Race To The Finish

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. – Mike Bianco talked about his team needing to get tougher after a 10-0 loss to Southern Mississippi last Tuesday in Oxford. He believes Sunday's 8-4 series-winning outcome against Alabama showed some of what the team's been missing.

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It was clearly a moment to test their mettle after Saturday's dramatic 3-2 loss on a walkoff two-run blast to left by Alabama third baseman Brett Booth.

But the Rebels, who trailed 2-0 early on Sunday and again 4-2, were able to stay in the game and move on to win it.

"I think so, and especially on the road," Bianco said of seeing more toughness from his ballclub after it improved to 17-7 overall and 3-3 in Southeastern Conference play. "A very emotional game, and we hung in there."

After the UA lead was cut to 4-3 with one out in the seventh, next up was the play of the day. Will Jamison was on third and Auston Bousfield was on second. Zach Kirksey hit a fly ball to deep center and both runners scored.

Bianco said he liked the aggressiveness.

"Sure. Cliff (Godwin) is very aggressive and I think it's a great play, especially if you have the people (to be able to do that)," he said. "It's a tough play. You're throwing the ball from 170 feet away from home, and they don't practice that throw a lot. It's worth the risk if you've got somebody like (Bousfield) running. The big play was Boz running full speed. Some would have just coasted into third. He tagged up and was running full speed making the turn."

That gave the Rebels, who already had a number of hits in the game but only two runs to show for it before that inning, a 5-4 lead they never relinquished.

Blake Newalu was 3-for-5
Bruce Newman

Bousfield said there was a discussion prior to give it a try if things looked like they'd work out.

"When there was a pitching change, Coach Godwin told me there's one out so go halfway (with the ball) in the air," he said. "But when Kirksey hit it, I knew he hit it pretty good. So I saw the centerfielder going back, so I thought I might as well tag up here. Once he kept going back, and going back, and was up against the wall. I thought ‘I'm going to have a chance to score here.' I look up and Coach Godwin's sending me around. So I kind of expected it a little bit."

Bousfield said he tried to be aware of the situation as he raced toward home, and he made sure to touch home plate.

"When I was rounding third, I saw the catcher was preparing to catch it," he said. "He was kind of creeping up the line, so I knew I'd have to get around him a little bit. But I definitely got the plate."

Bousfield said the team stayed focused and motivated to come out on top.

"We just kind of put things together and it worked out for us," he said.

The Rebels ended up outhitting the Crimson Tide 16-5 on the day as they hit all four pitchers Crimson Tide head coach Mitch Gaspard sent out there. First reliever Spencer Turnbull (0-2) got the loss. As a team, Alabama fell to 9-15 and 1-5.

Rebel starter Mike Mayers went 6.2 innings with four runs, three earned, on five hits with five strikeouts. Dylan Chavez (3-0), who relieved Mayers in the seventh, got the win and continues to pitch well each time out.

"I just had to go out there and keep my team in the game, throw strikes and attack hitters," said Chavez, who went 2.1 innings with two strikeouts and no baserunners in seven batters faced. "That's kind of what worked today."

Bousfield all but admitted the Rebels had to have this one.

"This was an important game," he said. "Before the game, Coach B was telling us great teams are the ones that can get up off the mat after they've been knocked down. That's kind of what happened yesterday. This was big, and I think it will help out the club. Hopefully we can keep it rolling."

There was a slight altercation or two between the teams at a couple of high-intense moments. Bianco said it's all a part of life in the Southeastern Conference, as well as two teams that were laying it all on the line.

"I thought it was a good game, a good series," he said. "Lot of emotion today. Both clubs wanted to win really bad."

Ole Miss hosts Jackson State Tuesday at 6:30 p.m.

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