Baseball is a funny sport.
One minute, you're cruising along with a game apparently in pocket.
The next, all hell breaks loose and you're in a fight for survival.
The prime example was Saturday's game between Ole Miss and Wright State at OU Stadium before over 8,000 Rebel fans.
Starting pitcher David Goforth was masterful through 7 frames and the Rebel offense had scratched out enough offense to lead 4-0 heading into the top of the eighth with closers Brett Huber and Jake Morgan ready to clean things up.
Then, the bottom fell out.
Wright State lit up Huber and Morgan for a four-spot in the eighth and it took heroics by Alex Yarbrough on defense and offense to get the one-run victory.
"At the end of the day, it's good to win, but we didn't play very well and that's the message I gave the team," said Coach Mike Bianco, whose team, by whatever means, is now 2-0 on the year. "We have to play better. Offensively, it was not a bad day, but we could not make things happen when we had several opportunities.
"We'd get picked off or not get a squeeze down or leave the bases full and put a goose egg up. The good thing is that we won despite not playing well and we won late when some teams would not have fought through Wright State having the late momentum."
Yarbrough, the sophomore second sacker, saved the day with double sterling plays.
When the game crept into an extra inning tied at 4 all, Alex made another sterling defensive play in the top of the frame and had the game-winning RBI in the bottom of the 10th.
Setting the scene, Wright State moved a runner to third with one out on a double and sac bunt. Bianco pulled in the infield in and Raider Catcher Corey Davis hit a sharp grounder to Alex, who slipped, regained his footing and fired a one-hop strike to home where catcher Taylor Hightower handled the throw and tagged out the potential go-ahead run.
"I knew Davis pulled the ball all day, so I was kind of expecting something," said Alex. "He ripped it right at me and I knew I had to block it and get the throw off. Hightower made a great play on a poor throw and tagged the guy out. Great job by him."
In the bottom half of the frame, as fate would have, it was Alex's turn again. This time, leadoff pinch hitter Zach Kirksey was hit by a pitch. Pinch runner Eric Sauls advanced on SS Blake Newalu's sac bunt and CF Tanner Mathis was sent to first on an intentional walk.
Yarbrough then pounded a slider up for the game-winner, scoring Sauls from second.
"In the bat before, the submariner they had on the mound left a slider up and I flew out. In the 10th, I was looking for the slider again and was able to get it down in right centerfield for the RBI single," Yarbrough noted. "I was glad to get that hit because we left way too many runners in scoring position, myself included, and it never should have come down to that."
Prior to the late-inning shenanigans, the story of the game was Goforth, freshman 3B Preston Overbey and missed offensive opportunities by the Rebels.
Goforth shut down the Raiders for seven innings, allowing no runs and five hits while fanning five and only walking one.
"I felt great. I pitched well and gave our team a chance to win," said David. "My hard work over the summer paid off today. I had good command for a while. I kept going back to the cut fastball, a pitch I know I can throw in the strike zone.
"Overall, I pitched well. One of the biggest things we have talked about all preseason was to not give any free passes. I only walked one and I felt good about that. With the new bats, and teams scrapping for runs, it's important not to give up any cheap baserunners."
Goforth impressed the Rebs' baseball skipper.
"He went mostly with cutters and was terrific. He also did well his fastball at 98-99 MPH. He even threw some sliders and a couple of changeups for strikes," noted Bianco. "I was also impressed with his play in the field. He picked a guy off and made some nice plays hustling over to cover first."
Meanwhile, in the bottom of the second, the big frosh - Overbey - made his presence known quickly. After a Jordan King walk, Overbey planted a fastball off Wright State starter Cody Kopilchak, a crafty lefty with a nasty changeup, over the left field fence to spot Goforth and lift the Rebs to a 2-0 lead.
"It's really neat to see a freshman come out and play like he has so far," Bianco added. "He's a terrific, big time player."
The Rebs juiced the basepaths in the fourth and fifth innings, but were not able to scratch out any runs. The most disappointing aspect of that was the bases were loaded in the fifth with no outs and still no tallies on the scoreboard.
In the seventh, however, the Rebs strung together some successes at the plate and stretched the margin to 4-0.
Matt Smith reached second on an error, PH Matt Tracy sent him home with a single and Hightower knocked in Tracy with a double.
Then came the craziness.
Bianco turned the mound duties over to Brett Huber, who was a Freshman All-American in a closing role a year ago.
The talented sophomore didn't have it on this day, facing four batters, recording one out, giving up a run, a walk and two hits before Bianco pulled him in favor of the Comeback Kid, closer Jake Morgan, who sat out last year with Tommy John surgery.
Morgan, unfortunately, got off to as inauspicious start as Huber did, allowing an RBI single and an RBI double.
When the dust settled, the two heralded Rebel relievers had surrendered four runs on four hits and it was a whole new ballgame.
"That's one of those things in baseball you just can't explain, but it happens," said Bianco. "It happens to the best of them."
The ninth was uneventful as both teams went down meekly.
Then the 10th and the fireworks began.
Yarbrough provided the fuse and the fire to end it in the extra frame.
"You have to have games like this and the good thing of the day is that we pulled it out in the end," Bianco closed. "We'll take it, we'll take any win, but as I said, we have to play better."
Morgan, who worked 2 2/3 innings, got the win.
The Rebels will go for the sweep Sunday at 1:30 on what is expected to be another beautiful day in February as the opening series of the season concludes. Junior LHP Austin Wright is set to start for Ole Miss.
Skin Tight Win
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