh consecutive weekend series win. The Rebel bullpen had finally proven vulnerable, or at least shown signs of fatigue. An Arkansas offense that ranks in the Top 15 in the country in batting average, home runs, on-base and slugging plated seven runs after starter James McArthur was pulled after giving up a leadoff home run in the seventh inning. McArthur finished with a line of 6.0 innings, four hits, three runs (all earned), two strikeouts and a walk over 81 pitches.
Caracci did the job, pitching around a leadoff double to leave the tying run at second base and secure the win. Ole Miss moved to 25-4 (6-3 SEC) on the season and 8-2 in one-run games, and the Rebels secured at least a tie for first in the SEC West.
“They were a good hitting team, definitely one of the best teams we’ve faced offensively,” Caracci said. “You just got to try to hit your spots. If you leave it over the plate, they’ll most likely make you pay for it. It’s huge to be able to come back after losing day one.”
“When Parker doesn’t have his stuff, he’s still the best in the country, and I would argue he did have his stuff tonight,” right fielder Ryan Olenek said. “He’s a special kid.”
Freshman third baseman Tyler Keenan paced Ole Miss with three hits in four at-bats. He tallied team highs in RBI (3) and runs scored (3), his three-run home run in the bottom of the seventh inning proving decisive. Keenan went opposite field for his third home run of the season.
Olenek was 2 for 4 with two RBI. He has 15 hits in his last six games, including seven hits over the weekend. He’s first on the team in hits (38) and total bases (53) and second in batting average (.358) and doubles (12).
“We just compete,” Olenek said. “It doesn’t really matter what situation, we don’t really give away at-bats. We’re a really good team, really hard to beat.”
It took three innings for Ole Miss to get going offensively. The Rebels finally struck with a run in the fourth, followed by three straight innings of three runs or more.
Their four-run fifth was kickstarted by an 0-1, no-out home run to dead center by Cole Zabowski, who’s now tied with Thomas Dillard with a team-best seven on the season. He hit only one a year ago. Dillard’s RBI single capped the frame, while also adding to his team-best RBI total. He’s up to 27.
Ole Miss was 10 for 32 (.313) at the plate as a team, 1 for 8 (.125) with two outs, 5 for 14 (.357) with runners on and 3 for 9 (.333) with runners in scoring position. Three Razorbacks had at least two hits. Arkansas hit four home runs.
“The thing that gets lost in this thing is how good McArthur was,” hitting coach Mike Clement, subbing in for Bianco postgame, said. “You don’t understand how good he was until he’s not in there. Now all the sudden he’s out and the ball starts flying all over the yard on a hitter’s day to hit. I think it shows you how good McArthur was.”
Six of nine Rebel hitters were credited with at least one RBI. The top four in the order accounted for six. Zabowski was 2 for 4 with two runs scored and an RBI. He was the only other Rebel, along with Keenan and Olenek, with two hits or more.
Will Ethridge, Dallas Woolfolk, Will Stokes and Caracci followed McArthur in relief. Ethridge gave up three runs on three hits in 0.2 innings of work. Woolfolk faced two. He gave up a hit and hit a batter. Stokes was charged with four runs (all earned) on three hits in 0.2 innings.
“When it snowballs in our sport like this, it’s hard to get it stopped,” Clement said. “We just couldn’t stop the bleeding. Again, it shows you how good McArthur was, and it showed you how good the guy at the end of the game is because he comes in and shuts it down. Even after giving up a leadoff double in the ninth, that guy doesn’t go anywhere and he gets three outs. Couldn’t be prouder of him.”
Ole Miss returns to action Tuesday at Memphis. First pitch is set for 6:30 p.m. CT.