Following a weekend filled with offensive ineptitude that resulted in being swept by arch rival Mississippi State, the Rebels managed to earn a top 25 RPI win over the Eagles at Trustmark Park in a game where nothing came easy.
Barber found himself in an unusual position on Tuesday night, as did most of the Ole Miss roster at some point this game. He was forced to pinch run for Michael Fitzsimmons in the 10th inning due to the Rebels comeback from a 5-1 deficit that required them to burn every single position player on the roster by the ninth inning. Barber was then forced to grab a bat in the 12th inning, and was hit by a pitch which put him on the base paths and in position to score the game-winning run after Southern Miss pitcher Colt Smith sailed a ball to the backstop while attempting to intentionally walk Will Golsan to load the bases. It was a wild finish filled with miscues and good and bad fortune. But Ole Miss came out on the good end of it for a change.
The first five innings of this game mirrored the last couple of weeks for this young Ole Miss team. Greer Holston ran out of gas and didn't complete the fifth, and taxed the bullpen early. The lineup was having trouble putting together quality at bats against Southern Miss starter Taylor Braley, who filled up the zone with a mid 90s fastball and an upper 70s breaking ball that had Ole Miss off balance for the majority of the five innings he pitched. Southern Miss led 5-1 heading to the bottom of the sixth.
But back-to-back singles from Thomas Dillard and Grae Kessinger finally chased Braley, and Tate Blackman wasted no time eating into the Eagles' bullpen with a towering two-RBI double to the center field track that plated two runs in the sixth and sparked a three run inning that cut the deficit to 5-4. It was Blackman's only hit in five tries on the night, but it seemingly changed the complexion of the game in terms of how the Rebels faired at the plate.
Braley's successor Nick Sandlin hadn't allowed and earned run on the year, and the Rebels had just five hits to that point. Ole Miss finished with 11 as it began to string together better at bats in the final five innings of the game.
Ole Miss tied it in the 9th when seldom used Carson Klepzig scored on a passed ball, and later won it in wild fashion in the 12th.
It has seemed like this team hasn't caught many breaks over the last couple weeks as it has experienced the growing pains that come with playing the the SEC. But it got a couple on this night, and earned a much-needed and quality win in the process.
Whether it was the passed ball in the 9th, or the one that ended it in the 12th, Ole Miss finally ran into some good fortune, and made good on it when it came.
It wasn't pretty. In fact, the only Rebel with multiple hits was struggling center fielder Ryan Olenek, who had three, including two huge ones in late in the game. But the Rebels found a way and avoided falling to 3-4 in midweek contests.
The timely hits started to come. Cole Zabowski hit a huge base hit in the 9th that got Klepzig to third. Tim Rowe's two-out, two-RBI double in the sixth pushed it to 5-4 and took any margin of error away from Southern Miss.
It hosts a struggling Alabama team this weekend and will hope to carry some of its offensive momentum into that series.
Jason Barber, on plate appearance and the last time he grabbed a bat: "I had been waiting to get called on again and it happened tonight. But really didn't expect to go to the plate and have to swing it or anything. When I came off the base path, Coach B said 'hey if your spot comes up in the lineup, you're going to have to swing it. So Colby grabbed me and we went in the back and got some swings together.
"I guess it was the last time I was here for our state championship game. "
Tate Blackman, on what a win like this can do for this team: " It can do a lot. It is just like a bunt single when you are 0-35. It is a slump buster and you go from there. Hopefully this one will keep us going and keep us motivated. I think it will."
On the game: " It's one that evened out. It has been tough for us the last couple of weeks, a good team that hasn't played great, but haven't had a lot of breaks or have things go our way. We talked after the game on Saturday and said we have to keep pushing. The good things will happen, balls will fall. We certainly saw that tonight."
On Blackman's 6th inning double changing the game: " It was huge. You hear all the time how hitting is contagious, and on the other side not hitting is contagious. It was huge, and there were a lot of good at bats before and after."
On what he told Barber going to the plate: "I told him to hit one out. The wind was blowing out."
On offensive success being good for confidence: "It was nice to see and to see a smile. It has been a tough couple of weeks and the kids kept playing hard.
ON USM: "They're as good as I have ever seen them. Haven't seen their weekend arms, but if you're throwing a guy like that on Tuesday you're pretty good and they have a bullpen like ours."