Thriller To The End

There was a sea of red moving toward the outfield and a wall of noise from every direction moments after Ole Miss shook Florida's collective hands and sent the No. 1 ranked Gators back to Gainesville with two losses in three games.


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Mike Bianco from Jeff Roberson on Vimeo.

I just happened to focus on No. 48 in red. I have to remember who 48 is every once in a while. It's not his old number.

Stephen Head, forever etched with Ole Miss sports' most famous number on his back – 18 – now wears a new number. But the old feeling of when he wore No. 18 came back on this bright, cloudless, sunny Sunday afternoon.

I saw him take his cap off and look in all directions. He was soaking it in, I could tell.

"It's one of those things, and it's the SEC and every series is huge. But when you play a team that's ranked No. 1 at home on Sunday for a chance to win the series, it doesn't get better than that," Head said, standing in the home team dugout not long after the Rebels' dramatic 7-6 victory.

He could relate to this year's players at that moment.

"I know what those guys are feeling," Head said. "I just wanted to watch those guys and see how they reacted to it."

But he also got that old familiar feeling of many great wins from 2003-05 when he became a three-time All-American for the Rebels. And he was confident all the way Sunday against the Gators.

"Never any doubt that we would win," he said, mentioning as a player and now as a student assistant coach, the Rebels are an amazing 15-3 against Florida in baseball with him in the dugout. "Of course, I was standing there just hoping. We always talk about ‘will it' and make it happen in your mind. I was just behind the guys with everything I have right there. It was tremendous."

Ole Miss got it done to move to 20-8 on the season and 5-4 in Southeastern Conference play.

Florida came in playing as well as anybody in the nation at 23-2 overall and 5-1 in SEC play. They leave 24-4 and 6-3 and still one of the overwhelming favorites to win the national championship in June.

So with that being the case, what does that say about the Rebels?

It says a number of things. One, it means they are improving, and that might be as much from the mental aspect as physically. If you sit on the sidelines or in the stands, watching on TV, listening on radio, even following on the internet, there is absolutely no way to realize and absorb how tough a player and a team have to be to win a series like this one.

That is, as much as anything else, how far this Rebel team has come through 28 games.

"What a big weekend for us, but for a lot of reasons," Ole Miss head coach Mike Bianco said. "One, we (came in) 3-3 in the league. Two, we're about to go on the road for two weekends and play two top 25 teams (Kentucky, Georgia). Three, you're playing the team (Florida) that's leading the conference. On top of that, they're the No. 1 team in the country.

"But the other thing yet to be determined is how much do we grow as a team?" Bianco continued. "Do we use this to help elevate us and gain some confidence? For (Chris) Ellis and (Aaron) Greenwood and a lot of guys who haven't played in this type of atmosphere, which was like a Super Regional type atmosphere, it was big."

Neither had Senquez Golson, who had struggled for a month as some things didn't go well for him and he saw much less playing time.

So here's the bottom of the ninth. There will be no tenth inning. Florida's departure time for the airport prevented another inning to begin past 3:45 p.m. And it was right about that time as the bottom of the ninth began Sunday.


Bobby Wahl scores the winning run
Bruce Newman

So Golson comes up, and here is the scenario. Will Allen has singled after an out, and Bobby Wahl – yes, Friday night starter Bobby Wahl – is sent in to pinch run for Allen. Wahl didn't even have on his cleats or a game jersey.

Superman? Certainly a quick change at that moment.

Preston Overbey singles and Wahl races to third base. Slugger Zach Kirksey is intentionally walked.

The bases are loaded. Florida has seven players inside the diamond to defend. Only two of its players are in the outfield.

And Golson, who in the fifth inning had directed players in "Love Is Gone" from in front of the dugout, digs in.

Golson hits the ball on a 1-2 count toward a cluster of Gators, and it's picked up by Preston Tucker, the right fielder playing in, who throws it home and tries to get Wahl racing in. And throws it away.

Ballgame. Rebs win.

"Sheeeew, I'm still shaking right now," Golson said, but having composed himself to talk to us. Actually the freshman said he had gathered himself well before that.

"I settled down before I got in the box," he said. "I told myself ‘They gonna feel as much pressure as I am.' I just had to put the ball in play somewhere. Hopefully they'll toss it around somewhere, not think right, make a mistake. That's exactly what happened.

"Great base-running by Bobby Wahl coming in. That was a shocker. Fun to watch," Golson continued. "Team effort. Think about the eight innings before that. That put us into a position to win the game."

Golson said he had never seen an infield with that many foes in it.

"I didn't even know it was legal to do that," he laughed and said.

Brett Huber, the closer who got the win, came in to start the eighth to try to keep things right where they were. And he did. Six batters, one strikeout, no damage. Not even close.

"Huber's effort kind of gets lost in all of it," Bianco said. "To come in with a tie score which he hasn't done all year and really dominate the last two innings, he gave us a chance to win the game."

Huber closed out the Friday night game, too, pitching the last inning after Wahl's masterpiece needed a finishing touch, a 3-0 victory. It was Huber's sixth save of the season on Friday night, and this after a couple of tough SEC moments against Auburn and Alabama.

"That's baseball for you," Huber said. "I felt really good today, but I've felt really good all year."

Wahl said it was a whatever-it-took situation to win this one.

"When I was sliding in (to score), I saw the ball go past me," he said. "It was one of those weird feelings. I just scored the winning run. I hadn't even put a helmet on since high school. It was a really crazy feeling actually."

Bianco knew, even after Ole Miss went up 5-0 after two innings, this one was far from finished.

"We got the five-run lead and they did what we knew they would do," he said. "They came back swinging and punching. It was like a heavyweight boxing match. All of a sudden you take one breath, and they put four runs on the board with two outs. Much like they did yesterday."

Indeed it was that, between two heavyweight teams. One we knew was already there. And one we found out this weekend can likely also be there, if it isn't already.

Some call the SEC baseball season "The 30-game war." Certainly if you watched this weekend, nobody could ever dispute that.

"A war. Both teams fighting," Bianco said.

Now 21 SEC "wars" remain before this regular season ends.

Stephen Head knows all about that. And the current Rebels are learning that with every passing weekend.


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