By Parrish Alford
OXFORD – Will Stokes recovered from his slow start. At the plate, his teammates never did.
Tennessee put up three runs against the Ole Miss freshman in the first two innings. That was enough to propel the Vols to a 4-2 win before an Easter Sunday crowd of 7,029 at Swayze Field.
Tennessee (14-14, 4-8 SEC) wins the series as Ole Miss drops to .500 overall, two games below that in conference play.
Ole Miss (16-16, 5-7) remains winless on SEC Sundays. Three times the Rebels have been in position to win a series, including the last two weekends.
The Rebels began the series with 13 hits Friday night. Over the last two games they committed five errors and hit .171.
Tennessee left-hander Drake Owenby limited the Rebels to four hits over eight innings, and closer Andrew Lee retired veterans J.B. Woodman, Colby Bortles and Sikes Orvis in order in the ninth.
“The message before the game was we’ve got to do something in one of the categories to win the game,” Ole Miss coach Mike Bianco said. “If you’re not going to hit, the other two categories you’ve got to be really good at, and we weren’t good enough early.”
Tennessee had just six hits, but five of those came with runners on base.
Earlier this season, starting pitching on the back end of the series was an issue for Ole Miss. Now Stokes, a 5-foot-11, 165-pound right-hander who played his high school ball at West Lauderdale near Meridian, has gone progressively deeper into games with each start.
Sunday was his third start, and Stokes allowed two earned runs in 52⁄3 innings. Two Ole Miss errors led to two more runs.
Stokes left in the sixth with the Vols holding a 3-1 lead. Scott Weathersby entered with runners on the corners and two outs. An inherited runner scored on a bloop single, but Weathersby escaped further damage.
The Rebels, though, created no damage even with a great opportunity when trailing 4-1 in the seventh.
They had Tennessee and Owenby teetering on the edge with the bases loaded and no outs.
The Vols had a right-hander warming in the bullpen, but Owenby stayed in to face left-handed hitting Orvis. He retired Orvis with a weak ground ball to first. That scored a run, but Owenby rallied to strike out Austin Knight looking and Kyle Watson on a checked swing.
“Mistakes, they happen, and it’s human, but when you’re not hitting you can’t make those mistakes,” Bianco said. “We looked like the team we were a week ago. It’s disappointing.”