TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — "It's Deja vu all over again", as the late Yogi Berra put it, though in the context of Alabama baseball its connotation rang negative, at least when the offense from Oxford, Miss. arrived.
Much like games one and two, the Crimson Tide was unable to manufacture runs when called upon and could not prevent big innings by run-thirsty Rebels.
As evidence of its ranking, No. 3 Ole Miss is capable of scoring in bunches, especially when games are up-for-grabs. It is, in fact, a legitimate College World Series contender, meaning a somewhat under-manned Alabama bunch needed three of its best performances. The series finale went according to plan for the Rebels, pulling away and stamping its mark on a series sweep in Tuscaloosa, 11-6.
"I'm really impressed with Ole Miss' club. That's the second week in a row. That's what an Omaha club looks like, three real starters that throw a ton of strikes, a real closer [Taylor Broadway] that's closed out five games in the last eight days," Alabama coach Brad Bohannon said.
A sweep was also in the cards for the Crimson Tide, without late-inning capitulations of course. Let's say 24 or 25 out of the 27 total innings were close, even favoring Alabama at certain points. But the Rebels had more horses, and given its ranking, the Triple Crown type, while Bohannon is in the breeding stage, figuring out and finding his type of team.
"Going into this weekend, we knew it was going to be tough because we were without Connor Prielipp. We were without Antoine Jean, and without Chase Lee," Bohannon said, "Those guys typically, on average, would pitch half of your SEC innings."
It takes time, obviously, to groom and guide a rebuilt team to success. Competitive games offer silver linings, but silver remains secondary in an SEC West division littered in gold karats. That's not to say Alabama isn't able to beat a top-five team, but sustaining through nine innings, and even a full series, is the next step on what is, for Bohannon's sake, a linear progression.
Alabama starter Connor Shamblin did his part, at least through four innings, until Ole Miss sucked the energy out of the Crimson Tide with four runs in the fifth and three in the sixth. Sewell-Thomas Stadium eventually became silent, growing quieter and quieter with each Rebel rally, sensing the inevitability of a big inning was already queued in the visitors dugout. Ole Miss kept adding insurance, tallying one more run in the seventh and two in the eighth.
Besides sophomore Peyton Wilson, who went 3-4 and had half of the Crimson Tide hits through most of the game, Alabama struggled to get on base. Wilson, right fielder Andrew Pinckney and center fielder Jackson Tate scored all of its runs up until the eighth inning.
"I can't say enough about Peyton [Wilson]. He is a great player," Bohannon said, "He can just impact the game in so many ways. He's a tremendous runner and, at the plate, he doesn't take a lot of strikes. The pitcher can feel that."
Ole Miss starter Derek Diamond gave them up, leaving after six with three earned runs and letting relievers Austin Miller and Wes Burton take care of the rest with a safe 10-3 lead. T.J. Reeves though, the Alabama left fielder, hit the scoreboard with a two-run home run to cut the Rebels lead in half in the bottom of the eighth. The Crimson Tide, though, would need a lot more production in a game where that seemed far-fetched.
"It was great to see T.J. Reeves out there," Bohannon said, "We thought that maybe him at 70% might be a better option than some others. We're excited to get him back in the fold for good."
Alabama's utility man Bryce Eblin came in to face Ole Miss in the ninth, being only the third of five Crimson Tide pitchers to last more than one inning. He was damage control, and did just that, leaving the final score in the hands of Bama hitters.
Wilson delivered, per usual, as he hit his seventh home run of the season with a solo shot to right field. Finally … the Right Field Ragers had something to cheer about. It would be the last thing go Alabama's way on the day, as Ole Miss reliever Josh Mallitz closed the deal on a series sweep in the ninth, his only inning of work.
After losing six straight, Alabama moves to 15-9 overall and 1-5 in conference action. Shamblin took the loss for the Crimson Tide, moving his record to 2-1 on the season.