Rebs top USC 8-4 to win weekend series

Ole Miss struck for six runs in the second inning and essentially coasted to a huge 8-4 win over visiting South Carolina. After a 2-0 loss Friday night, Ole Miss came back to win the three-game series and move to 15-12 in the SEC West race. That's one game behind leader LSU (16-11) and tied with Alabama for second in the division.

After losing 2-0 to the South Carolina Gamecocks Friday night, the Ole Miss baseball team didn't get down on themselves, angry or overly concerned.

They got philosophical.

"We feel we are one of the best offensive teams in the country," said 3rd baseman Chris Coghlan, who had four runs batted in during Sunday's game. "With that in mind, we figured the law of averages would catch up to us. We thought we'd probably score six or eight runs a game Saturday and Sunday."

Coghlan and the Rebs were correct. After Saturday's 7-2 win, the Rebels put up six runs in the second inning and two in the third and held on for the 8-4 margin and series win.

"I'm very proud of the way we battled back after getting shut out Friday," said Coach Mike Bianco, whose team is now 37-16 overall and 15-12 in the SEC West, one game behind division leader LSU at 16-11 and tied with Alabama heading into the final SEC weekend next Friday-Sunday. "We pitched great all weekend. For that matter, the last month we have pitched very well. After Friday night, I felt we'd rebound offensively and start hitting the ball.

"The kid Friday (Aaron Rawl) just had our number. We never could get locked in, but I felt if we could ever get anything going Saturday that it would be contagious, and it was. We looked very comfortable at the plate Saturday and today."

And it didn't hurt matters that the Rebs got outstanding starting pitching performances from Matt Maloney Saturday and Eric Fowler today.

"With our starting pitching and Stephen (Head) closing, we know we don't have to score 10 runs to win, which lets us relax at the plate," said freshman SS Zack Cozart. "We didn't get it done for Mark (Hilliman) Friday, but we got enough runs for Matt and Eric Saturday and Sunday."

Bianco was ecstatic about Maloney Saturday and equally as thrilled with Fowler's Sunday effort.

"Once again, Eric was fabulous. Just awesome. When you start out a game putting up five zeroes, it takes so much pressure off the offense," Mike noted.

Fowler worked 6 1/3 innings, giving up four runs, six hits and two walks while fanning 11. He moved to 5-2 with the victory. Tommy Baumgardner worked 1 2/3 innings in relief and Head, for the second day in a row, closed the game out in relief, getting a 1-2-3 inning in the ninth this time after working three scoreless frames Saturday.

The Rebs had a little uh-oh look to them in the first inning, getting three hits, but making two misjudgments on the basepaths which prevented them from scoring.

But the dam burst in the second frame against USC starter Jason Fletcher, now 5-5 after the loss, and reliever Wynn Pelzer, who never got an out before being replaced by Arik Hempy. Ole Miss scored six runs on five hits and was aided by four walks and one hit batsman.

Mark Wright flew out to start the inning, but Cooper Osteen and Cozart singled to get the rally rolling. Barry Gunther was hit by a pitch to load the bases and Miles Franklin walked to force Osteen home. Justin Henry's single plated Cozart and left the bases full for Coghlan's two-run single. Brian Pettway loaded the bases again when he drew a free pass and another run scored when Head walked. A Wright single plated the sixth run of the frame.

"With a six-run cushion, all I had to do was concentrate on throwing strikes," said Fowler, which he did. Hence the goose eggs on the scoreboard for USC.

Coghlan, the offensive hero of the game, added two more runs in the third with his sixth home run of the year, a shot to right he knew was gone as soon as he made contact. Franklin drew a walk and Coghlan drilled a two-out, first-pitch fastball out of the park.

"We faced Hempy last year and we knew he liked to work inside with his fastball. I was sitting on that pitch," Chris said. "I don't hit many I know are gone, but I knew this one was out of the yard. I admired it a little before I started running."

To Hempy's credit, that was all the runs the Rebs would produce the rest of the game. . . .

. . . . but that was all they needed.

The Gamecocks did get a solo shot from Steve Pearce, his 16th of the year, in the sixth off Fowler and then tacked on three more runs in the seventh, but then Baumgardner and Head stopped the rally at the pass with solid relief pitching in the final two frames.

"I think I lost my concentration in the seventh," said Fowler. "I had the big lead and kind of let up. You can't do that in this league. You have to make every pitch like you are ahead 1-0 and a man is on second. I let my guard down a little and paid for it."

Fowler gained the respect of USC Coach Ray Tanner.

"According to our scouting report, Fowler is one of the hottest pitchers in the league right now and he certainly proved that today. He was staying ahead in the count for six innings and getting us to chase bad pitches with two strikes. I tip my hat," Tanner noted.

Fowler said Maloney helped him out in getting prepared for the outing.

"We were looking at Matt's pitch chart and noticed they would chase sliders in the dirt with two strikes. I got them to do that several times," he stated. "That's why I was able to get 11 Ks."

Offensively, the Rebs were paced by Coghlan, who had two hits, scored twice and drove in four of the Rebs' runs. Henry, who also had two hits in the leadoff spot, Head, Wright and Franklin had one ribbie each in the contest.

So what's up next? The Rebs conclude the regular SEC slate with a three-game set in Fayetteville next weekend against the Arkansas Razorbacks, 37-15 overall and 13-14 in the SEC West race.

"We will go there with the mindset of winning one game at a time. We feel we will have to sweep to win the West, but we have to look at each game individually," said Head. "We will go in there with confidence, but anything can happen in this league. I've never seen teams so evenly matched.

"We will have to play our best there to do what we want to do."

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