Sometimes it almost seems like a team wills its way to a win. That's what the Ole Miss baseball squad appeared to do Saturday.
The ninth-ranked Rebels, who lost to 22nd-ranked Alabama 5-4 Friday night, rebounded with a hard-fought, high-scoring 12-10 victory over the Crimson Tide Saturday before the largest crowd ever assembled for an Ole Miss home baseball game, announced at 10,119.
The Rebels ended a four-game losing streak with the victory, but the visiting Crimson Tide put up a fight until the very end in this one. Alabama had runners on first and second with one out in the top of the ninth inning when pinch-hitter Zac Welch grounded into a 6-4-3 double play to end it – finally.
The game didn't have extra innings, although the way the hits and runs piled up for both teams – 19 hits and 12 runs for Ole Miss, and 12 hits and 10 runs for Alabama – it very well could have.
With all the runs scored, lengthy innings, pitching changes, and visits to the mound, this one took three and a half hours to complete. But the Rebels, who had not won a game since a 6-2 win over Vanderbilt eight days earlier, said it was worth the time it took and more to get a win on Grove Bowl 2005 Day in Oxford.
"This was a huge victory for us," said Rebel third baseman Chris Coghlan, who went 3-for-6 with four RBI. "We competed and battled better than we have all year. We kept battling all day long. Everybody played so hard, and we didn't breathe a sigh of relief until that last double play."
Before there was that "last double play" the Rebels and the Crimson Tide kept things interesting all day for the massive throng. The Rebels actually appeared to be in control early, leading 6-0 through four complete, but the Tide scored six runs of their own in the top of the fifth to make things all even again.
Rebel freshman Zack Cozart got things right back on track for Ole Miss with a leadoff solo home run to open the bottom of the fifth. The Rebs plated three more in the inning to lead 10-6 after five.
"It was just a 2-1 fast ball right down the middle and I got all of it," said the Rebels' shortstop who went 2-for-5 in the contest with two RBI. "The game was tied at that point, and I knew we were in a battle. We had to keep competing, and I went up there and tried to get us something back."
After Cozart's solo shot, which was the first batter Bama reliever Jordan Davis faced after relieving starter Brent Carter, sophomore outfielder Alex Presley got a base hit and senior catcher Barry Gunther was hit by a pitch – obviously a rough start for Davis. But more damage was yet to come.
Senior second baseman Cooper Osteen, 3-for-4 on the day with two RBI, sac bunted the two Rebel runners to second and third respectively. Coghlan then grounded out to score Presley for an 8-6 UM lead. Junior first baseman Stephen Head then rocketed a blast to the right center wall which scored Gunther for a 9-6 advantage.
After junior outfielder Brian Pettway was hit by a pitch, sophomore outfielder Mark Wright got a single to load the bases again. Jon-Jon Hancock, 2-for-4 with two RBI in the game, walked to score Head, and the Rebels led 10-6, which concluded the scoring in the frame.
After neither team scored in the sixth, the Tide got four runs in the top of the seventh off Rebel relievers Tommy Baumgardner and Will Kline to tie the game again, this time at 10-10.
Ole Miss broke the tie in the bottom of the seventh. Head led things off with a double to the right field corner. Alabama replaced Davis with sensational young reliever David Robertson who got Pettway to strike out and senior outfielder Miles Franklin to ground out as Head advanced to third.
A Hancock base hit up straight up the middle scored Head, and the Rebels had regained the lead at 11-10.
Bama went scoreless in the top of the eighth, and Ole Miss got its last run of the game in the bottom of the frame. Presley led things off with a double down the line to the left field corner, and Gunther sac bunted him over to third. Osteen got a base hit to left which plated Presley, and the scoring was done for the day.
But some fireworks remained as the Tide tried to come back for a third time and tie it – or win it. Evan Bush walked and Gabe Scott, who had tied the game 6-6 with a three-run homer in the fifth, also walked. But on a Cale Iorg bunt, pitcher Head threw to Coghlan at third to get the led runner, a key factor in the Rebels hanging on for the win.
Then Welch came to the plate and grounded to Cozart at short who flipped to Osteen at second who then threw to Head at first.
"You never know what it will take to win a game, and you never know at the end of the season what games might have been keys to winning a championship," said Head, who pitched two innings of two-hit, two walk, one strikeout relief – although the walks were questionable as the home plate umpire gave him very little room for error on several pitches, and the home crowd let the ump know it. "I was out there yelling and being pumped up, and everybody knows I pitch like that. I tried to fire everybody up and get the job done."
Which he did.
"It was just an all-around good day for us," Bianco said after his team improved to 22-9 on the season and 6-5 in Southeastern Conference play. "We needed everyone to help out with this one, and with 19 hits that was almost the case. We swung it well today against good Alabama pitching. It was our best offense of the year. To be able to answer and extend the lead each time was huge."
Ole Miss took an early lead with four runs in the second, getting five hits and leaving only one stranded baserunner, a stat that lately had not been kind to the Rebels.
They added two more in the fourth as Coghlan doubled home Presley, 3-for-4 on the day, and Gunther, 2-for-3 with an RBI, both who had singled to reach. The Rebels left three on in that inning, and Alabama made them pay with the big six-run top of the next inning – the fifth.
That's when Cozart answered in the bottom of the frame to keep things rolling for the Rebels.
UM starter Matt Maloney left the contest after four and two-thirds, as he allowed only one earned run on five hits, but six runs scored with two Rebel errors in the Alabama fifth. The junior left-handed pitcher also had seven strikeouts and two walks.
Freshman right-hander Will Kline, who faced only two batters in the seventh, actually got the win to improve to 1-1 on the season.
Head, 3-for-4 with an RBI at the plate, got his first save of the campaign after moving from Saturday starter to reliever this weekend. Davis (3-1) was charged with his first loss of the season.
It was a victory for all concerned according to Bianco.
"This was a big crowd on a beautiful day," he said. "We needed them all. It took them and us to get this win today."
Ole Miss and Alabama, now 23-10 and 7-4, go at it in the rubber game of the series at 1:30 p.m. Sunday. Sophomore left-hander Brandon Belcher (3-0, 3.10 ERA) is scheduled to start for Alabama, while Ole Miss will counter with junior right-hander Anthony Cupps (5-2, 4.54 ERA).
Rebs outbattle Tide 12-10
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