JACKSON - Ole Miss needed some insurance late in its 8-3 win over Southern Mississippi Tuesday night. Nobody in the crowd of 3,212 at Smith-Wills Stadium would've believed it would come in the form of an inside the park home run.
But in the top of the ninth inning and with a 6-3 lead, Justin Henry delivered a rocket just right of center field to the base of the wall that at first looked like an RBI double, then perhaps a triple. That it would become an inside the park round tripper was beyond anyone's wildest imagination.
"When I hit the ball I knew it was in the gap, so I was thinking triple for sure," said Henry, who went 2-for-5 in the contest starting at second base instead of regular starter Cooper Osteen. "Coming to third I saw Coach (Stuart) Lake waving his arms (toward home), and I'm thinking ‘What happened out there?' I wasn't expecting that. I just did what he said and kept running. I was expecting a play at the plate, and I saw their catcher had started walking out to the mound and I was just thinking again ‘Wow, what happened out there?' I'm still not sure I know."
What happened was the Golden Eagle shortstop and second baseman took the throw in from the centerfielder, but they basically collided. Neither could come up with the ball, and rather than any type of error being awarded, the scorekeeper decided, and rightfully so, on a home run – inside the park style.
"I can't remember if I've ever seen that before," said Ole Miss Coach Mike Bianco of the inside the park home run. "At least not with a team I'm coaching. That was special and also important because we were able to get more runs at that time."
Bianco used seven pitchers in the contest – starter RHP Stoney Stone (4.0 innings, three hits, two earned runs, one strikeout, one walk, 50 pitches); RHP Brooks Villar (1.0 innings, one strikeout, two walks); RHP Jon-Jon Hancock (1.1 innings, two hits, one earned run); RHP Chris Moffett (one batter faced, one hit); LHP Tommy Baumgardner (two-thirds of an inning, one batter faced, double play ball); RHP Brian Pettway (1.0 innings, three batters faced, three outs); and LHP Stephen Head (1.0 innings, two hits, four batters faced, fly out, and game-ending double play).
"We planned to use that many pitchers tonight. They were all written on the list," Bianco said as he pulled out a sheet with the names of potential pitchers for the evening. "We actually planned to use Will Kline and not Stephen Head. But it didn't really work out that way. The biggest thing was for the guys to do their jobs and to gain some confidence and to fill up the zone. That's what I liked. We filled up the zone and we made some critical pitches at some critical times. That was good to see."
Stone said getting the start and the win (he's now 2-0 on the year) was positive for him and for the team.
"My changeup up was definitely working tonight," Stone said. "I felt I located good and kept them off balance. They're a really good fastball hitting team. I went out there to throw strikes and compete. I felt good out there and even better that we got the W. That's all that really matters."
After a scoreless first inning, the Rebels jumped on USM for three runs in the top of the second. The big shot of the inning came from Miles Franklin, who went 3-for-4 with two RBI in getting a start in centerfield, as he doubled to left to score two runs after a Zack Cozart ground out got the first Rebel run home in the inning.
A Pettway single, a Hancock walk, and a Henry infield single had loaded the bases before Cozart and Franklin got some runs across.
Ole Miss hitters gave all those pitchers an even larger lead in the top of third as Head singled and Mark Wright sent one out of the ballpark for a 5-0 UM lead.
"I was seeing the ball real good early, and we were fortunate to get some runs early," said Wright, who was 2-for-3 with two RBI in the game. "My at-bat that inning was a slider down, actually a pretty good pitch by the pitcher. I just got a good swing off and carried it out."
USM cut the lead to 5-2 in the bottom of the third and added another run in the bottom of the seventh. That's when Ole Miss answered in the top of the eighth with a run to make it 6-3 as Chris Coghlan doubled with two outs scoring Zack Cozart who had walked.
Then came the two-run ninth as Henry hit it long and hard and raced around the bases. Bianco said getting those last two runs was big as USM came to bat in the bottom of the ninth for one last chance to pull it out or to keep it going.
"We made it 8-3 and with a five-run lead and Stephen Head on the mound, you're not going to lose too many of those," he said.
Ole Miss had defeated USM 9-1 in Oxford earlier but then lost to the Golden Eagles 10-9 in Hattiesburg. Henry said the victory Tuesday night was big for a Rebel team that had been struggling to get wins the past two weeks.
"We needed this win for our confidence," he said. "It is great to win against Southern Miss and take the series (2-1) from them this year. This was a good win for us."
Ole Miss improved to 25-12 while Southern Mississippi is now 27-9.
Henry also said he was pleased that when given the chance to start he could come through.
"I'm backing up Cooper (Osteen), and he's probably the best second baseman in the SEC," the Vicksburg High product said. "I'm used to coming in off the bench, so it was nice to come out and get a start and perform. I'm glad I was able to do that tonight to help the team."
And he also wouldn't mind finding a video highlight of his dramatic ninth-inning rarity.
"I'd really like to see what happened out there," Henry said, "because that was pretty crazy."
An 8-3 win in Jackson gives Rebs series vs. USM
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