The freshman from Oxford High School has been stellar defensively all season, but finding his offensive rhythm had been much more difficult. He came into Saturday night’s contest with a .180 batting average.
But none of that mattered with the score tied 4-4 late in this one, and Kessinger drove home the winning run. The Rebels had trailed 4-2 as their half of the eighth inning began.
What did it ultimately mean? The Rebels have games to win to be able to reach anything beyond the Southeastern Conference Tournament. Most want to know how many SEC wins it will take between now and Hoover. That’s a tough one to answer definitively. Let’s just say 11 was not going to be enough, and it will likely take 14. Maybe 15.
Ole Miss now has 12 SEC wins and 30 wins overall in what has been a difficult and trying season much of the time. The victorynight snapped a five-game losing skid within the conference. After sitting 11-9, Ole Miss lost the finale at Arkansas, was swept at Florida, and had lost to the Aggies night.
Then came the dramatics late in this one. Don’t discount the pitchers that helped lift this team in game two of this series. Ryan Rolison, Will Stokes, Will Ethridge, and Dallas Woolfolk combined to give their team a chance – and then came that eighth inning offensively that put the Rebels over the top.
It’s a highstart for the finale, likely the final home game of the season. An NCAA Tournament appearance will be on the road – unless the Rebs do some special things, like win all four of the remaining SEC games and make some SEC Tournament noise. That probably would also mean playing on the weekend in Hoover. They’ll take them one game at a time. Before heading to Arkansas State and Auburn for three games after that, it’s all about and the last one against Texas A&M.
Ole Miss freshman shortstop Grae Kessinger
On the big hit in the eighth - “Coach (Bianco) said be on time for the fast ball. (The A&M pitcher) is a hard thrower, so I really tried to do that. The more pitches I saw, I was more comfortable. I kept fouling them off and I felt I was going to get a hit here. I just stayed aggressive and it all worked out.” On how he felt when he hit it: “It was great. You dream about stuff like that, getting the big hit and everybody going crazy. This was a big win for all of us, and we’ve got momentum for.” On watching the women’s softball team win the SEC Tournament on the video board during the late stages of their own victory: “Congrats to them. They’re doing a great job this year. I believe they’re going to keep coming and do great things.”
Ole Miss head coach Mike Bianco
On how his pitchers kept the team in it until the offense got going: “They’re so good and they’ve pitched at such a high level for a couple of months. They just don’t give (the other team) much. It wasn’t an easy night for us on the mound. Tough night for Ryan but he hung in there. Stokes gets a big strikeout and gets us off the field. We hung in there and kept it close to be able to win it in the eighth like we did.” On Grae’s hit: “He’s terrific. He hasn’t had the year offensively I think he thought, we thought, anybody thought. But to his credit he’s played great defense. He’s done whatever we asked. Ask him to bunt, whatever. He’s going to be a superstar. That’s just the first of many huge at-bats for him.” On the Ole Miss softball team winning the SEC Tournament: “So proud of them. To see what (Coach) Mike Smith’s done and to do it so quickly. To take over a program that wasn’t just down but never was up. (Last season they were) in the (NCAA) postseason, and now an SEC Championship. I know him and his staff are going to enjoy it and they should. They deserve a lot of credit. In our league (softball) is like baseball, and maybe even better. Somebody said they may get every SEC team to go to the (NCAA) postseason. We all know how tough it is to play in this league, so to do what they’ve done is really neat.”