NASHVILLE, Tenn. - No. 14 Ole Miss defeated Vanderbilt, 6-1, in the first game of a doubleheader, but the Commodores rallied back to defeat the Rebels 7-6 in the nightcap Sunday evening at Hawkins Field.
The Rebels took the series 2-1 and improved to 11-4 overall and 2-1 in Southeastern Conference play, while the Commodores moved to 11-6 and 1-2 in league play. It is the first season opening SEC series loss for VU since losing two of three to Mississippi State in Starkville in 2005.
Sonny Gray (1-0) pitched 3.2 innings of solid relief in the second game, allowing one run on two hits with three strikeouts and two walks. He held Ole Miss scoreless the final three innings and struck out the last two batters he faced to pick up his first collegiate win.
"The fourth inning I came in and left a few balls up and they got a few hits and I couldn't find the zone," said Gray. "If it weren't for the big plays the defense made in the infield, it could have been a longer inning. Everything seemed to click."
Ole Miss took a 1-0 lead in the first on Logan Power's RBI single to right that scored Jordan Henry who doubled to lead off the game.
The Rebels plated two in the second on a RBI double by Zach Miller and a RBI single by Henry to take a 3-2 lead.
The Commodores responded with their first big inning of the weekend, scoring three runs in the bottom half to take a 5-3 lead. Brian Harris and Curt Casali had RBI singles and Aaron Westlake walked with the bases loaded to bring in the go ahead run.
VU added another run in the third on a RBI groundout by Brian Harris to extend the lead to 6-3.
The Rebels knocked starter Nick Christiani out of the game in the fourth, scoring three runs in the frame to tie it at 6-6. Tim Ferguson and Logan Power had RBI singles and David Phillips had a RBI groundout to tie the game.
Christiani gave up five runs on six hits in 3.1 innings with five strikeouts and three walks.
Vanderbilt took the lead back for good in the fifth scoring on Harris' sacrifice fly to right. Joe Loftus walked, stole second and moved to third on a throwing error by shortstop Kevin Mort who tried to get Jason Esposito at first. Esposito stole second and after a strikeout by Ole Miss relief ace Scott Bittle, Harris lifted a ball into shallow right to score Loftus.
Harris finished the game with two hits and three RBI. He went 4-for-6 in the doubleheader with three runs scored and three RBI.
"It was a tough first two games," said Harris. "We just weren't having really competitive at-bats. The third game, something clicked and we kept it rolling throughout the game."
"Every time you have an inexperienced group that drops a game their confidence drops too," said Vanderbilt head coach Tim Corbin. "It was like we were dropped to our knees there, I thought it was critical the way we came back in the first two innings in the second game, putting two and three up. That was what got us back into it. If we put up a zero on both ends we might not win that ballgame."
Phillip Irwin (3-0) held the Commodores in check in the first game pitching a seven-inning complete game. He allowed just one run on four hits with three strikeouts and two walks.
Caleb Cotham (3-1) was charged with the loss, giving up six runs, five earned, on five hits in five innings if work. He walked four and struck out four.
"Playing a team like Ole Miss, you can't make mistakes," said Cotham. "You have to minimize mistakes because they're going to call you on it. If you give them outs and give them runners, they're going to take advantage of them. I can get away with that earlier in the season, but with the SEC it's tough to give away outs and walks and expect to win."
Ole Miss took a 1-0 lead in the first when Jordan Henry led off the game with a single, moved to second on a passed ball, advanced to third on a sacrifice bunt and scored on a RBI single by Matt Smith.
The Rebels took advantage of two Vanderbilt fielding errors in the third to plate a run and take a 2-1 lead. Jordan Henry walked and advanced to third on a fielding error by shortstop Brian Harris on a double-play groundball. He then scored on Matt Smith's RBI groundout on another potential double-play ball to first baseman Curt Casali who threw the ball low to second base.
Jordan Henry led off the fifth with his third walk of the game. He moved to third on a single by Tim Ferguson and scored on a passed ball to make it 3-1. Ferguson also advanced a base on the passed ball then moved to third on Matt Smith's fly ball to deep right. VU starter Caleb Cotham intentionally walked Logan Power to put runners on first and third in hopes of a double play, but designated hitter David Phillips belted a 3-1 pitch over the wall in left-center to make it 6-1.
Steven Liddle had the other two hits for the Commodores off of Irwin as the top two guys went 4-for-6 while the rest of the lineup went 0-for-19.
Chase Reid pitched two innings of one-hit scoreless relief to end the first game.
The Commodores close out a stretch of 14 of 15 games at Hawkins Field as well as a five-game homestand with two midweek games. Vanderbilt will take on South Alabama on Tuesday at 4 p.m. and Belmont on Wednesday at 6 p.m. to end the skein. The Commodores will then hit the road to face Kentucky in a three-game set over the weekend.