On the heels of an excruciating 13-inning Thursday night loss, Ole Miss baseball was refreshingly easy to watch on Friday. The No. 10 Rebels cruised past No. 7 LSU, 5-1, to even the series and set up a rubber match on Saturday.
After a tight first three innings, Ole Miss broke open a three-run lead in the bottom of the fourth and never looked back. The Rebs piled up 10 hits, nearly half of which came off the bat of Auston Bousfield, who went 4-for-4 and added a seventh-inning solo home run. Christian Trent was dominant on the mound, going seven innings and allowing just one unearned run. Scott Weathersby worked two hitless innings to close it out.
The turning point
Clinging to a 2-1 lead in the fourth inning, the Rebs had bases loaded with two outs. Bousfield popped a looping fly ball into foul territory down the right field line. LSU right fielder Mark Laird, who'd of course been hearing plenty from a surprisingly lively student section (considering it's Easter weekend and all), charged in to make what would have been a huge out to escape the inning. Instead, the ball bounced off his mit and he had to make a loooooong walk back to his position. I've been to a lot of Ole Miss baseball games, but I'm not sure I've ever heard the students jump on a player as hard as they did during that walk. It was pouring sweet, beautiful hate.
Bousfield sent the next pitch back up the middle to score two runs and the game was pretty much over from there. And man, did Mark hear about it.
Weathersby doin' work
With Wyatt Short, Aaron Greenwood and Josh Laxer having strong seasons, Weathersby has been somewhat of a forgotten option out of the bullpen. In fact, I didn't realize how good his numbers were until I looked them up. After striking out four hitters in two innings on Friday night, he now has 28 strikeouts in 14⅓ innings pitched. He's struck out over half the batters he's faced this season. And he has a 1.88 ERA to go along with it.
If Weathersby keeps that up, it gives the Rebs four shutdown options out of the bullpen once Greenwood returns from injury. Combine that with a three-man rotation that's been able to pitch deep into games all season, and you have a recipe for success in tournament play.
Getting through Game 2 with only two pitchers was huge. With Greenwood unavailable with an abdominal injury and Short and Laxer having thrown long innings on Friday, the Rebel pen is pretty thin. Thanks to a deep start from Trent and a solid finish by Weathersby, Ole Miss still has Preston Tarkington, Hawtin Buchanan and Matt Denny available. I'm not sure if Short and Laxer are ready to come back, but Jeremy Massie, who threw fewer pitches on Thursday, could also be available. If Sam Smith can put out a quality start, Mike Bianco should have plenty of options to piece together the last few frames.
LSU can't say the same. They've struggled to find a third starter all year and have good ole TBA scheduled to throw in Game 3. They're 1-3-1 on Sunday's in conference play, so the Rebs have the advantage on the mound. Or some true freshman that's never had a start could come in and throw a shutout. Who knows.
UPDATE: LSU has named freshman Alden Cartwright their Game 3 starter. He has one career start.