MEMPHIS, TN — The 2019 season has been a physically and mentally trying exercise for Chase Cockrell. The senior slugger has trudged through a 10-for-50 slump to begin the season, doing his best to remain confidence and remain positive as he tries to find his 2018 form.
That fortitude paid off on Tuesday as Cockrell went 3-for-5 with a crucial 2-RBI double in the ninth inning of Ole Miss’ 9-6 win over Memphis at AutoZone Park, on his birthday no less.
“It is huge, finally squaring balls up,” Cockrell said. “It feels amazing. I knew I could it. It is just great to have my teammates behind me for when I get my opportunity and do it.”
Cockrell has faded out of the every day lineup over the last month, struggling to hit breaking balls to the tune of 22 strikeouts in 65 plate appearances entering the night. Cockrell hit .317 and slugged .539 with 38 RBIs a season ago and was a vital cog in the middle of the Rebels’ order as it soared to becoming one of the best offenses in college baseball.
“No one deserves it more than him,” head coach Mike Bianco said. “We don’t win it without him. He made some big plays during the game. That double in the ninth gives you a little breathing room.”
Cockrell’s first double in the fifth would’ve left the yard in the confines of most college parks. His second, the 2-RBI double down the left field line in the ninth on a hanging changeup, gave Ole Miss two insurance runs in a game that had gotten tight in the eighth.
Wednesday was his first three-hit game of 2019 and could serve as something tangible to build off of as Ole Miss wades deeper into SEC play. The Rebels are undoubtedly a better team with a productive Cockrell in the lineup.
“Being the biggest team guy I can, not being in the lineup every day,” Cockrell said. “Being there for the young guys and being a leader. And when I get my chance, I want to make the most off it. It was mentally tough. But, like I said, handing it off to my teammates to get the job done. When I do get my chance, make the most of it.”
The most impactful blows issues by each team in this game came in the second inning. Ole Miss plated four runs in the top half of the frame to spot Jordan Fowler an early cushion. Thomas Dillard led off the inning with a double and Ryan Olenek plated him with a triple. A Cole Zabowski sacrifice fly and an RBI single from Tim Elko brought around a couple more.
Dillard was 2 -for 4 on the night, including a 2-RBI single in the fourth that gave Ole Miss a 7-4 lead it would cling to until the ninth The multi-hit night is a welcomed sign for Dillard, who entered the night 5-for-23 since SEC play began in March 15, with two of those hits coming against Arkansas-Pine Bluff in the midweek. Dillard has now strung together back-to-back multi-hit games after a two-hit performance in the Sunday loss at Missouri. He appears to be finding his footing after a brief skid.
“Just trying to square up the ball as much as I can,” Dillard said. “I just have to compete every at bat and getting on base as often as I can.”
Fowler relinquished the insurance supplied to him almost immediately. He gave up two singles and hit a man before Ben Brooks hammered a three-run double into the left-center gap. An Alec Trela double two batters later plated Brooks, tied the game and ended Fowler’s day.
Ole Miss was in need of extended relief as Fowler jogged off the mound and into the dugout in the second. The Rebels found that in Taylor Broadway and Tyler Myers. Broadway scattered four hits in 2.1 innings without allowing a run and Myers’ three innings of one-hit baseball bridged the game to the eighth.
It was Myers’ first appearance since March 16 vs Alabama. The junior right-hander has been more than serviceable when used, though. He has now thrown six innings of two-hit, shutout baseball spanning over three outings with five strikeouts. He has 14 strikeouts in 13 innings of work this season and has allowed five earned runs on 11 hits.
“Myers gave us some length with the three shutout innings on a night where we gave up 15 hits when there wasn’t a lot of length,” Bianco said. “He was certainly sharp tonight.”
Kaleb Hill gave up two singles in the eighth that both scored when his successor, Austin Miller, allowed a two-out triple to make it a one-run game at 7-6. Miller stranded the runner, eluding a disastrous scenario.
Cockrell’s shot down the line in the ninth gave Parker Caracci some wiggle room as Caracci recorded his 5th save of the year.
The Rebels head to Arkansas over the weekend for their second straight road series. First pitch on Friday is slated for 8 P.M.
photo credit: Joshua McCoy– Ole Miss Athletics