OXFORD, Miss. – The Rebels opened play at home in style on Tuesday, using a Zach Kirksey home run and a solid combined outing from the pitching staff to push No. 20 Ole Miss (2-1) to an 8-1 win over Arkansas State (0-3) at Oxford-University Stadium/Swayze Field.
Kirksey led a prolific offense at the plate against the Red Wolves as the senior went belted out a three-run home run, drew a walk and was hit by a pitch on his way to driving in three runs and scoring twice as part of an unusual 1-for-1 day at the plate.
Eight Rebels made their debut on Tuesday afternoon, including a 2-for-4 performance from freshman outfielder Senquez Golson.
Freshman right-hander Sam Smith (1-0) picked up the win in his first start, working 4.0 innings and allowing one run on three hits with a walk and a strikeout. Three other freshmen saw their first action of the season as Josh Laxer, Chris Ellis and Casey Mulholland all combined with junior Blair Wright to shut out Arkansas State down the stretch.
Senior right-hander Cory Kyle (0-1) suffered the loss for Arkansas State, allowing four runs on seven hits with two walks and two strikeouts in 3.1 innings of work.
“It was a good clean, game,” said Ole Miss head coach Mike Bianco. “Sam Smith was terrific in the beginning of the game today. You can’t ask much more of a freshman in his first home game. Even with the run they scored he was 0-2 on hitters and 1-2 in the counts. After the run he really locked in. It was a good defensive game by us. We only had one error and that was a pick-off throw.
“Offensively, Zach Kirksey was the guy that gave us separation today,” Bianco said. “He gave us some breathing room. He and Senquez Golson both had good nights. We are even better than we are playing right now.”
Arkansas State got on the board first, pushing a single run across the plate in the first inning. Kaleb Brown doubled with one out on the board, before coming home to score a batter later when Zach George hit a single to center. The Rebels’ Smith settled in from there, getting a strikeout and a ground out in the next two batters to get out of the inning with Ole Miss only trailing by one.
Smith allowed only one hit and two base runners over the course of the next 13 batters faced following the RBI single in the first. The freshman left the game after four innings of work due to a predetermined start by the coaching staff.
Ole Miss answered the Red Wolves in the third inning, using a groundout to second from Alex Yarbrough to score Tanner Mathis. Mathis reached on a double before moving to third on a wild pitch to set up the score on the Yarbrough grounder and get Ole Miss on the board.
The Rebels took the lead for good in the fourth when Kirksey came up with his three-run shot to right field that put Ole Miss on top 4-1. Following a lead-off single from Will Allen and a double from Preston Overbey, Kirksey crushed a ball that sailed into the student section in right field that drove in three runs and put the Rebels in control of the game.
Ole Miss continued to build on the lead in the fifth inning, loading the bases with one out before Blake Newalu laced a double down the left field line that scored Matt Snyder and Allen and left men at second and third. Kirksey, who was on third, scored on a wild pitch in the next at bat as Newalu moved to third give the Rebels a six run lead. Golson then came up with a double down the left field line to score Newalu and give Ole Miss the 8-1 advantage.
Ole Miss held to that margin the rest of the way, limiting the Red Wolves to two hits and only three base runners over the final four innings on the way to the win.
The Rebels continue to play at home this weekend, hosting a three-game set against UNC-Wilmington. First pitch for Friday’s series opener is set for 3 p.m., while Saturday’s contest will also start at 3 p.m. Sunday’s series finale is set for a noon first pitch.
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