SOMEWHERE IN ALABAMA - This particular story was written in my mind from sometime during the Friday night game until I arrived back at a hotel in Birmingham after midnight. I'm here for a friend's wedding Saturday night. I will miss the Saturday night game at Auburn and drive back to catch the Sunday finale. Then it's back to Oxford.
I may take Monday off.
Now that you are caught up with my weekend schedule, let's talk about game one of the important series at Auburn. I went through every conceivable explanation for Friday night's 4-3 loss to the Tigers, and the one thing that kept coming back (as bad as I hate to use it) is "that's baseball."
Don't you detest that phrase? So just shoot me. But sometimes it is true. It was Friday night.
First of all, the Rebels had won seven games in a row and 10 of their last 11 games since coming home from LSU. The baseball gods, as some like to say, just ain't gonna let you win 'em all in this sport. Sorry, but it's true.
Let's take a closer look. Mark Holliman. I thought the Rebel junior right-hander may have had his best outing of the year. Mark said after the game that everything was working. All his pitches were on.
He hit 90-92 a lot of the night. He topped out at 95.
No, he wasn't perfect. But his solid Friday night performance gave the Rebels an excellent chance to win had they been able to muster any offense early.
Of their first 15 outs, eight were easy popups. One of them a popup bunt. The offense for much of the game looked a lot like it did during that stretch of losses at Vandy, against Bama, and at LSU. Since the win over USM in Jackson and the Georgia series in Oxford, the Rebel offense had been more productive.
Maybe it was a blip on the screen Friday night, and UM actually did get 11 hits. But only three runs with that many hits won't cut it most of the time.
After a solo home run by Mark Wright in the second, the Rebels left two men on in that frame. Both those events started a trend.
The Rebels left nine men on base in the game. Both times there were home runs - the other by Brian Pettway in the sixth - nobody was on base in front of the Rebel batter.
Leading 2-1 heading into the bottom of the sixth, Holliman experienced some hard luck right off the bat in the inning. Tiger Clete Thomas hit a ball very high and into the right spot, just past third and just short of the left-fielder, actually not too far from foul territory. The speedy Thomas made it all the way to second base.
So just an inning after the Rebels gave Holliman a slim but still welcomed one-run cushion as the game moved to its latter stages, up popped Thomas with an unusual double.
When the dust settled and the inning had ended, the Tigers had three runs and led 4-2 after six complete.
But Ole Miss came right back and chased starter LHP Arnold Hughey from the game after there was a ground out by Zack Cozart and a base hit by Miles Franklin. RHP John Madden entered and immediately gave up back to back base hits to leadoff batter Cooper Osteen and Chris Coghlan. The Rebs appeared poised to make something happen. What happened was disaster in a game that you trail, and with the outs becoming fewer and fewer.
Stephen Head, 0-for-5 in the game (and I was told but did not research 1-for-30 all-time against Auburn) grounded into a 6-4-3 double play. You just knew that was a huge blow to any chance the Rebels had of extending the win streak to eight.
Holliman trotted back out to the mound with his team trailing 4-2. But after a ground out and a single, Holliman gave way to LHP Tommy Baumgardner who, after a successful bunt by Auburn put Tigers on first and second, also got out of it via the double play.
Fastforward to the ninth. If Ole Miss could just get the lead, you knew what would happen next. Head would head to the mound to close the door.
But first the Rebels had to get the lead for the game to continue. It almost happened. Almost.
With right-handed closer Michael Nix on the hill for Auburn, Cozart singled to left. Franklin singled up the middle. Osteen sac bunted them successfully to second and third respectively.
What more could you ask for? Coghlan, Head, Pettway potentially all up - and only one out.
Coghlan flew out to left, scoring Cozart. Up came Head.
With one mighty blow of his bat that would send the ball out of the park, Head could make certain he would head to the mound for the bottom of the ninth.
So the Rebel all-star, with a 1-0 count, sent a rocket far and long and to the deepest part of Plainsman Park - which was beautifully caught near the wall by Tiger left-fielder Ben Sprague, who had just entered the game obviously for defensive purposes.
There was no storybook finish for the Rebels in this one. No win streak extender.
Since a fireworks display was planned for the postgame, maybe it was appropriate that Auburn won. But for the Rebels, the fireworks were only more annoyance for the evening.
We tried to talk to players and coaches afterward, but the intense noise from the nearby exploding light and sound show made it all but impossible.
What we saw and heard was complete and total disgust by the Rebel players and coaches collectively that they'd not gotten a victory in this one.
Some of you on the message board leaned toward the "that's baseball" theory. Others said the Rebels blew it and lost a very winnable game.
I can tell you from the looks and words of the players and coaches that they side with the latter of you on that. Angry at themselves for letting this one get away is the best way to describe them. Actually there appeared to be some visible frustration throughout the contest from some Rebels.
"We had every opportunity to win tonight and we didn't take advantage of it," said UM co-captain Barry Gunther after the Rebels fell to 34-14 overall and 12-10 in SEC play. "We got guys in scoring position and didn't do anything. We let too many oppoortunities pass us by tonight."
"This game wasn't just about the last inning," said Rebel head coach Mike Bianco. "We had several opportunities throughout the game but couldn't push runs across. Tip your cap to Auburn. They maximized their opportunities and took advantage of them."
Game two of the series is at 7 p.m. Saturday. Junior LHP Matt Maloney (5-1, 1.83 ERA) goes to the mound for Ole Miss, while junior RHP Josh Sullivan (6-4, 3.82 ERA) starts for Auburn, which improved to 29-19 and 10-12.
The Rebels need to win the back two games of this series to stay on the roll they got to Auburn on. By the actions and demeanor I saw from them and their coaches during and following Friday night's loss and knowing the talent on this UM team, my money (of course, no betting on college sports, please) is on them to do just that.
Rebs angry bunch after loss to Auburn
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