Connor Hujsak's walk-off home run ends Ole Miss' season

HOOVER — Ole Miss head coach Mike Bianco has said it before — and more than a few times over the last two seasons: baseball will rip your heart out.

The Rebels’ collective heart left Hoover Metropolitan Stadium with one swing of Mississippi State centerfielder Connor Hujsak’s mighty bat.

With two outs in the bottom of the ninth, Hujsak hit a walk off two-run home run against the Rebels Tuesday night in the SEC Tournament opener for both teams, a 2-1 Bulldogs win. With the loss, Ole Miss’ (27-29) season is over, as the Rebels are ineligible for a postseason bid with a losing record. It is the second year in a row Ole Miss will miss the NCAA Tournament and finish under .500. The Rebels missed the SEC Tournament last season.

“You’re never prepared for this, right? I say it a lot. It’s always a tough time, because you don’t expect to lose your last game. But everybody loses their last game, except for the team that wins the national championship,” head coach Mike Bianco said. “You’re never prepared. You never really have the words that you really want to convey to them.

“ … I told them I love them. I told them I’m sorry, I’m sorry for the year, I’m sorry that we weren’t better. But I do appreciate them.”

Ole Miss won the regular-season series between the Bulldogs, the first time the Rebels have taken the series since 2015. Mississippi State won the Governor’s Cup in Pearl on May 1.

Those previous instances didn’t matter on Tuesday, though. Because when the dust settled, Ole Miss veterans and rookies alike found themselves shedding tears in shallow left field, giving their year-end embraces far sooner than they could have imagined just moments earlier.

Ole Miss junior starter Riley Maddox — who started last Thursday’s opener at LSU — started on four days rest against Mississippi State and struck out a career-high seven Bulldogs through seven scoreless innings, the longest outing of his career. Mississippi State (37-19) pitcher Brooks Auger struck out a career-high 13 batters over eight innings.

“We’re all tired of not playing good, not doing good, not winning,” sophomore first baseman Will Furniss said. “We know it means a lot to the fans, but … sometimes they may doubt it, means a h**l of a lot more to us. It sucks. It sucks it ends the way it ends.”

The Rebels were retired in order in each of the first four innings, with the only baserunner for either team through four innings reaching via an Ole Miss throwing error.

Ole Miss’ first baserunner and hit was an impactful one, as Furniss hit a ball deep to right-center that bounced out of Hujsak’s glove and over the wall for a solo home run.

Mississippi State’s first hit of the game came with two outs in the fifth, a double down the left-field line by Amani Larry. A hit-by-pitch in the next at-bat and wild pitch brought catcher Joe Powell to the plate with runners on second and third, but Maddox induced a groundball out to end the inning.

A throwing error by Maddox with two outs in the sixth put the tying run at third, but Bulldogs star Dakota Jordan flew out deep to centerfield to end the inning. Logan Kohler led off the bottom of the eighth with a single, ending Maddox’s outing after 98 pitches and bringing sophomore Liam Doyle to the mound. A wild pitch got Kohler to second with one out in the inning, but Doyle struck out Bryce Chance to get out of the jam.

Mississippi State’s David Mershon led off the ninth with a walk and advanced to third on a passed ball and groundout. With two outs, Hujsak took the first pitch he saw into deep left-center, sending one dugout into jubilation and left another still trying to figure out what had just taken place.

Following a huddle with his teammates, Maddox kneeled on the ground on all fours in tears.

“It’s tough. To go out like that is, it’s not the way you want to do it. Especially to State, I hate those guys. Just at a loss for words, really,” Maddox said. “Just an emotional game, and it proved it right here.”

Bianco has made the NCAA Tournament 18 times in his 24 seasons at the helm at Ole Miss and led the program to the 2022 College World Series crown. The Rebels have missed the last two postseasons, though Bianco remains positive the program can get back on-track.

“I think the confidence comes from, we’ve done this too long, we’ve had too much success,” Bianco said. “ … We don’t make it the last couple of years, but I think this year, we’re a couple wins away. And again, I don’t want to go through the RPI and strength of schedule and all those different things. We have to be better, and we will be. We’ve always responded, and we will again.”

Bianco was also asked if he expected to be back for the 2025 season.

“You’ll have to ask my boss that,” Bianco said. “But I expect to be back.”