FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. • The starting pitching that has carried Ole Miss for the last two weeks failed it on Saturday.
No. 5 seed Arkansas battered junior right-hander Will Ethridge, and the Razorbacks defeated the No. 12-seeded Rebels 11-2 before 10,821 fans at Baum-Walker Stadium to move within one game of a return to the College World Series.
Ethridge gave up four hits in a 45-pitch first inning, the big one a three-run home run by Arkansas second baseman Jack Kenley.
Ole Miss (40-26) will try to extend its season with freshman left-hander Doug Nikhazy today at 2 and force a third game on Monday.
In the first inning alone Ethridge gave up four earned runs, more than he’d allowed in 15 2/3 innings over his last three appearances, all in the postseason. He made a relief appearance against Vanderbilt in the SEC Tournament.
Before the onslaught, Grae Kessinger gave the Rebels a brief 1-0 lead with a home run in the top of the first.
While Ethridge wasn’t on top of his game there were other contributing factors.
“The umpire established the zone early. We knew he was going to have a good, tight zone,” Arkansas leadoff hitter Trevor Ezell said. “We were able to take some marginal pitches then fight off the ones with two (strikes) until we got one we could handle.”
The Razorbacks’ (45-17) first four hits all came in two-strike counts. Kenley’s home run was on a 1-1 count.
Not all of Ethridge’s pitches were bad. Ezell and Casey Martin, who started the first with a double and single, both had eight-pitch at-bats.
“Martin, with two strikes, got to Will’s fastball in, which not a lot of guys do,” Ole Miss coach Mike Bianco said.
After Martin’s hit, Ethridge got a strikeout before Dominic Fletcher’s chopper over the head of first baseman Cole Zabowski scored the Razorbacks’ first run.
Ethridge notched another strikeout, but then came Kenley whose home run opened the flood gates. Ethridge pitched a scoreless third but was charged for two runs in the fourth, one on a two-run homer allowed by his relief help, Tyler Myers.
“I wasn’t able to locate my pitches very well, and they took advantage of it,” Ethridge said. “They swung it very well.”
Like their starting pitcher, the Rebels’ hitters didn’t resemble the team that outscored the Oxford Regional field 41-7 as they faced Arkansas right-hander Isaiah Campbell. The No. 76 pick in this week’s draft, Campbell was not dominant but efficient with seven scoreless innings after the Kessinger home run.
The Rebels had baserunners most innings but not more than one. The third and fourth innings ended with double plays.
Ethridge gave up eight runs, six earned, on six hits in 3 1/3 innings, his shortest outing of the season.
Six games played this season between Ole Miss and Arkansas have now been split with three wins apiece.
“The pitches they hit, they’ve made adjustments,” Bianco said. “They made some adjustments on some balls inside.”