HOOVER, Ala. - Sometimes the breaks just don't go your way. That was Ole Miss' story here Thursday night as the Florida Gators rallied for the second straight night for a 10-7 win against the Rebels in the winner's bracket matchup in the SEC Baseball tournament.
"I want to give Ole Miss an awful lot of credit," Florida coach Pat McMahon said. "I think the fans here tonight saw one heck of a college baseball game."
"You've got to credit Florida because they're very good," Rebel head coach Mike Bianco said. "But we didn't get many breaks tonight. It was just one of those nights."
The Rebels, after trailing 5-0 after five innings, had a chance to close the game after scoring seven unanswered runs to take a 7-5 lead and chase starter Alan Horne and reliever Mike Pete. But with Florida on the ropes, the Gators responded for the second straight night. Last night, Florida trailed the Arkansas Razorbacks 8-2 after seven innings, but the Gators scored seven unanswered in the eighth and the ninth to claim a 9-8 victory. Tonight, the Gators scored five unanswered in the game's last three innings to bounce back from a 7-5 deficit and remain in the all-important winner's bracket with Mississippi State, an earlier winner against South Carolina.
"They got a hit when they needed it," Ole Miss first-baseman and closer Stephen Head said. "It was a back-and-forth game. We got the grounder. They got the hit. You never knew what was going to happen next. We hit well. They hit well. But they capitalized when they needed to."
Through the first four-and-a-half innings, it didn't seem like any team could score against starters Matt Maloney and Horne. Maloney gave up no runs on two hits with six strikeouts and no walks through the game's first four frames, and Horne matched him with no runs on four hits with five strikeouts and one walk. But Maloney blinked first in the pitcher's duel, surrendering five runs in the fifth to give Florida a commanding 5-0 lead. Florida second-baseman Brian Leclerc and left-fielder Gavin Dickey both reached on infield singles to open that inning. After a sacrifice moved Leclerc and Dickey into scoring position, the Gators then reeled off four hits to plate five runs.
Ole Miss responded, however, as Brian Pettway opened the next inning with a line-drive homerun that just cleared the left field wall. After Stephen Head walked and Mark Wright doubled, second-baseman Cooper Osteen singled to close the gap to 5-3. Osteen later scored on a Florida error to make the score 5-4.
After Maloney held Florida scoreless in the sixth, the Rebels used two-out hits from Wright and catcher Barry Gunther, sandwiched between a walk and another Florida error, to score three more runs and take a 7-5 lead.
But the Gators wouldn't let it stand. Maloney, after throwing his 100th pitch to end the sixth inning, came out to start the seventh, giving up a walk and a hard-hit double to first-baseman Matt LaPorta to start the inning. With the Rebels nursing a two-run lead and runners on second and third with no outs, Ole Miss turned to its closer Head to get the Rebels out of the jam. But Head, after throwing 44 pitches in a two-inning save against Alabama last night, gave up a hit to Brian Jeroloman to close the gap to 7-6.
Then the breaks started going Florida's way. Head got the next hitter, Florida third-baseman Brandon MacArthur, to ground out to third, and Ole Miss third-baseman Chris Coghlan threw home to keep LaPorta from scoring to tie the game. But Coghlan's throw, which would have reached the plate in plenty of time, hit LaPorta in the back, deflecting the ball to the backstop and allowing LaPorta to score while sending Jeroloman and MacArthur to second and third with only one out. Leclerc, Florida's next batter then grounded out to second, scoring Jeroloman to give Florida an 8-7 lead. Head would get out of the inning with no further damage, but that's all the scoring Florida would need.
The Rebels had their chance in the top of the eighth to tie the game, after Coghlan and Pettway had back-to-back singles with one-out, but Gator pitcher Stephen Porter coaxed Head into a fielder's choice, putting runner's at the corners with two outs. The Gators then turned to one of their two closers in Darren O'Day, who struck out Mark Wright on four pitches to get the Gators out of the jam.
The Gators added two more insurance runs in the bottom of the eighth to go up 10-7. The Rebels went 1-2-3 to close the ninth.
"I thought Matt was dominant tonight," Bianco said. "But we just couldn't buy a break. We had to play perfect to win, and we certainly didn't do that."
Ole Miss will now face Alabama, the Rebels' first-round opponent in a 3-1 Ole Miss win, in an elimination game tomorrow at 5:30 p.m.
Rebels get few breaks in losing to Florida 10-7
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