Petre Thomas — Ole Miss Athletics
OXFORD — After being stifled by Reid Detmers’ fastball on Friday evening in a frustrating 7-2 defeat, Cael Baker and Ole Miss faced an even tough challenger in right-hander Bobby Miller’s heater that sits closer to 100 mph than it does 90.
Baker handled the high velocity just fine. The junior blasted a pair of long balls, had four hits and drove in four runs in an 8-6 win to even the series against the top-ranked Cardinals. All four hits came on fastballs.
“Last night with Detmers, we didn’t take away the fastball like we wanted to,” Baker said. “Today, we knew that with Bobby Miller, a high-velo guy, we needed to take that away.”
In Baker’s first at bat, he parked a 97 mph offering over the wall in left-center field. His teammates followed. suit. The two-run blast capped a three-run opening frame that began with a Peyton Chataginer RBI double down the left field line. The freshman second baseman now has a three hits in his first two college games. Chatagnier has been rock solid from the moment he stepped on campus in the fall it earned him a starting role.
“Just fearless,” Bianco said. “A lot of them are talented in that class, but when you play with that freedom and confidence, good things happen. (Chatagnier) has gotten off to a great start for us.”
Baker’s path into the starting lineup was a little more difficult. A brutal fall left him with ground to make up in the January scrimmages leading up to the season. His head was clouded. Baker simplified his approach as the coaching staff coaxed him to relax and be himself. It has worked. And on Saturday, why he is an invaluable power bat in the middle of a lineup that is aiming to replace 70 percent of their hits from a year ago.
His second homer came in in a 5-5 game in the seventh and sparked another three-run inning that preserved the victory. He laid into 2-2 fastball from right-handed reliever Jared Poland. It sailed well over the bullpen in left field.
“I just felt like I was trying to do too much in the fall,” Baker said. “I have honestly just tried to move runners, hit the ball in the gap and do what I can to help this team in any way possible.”
Ole Miss ousted Miller after just four innings and 83 pitches. The Rebels made more consistent contact, struck out just five times and spiked his pitch count early.
This was seesaw affair through seven innings as Ole Miss was unable to secure a scoreless frame any of the three previous times it plated a run before the seventh. Louisville answered each Ole Miss blow with at least a run each time. Sophomore right-hander Gunnar Hoglund lasted 5.1 innings and allowed three runs on six hits with a walk and a strikeout. Louisville slowly picked away at the early three-run deficit. The Cardinals dinged Hoglund for a run in the second, the fourth and the fifth. The first two runs came via a pair of extra base hits, and the third on a couple of fifth-inning singles.
Ole Miss answered with runs in the fifth and sixth innings before Baker’s blast and a fielder’s choice from Tim Elko helped seize control of this game in the seventh. Elko belted his first homer of the year in the sixth and was 1-4 with a pair of RBIs.
Austin Miller logged two innings of perfect relief before things got hairy in the ninth. Miller exited the game after allowing a solo shot to Danny Oriente, a one-out double to Andrew Benefield and then a walk to Zach Britton. Braden Forsyth entered the game with the go-ahead run at the plate. He fell behind 3-0 to Henry Davis before inducing a pop out. Forsyth then blew a fastball by Ben Bianco for the final out to seal it.
OIe Miss totaled 12 hits in this game and was much more competent at the plate against the hard-throwing Miller and the string of relievers behind him. Half of the hits came from newcomers Chagnier and Baker.
“Today we played much better,” Chatagnier said. “Yesterday, you could tell we played like it was the first game. We played scared and not like us. Today, we did what we needed to do.”
The rubber match tomorrow will feature true freshman right-hander Derek Diamond making his collegiate debut against Louisville’s Luke Smith. First pitch is slated for noon.