OXFORD, Miss. – The Ole Miss baseball team began the highly anticipated 2017 season on Friday afternoon, and Rebel Nation was sure not to miss it. In front of a Swayze Field record-setting crowd of 12,117, the Rebels overcame a leadoff home run to capture a 5-4 win over No. 10 East Carolina.
With five newcomers making their Rebel debuts, Ole Miss (1-0) improved to 16-1 on Opening Day under head coach Mike Bianco. The Rebels took the field under the watchful eye of 12,117 faithful fans, a Swayze Field single-game record that eclipsed the previous record of 11,729 against Alabama (April 13, 2013).
Starting pitcher David Parkinson (1-0) struck out a career-high six ECU (0-1) batters in seven innings of work. The junior got the Opening Day nod after an impressive first season in 2016 as a Junior College transfer and the No. 2 pitcher in the rotation.
Parkinson's day did not start off as he would've dreamed up when ECU's Dwanya Williams-Sutton hit a leadoff home run to cap off an 11-pitch at-bat. Parkinson would settle in to not give up another hit until the fourth frame, while striking out three.
Sophomore Ryan Olenek led the way for the Rebels at the plate by going 3-for-4. Olenek kickstarted the Rebel offense with a 1-out double down the right field line before stealing third and scoring when the catcher's throw went into left field.
Junior Will Golsan kept the offense going in the second when he blasted a leadoff home run to left field for the first of 2017 and the fourth of his career, setting off a Swayze Shower in the right field bleachers.
In his Ole Miss debut, junior college transfer Chase Cockrell went 2-for-4 as the Rebels’ designated hitter. The sophomore righty provided a key single in the eighth that ended up being the game-winning hit.
ECU, however, brought some offense of its own. The Pirates finally broke through to Parkinson with three straight doubles putting them ahead 3-2 in the fourth.
The Rebel bats would catch fire again in their half of the fourth. Cockrell led off by hitting a ball into center that rolled all the way to the wall, putting him at third with nobody out before he scored on a passed ball.
After a Golsan walk, freshman Thomas Dillard recorded his first career hit and RBI when he scorched a ball to the left field wall, scoring Golsan all the way from first and putting the Rebels back ahead 4-3.
The game became a pitcher's duel between Parkinson and Preseason All-American Evan Kruczynski (0-1) of ECU for the next three innings, with Kruczynski retiring seven straight and Parkinson retiring seven of nine.
Junior closer Will Stokes was called on in the eighth inning for a rare 6-out save. The hard-throwing righty retired the Pirates in order in the eighth, including back-to-back strikeouts to end the frame.
The Rebels went into their half of the eighth looking to add some insurance to their 4-3 lead. Matt Bridges had taken over on the mound for ECU, and after Tate Blackman was hit by a pitch, Olenek added his third hit of the night on a single to third base. Two batters later, Cockrell ripped a ball into left, scoring Blackman from second and pushing the Rebel lead to 5-3.
Two quick outs in the ninth got the record crowd Swayze Field on their feet, but ECU wouldn't go away without a fight. Freshman Spencer Brickhouse blasted a ball over the right field wall, making it 5-4 in Ole Miss' favor and giving ECU life. However, a popout to Blackman would end the game and give the Rebels an Opening Day victory over the No. 6 team in the country.
Ole Miss will get right back to the field tomorrow afternoon, looking to clinch the series over ECU. Sophomore James McArthur will toe the rubber for the Rebels, matching up against southpaw Jacob Wolfe. First pitch from Swayze Field is scheduled for 1:30 p.m. CT