Germany Law Firm - Mississippi Scoreboard

By Mike Christensen

A statue honoring the legendary Ron Polk was unveiled with much fanfare on Friday. Saturday’s game drew an NCAA record on-campus crowd of 16,423 at Dudy Noble Field. It seemed only fitting that Sunday would provide something special: a compelling rubber game in a drama-filled series in Starkville between Mississippi State and Ole Miss, college baseball’s last two national champions.

Behind a tiebreaking, seventh-inning home run by Hunter Hines — his third bomb of the series — and clutch relief work from Aaron Nixon, MSU won 5-3 Sunday to take the series and cap what really was a Super Bulldog Weekend.

“What an unbelievable job we do there at the end of the game. (Nixon), that was impressive,” said State coach Chris Lemonis. “Some big at-bats. Dakota (Jordan), huge swing (on a third-inning homer). Hunter Hines … to be able to have an approach on a guy like that (Ole Miss’ Jackson Kimbrell) and hit that ball out, man, that is huge.”   

Never mind that the teams entered the weekend wallowing at the bottom of the SEC standings. The three games drew some 44,000 fans and produced one thrilling moment after another. MSU emerges at 22-15 overall and 5-10 in the SEC, perhaps building some momentum for the long stretch run ahead. Ole Miss is 20-16, 3-12 SEC, with LSU lurking next weekend. If there is some consolation for the Rebels, they were 18-17 and 6-9 at this point in 2022, and we know how that season ended.

Games 1 and 2 were one-run affairs not settled until the ninth inning. Ole Miss won Friday’s opener 3-2 behind the pitching of Jack Dougherty and Mitch Murrell and homers from Jacob Gonzalez and Kemp Alderman. Down 3-1, MSU got a two-out homer in the ninth from Hines before Murrell closed out the three-hitter.

The pitching woes that have plagued both clubs this year were evident in Game 2. The Bulldogs’ Nate Dohm blew a save in the top of the ninth, and Ole Miss freshman Sam Tookoian then blew a save in the bottom half. MSU won 8-7 on a two-run, walk-off single by the dynamic freshman Jordan, triggering a wild celebration on the field and in the stands. (Yes, even Dak Prescott was going nuts.) Colton Ledbetter hit two clutch homers for State in Saturday’s game, and Hines added another.

On Sunday, Jordan gave State a 3-0 lead with a home run in the third inning off Ole Miss starter J.T. Quinn. Freshman switch-pitcher Jurrangelo Cijntje, who started for the Bulldogs, took a shutout into the sixth. Ole Miss made it 3-1 in that inning on a two-out RBI hit by Andy Calarco, the last batter Cijntje faced.

“That was impressive to go out there and do that,” Lemonis said of Cijntje’s performance. “I’ll tip my hat. I know that’s a rival, but there are some good hitters in that (Ole Miss) lineup, and, man, you just controlled it. It was poise. It was command.”

The Rebels cut it to 3-2 in the seventh on a walk, a single and a wild pitch by reliever K.C. Hunt. On came Nixon, who yielded an RBI hit to Alderman. It was the only hit Nixon allowed. He escaped the seventh with a double-play ball and then retired the last six Rebels in succession. The junior from Texas, who also tossed a scoreless inning on Saturday, now has an 0.84 ERA over eight appearances.

Hines, a sophomore out of Madison Central who has 17 homers on the year, seized the spotlight in the bottom of the seventh, blasting a two-out, two-run shot to right field off left-hander Kimbrell. The roars at Dudy Noble were deafening, and there were more of the same when Nixon retired Rebels star Gonzalez on a line drive for the last out.