C.J. Ketchum, clutching the No. 26 t-shirt signifying the latest win for the Ole Miss Rebels, said what you'd expect from a player whose role has been limited and whose at-bats have been few.
"You only dream of situations like that," said the sophomore from Joplin, Mo., whose bottom of the ninth RBI base hit scored Justin Brashear from second base to push Ole Miss past Georgia 4-3. "I was just fortunate enough to be in the right spot and get a good pitch and hit it hard."
Fortunate indeed were the Rebels on this night as Bulldog starter junior RHP Michael Hyle all but handcuffed Ole Miss hitters through eight innings as Georgia led 3-2 heading into the bottom of the ninth.
But Georgia Coach David Perno, who led his ballclub to the College World Series last season as well as a share of the Southeastern Conference title, sent ace reliever Will Startup (junior LHP) to the hill to finish the job. Trouble was he didn't.
Sophomore third baseman Chris Coghlan started the bottom of the ninth for the Rebels, now 26-12 overall and 8-8 in SEC play, with a double down the left field line. Then junior Stephen Head flew out to left to temporarily halt any Rebel comeback.
But junior Brian Pettway singled through the left side of the infield to score Coghlan and tie the game at 3-3.
Rebel redshirt freshman Jon-Jon Hancock followed with a pinch-hit single to center to put runners on first and second as UM Coach Mike Bianco sent Ketchum to the plate. Ketchum then sent a 1-0 pitch down the right field line to score Brashear, who had been sent in to run for Pettway.
Ketchum had been 0-for-12 in his last 12 at-bats.
"Just great at bats for both Jon-Jon and C.J.," Bianco said. "Those guys had been sitting on the bench for three hours and then to come up and be able to get hits off one of the best relievers in our conference, a guy throwing 90-plus. Two great at-bats for those guys."
Starter Hyle, who only allowed two earned runs (Head's 2-run home run in the first) and three hits in eight innings with six strikeouts and two walks on 97 pitches, was impressive.
"We just couldn't get any swings off him," Bianco said. "It wasn't just a lack of hits. We were just very non-competitive throughout the game offensively. He made it look really easy."
Startup faced five Rebel batters, giving up four hits and two earned runs.
Perno, whose team fell to 20-17 and 5-10, said this one was tough to take but that he felt he made the right move heading into the Rebel ninth.
"If Startup wasn't so special, we'd have stayed with Hyle," the Bulldog mentor said of his closer who has five saves this season. "But we had to play it by the book, and that's what we did. It's been a tough grind for us this season. We can't get too high with wins or too low with losses."
Bianco was not surprised they replaced Hyle with Startup for the ninth inning with Georgia leading 3-2.
"I think you have to do that," he said. "That's why that guy's on their team. He's probably got their save record. He's won as many games as anybody. He's their man, and with a lead, they had it exactly where they wanted it. If they do that 100 times in a row, it might work out. It just didn't work out for them tonight."
Head, who came in to pitch after reliever Tommy Baumgardner walked the first batter in the top of the eighth, got the win to move to 6-2 on the season. Head allowed one earned run with two strikeouts and a walk, facing eight batters.
Junior RHP Mark Holliman started the game and went six complete, allowing two earned runs on six hits with six strikeouts and two walks, throwing 114 pitches.
After Head got Ole Miss on the scoreboard in the first for a 2-0 lead, the Bulldogs answered with a run in the top of the second and another in the fourth.
The game was tied until a solo, wind-aided, home run over the right field wall off Head by Bulldog Joey Side gave his club a 3-2 lead. After Head got cleanup batter Josh Morris to fly out to left field, the Rebels had one last shot at it in the bottom of the inning.
Startup went in, and the Rebel offense did just that.
Ole Miss had but three hits coming into the ninth and got four in the inning. Georgia had eight in the contest.
The Rebels and Bulldogs meet at 4 p.m. Saturday in game two of the three-game series with the finale at 1:30 p.m. Sunday.
Junior LHP Matt Maloney (4-1, 1.75 ERA) will go for the Rebs, while senior RHP Sean Ruthven (1-4, 5.01) goes for the Dogs.
The Rebels and their coaches hope the game one win will keep things going their way.
"We haven't had a win like this in a while," Bianco said. "I think this is big for our team. Obviously I like the way we responded in the ninth."
Ninth-inning dramatics lead UM past Georgia
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