Not every move Ole Miss head coach Mike Bianco made the entire game worked to perfection. Baseball can be like that.
The one that ultimately worked out best was when he inserted Austin Knight into the lineup to pinch hit with two outs and two Rebels in scoring position following a double steal in the bottom of the ninth inning and the game tied 0-0. Knight connected with a full count and sent it deep to the gap in left center to drive in pinch-runner Cameron Dishon.
The slight grin on Bianco’s face as he watched Knight being interviewed first by radio and then by print and internet media told this story. As did the embrace by Knight’s father, Larry, when his son completed those interviews and headed to the sideline for well-deserved congratulatory moments with family and fans.
“It’s what makes our sport so special,” Bianco said following the dramatic finish.
And there’s so much that goes on and to account for in a victory like this. Knight was in the bullpen. He had to race to the dugout to get ready to hit. But they’d planned ahead for a situation just like this if it arose – again.
“For Austin to come up and get the big hit, last week we had the opportunity to pinch hit him in the same type situation,” Bianco said. “But he’s down in the bullpen with his gear on. So we talked about that and made a note to talk about that in our staff meetings. We have to have him (and catcher Holt Perdzock) ready. In front of 8,000 people to have to take your gear off and run a hundred yards, grab a bat, and expect to be your best at the plate, that’s what you have to do.
“Proud of him. Couldn’t happen to a better kid,” Bianco continued. “We talk about good things happening to good people, and that’s what happened today.”
Knight actually showed last season, when he was called on to catch or hit, that he could be counted on.
“That’s why he’s such a respected guy and liked guy on our team,” Bianco said. “He works his tail off and will do anything (for the team). He’s a good player. He’s a guy we count on. He was the best guy to bring in at the time.”
“It just worked out,” said an obviously happy Knight, a sophomore from powerhouse baseball program Sumrall and coached in high school by his father. “I feel great. I’m just glad we could get the win for the guys. We played so hard and we were so close.”
Knight didn't catch on this day, but he was clutch in his only at-bat
"Each team ended the game with just five hits apiece.
“Today (Sean) Furney, their starter, just handled us,” Bianco said. “And we just didn’t muster up any sort of push for a run. He pitched so well.”
Bianco also thought his pitchers performed well. Starter Mike Mayers, a junior righty, went six innings with two hits, four strikeouts and three walks. He got out of a bases loaded jam during his stay.
Freshman LHP Matt Denny went 1.1 innings allowing one hit in six batters faced. Senior RHP Tanner Bailey was next in and went an inning, also getting out of a bases loaded jam, with two hits and two walks as well as a strikeout.
“Mike (Mayers) pitched well, much better than last week,” Bianco said. “But there’s still more in his tank for sure. But today he showed the command with the fast ball and threw a lot of good changeups.
“Denny came in and did a good job,” Bianco continued. “One of the keys to being a special team is to make pitches when the game is on the line. Denny did that, (Tanner) Bailey did that. And (Brett) Huber did that.”
Huber entered the game in the top of the ninth with one out and two Rebs on base. Huber got a fly out to left and fanned the second batter faced to keep Rhode Island off the scoreboard and give the Rebels a chance for the victory.
Ole Miss is now 6-0, while Rhode Island is 0-5.
Huber got the win, his first of the season to go along with two saves. Ram reliever Ty Sterner got the loss.
“He’s our guy,” Bianco said of bringing Huber in with the score still 0-0 and with no way to tell how long the game might go on. “You don’t want to lose 1-0 with them with a runner at second base and with two opportunities. The goal is to always bring him in with a lead, but this was a chance to win the game.”
And so they won it.