HOOVER, Ala. - When the Ole Miss Rebels needed a lift on the mound late in Friday night's elimination game with Alabama, Mike Bianco called on Brian Pettway. So the junior right fielder strolled in from the outfield and got the job done, allowing only one run to score under his watch, an unearned one in the top of the eighth.
Then in the bottom of the eighth when his team needed another lift with the game tied 3-3, Pettway indeed lifted his team at the plate by bombing a two-run shot high off the center field wall that helped send Alabama home from the Southeastern Conference Tournament.
"What a great performance by Brian Pettway tonight to come in in relief and get the win and then hit a monster home run," Bianco said after the Rebels' 5-3 victory, eliminating the Crimson Tide which had also lost to Ole Miss 3-1 Wednesday night.
Pettway responded and acted as usual - as if it was all in a day's work.
"I was able to come in and pitch well," said Pettway, now 2-1 on the season. "And on the home run, I was able to get one down in the zone, get my bat on it and get it over the fence."
Pettway, batting a league-leading .401, said he couldn't remember hitting a ball as quite as hard as that one - or one quite as important.
"It was one of the hardest balls I've hit in a long time," he said. "And I don't think I've hit one any bigger."
Bianco said the whole game was a classic.
"Just another great baseball game," he said. "A very well pitched game by both. Not that great a defensive game for us, but we were able to hang on and win."
Tommy Baumgardner, the junior left-handed reliever for the Rebels, warmed up as many as three times in the game, much like he had done the night before. But Bianco said he felt the Rebels needed Pettway when he sent him in with one out and men on second and third in the eighth.
"We needed a strikeout, and Brian has a better strikeout ratio than Tommy," Bianco said. "Tommy's a good pitcher, but he's a guy that gets them out by ground balls and fly balls. He can strike some guys out, but statistically he's not quite the strikeout pitcher. So we went with Brian."
Almost the forgotten man in the mix was starter Eric Fowler, the junior left-hander who has become a force on this staff.
"My control probably wasn't as good as it has been," said Fowler, who went seven and a third innings, allowing three runs, two earned, on four hits with four walks while striking out nine. "I just seemed to get my slider in the zone and get some ground ball outs and some fly balls and some good plays by the defense. I just tried to focus even more after runners got on base to give us a chance to win."
After Alabama scored a run in the first, the Rebels scored three in the second. The game remained that way until the Tide scored a run in the sixth to trail 3-2.
The Crimson Tide then scored a run in the eighth when Pettway issued a bases loaded walk to Morrow Thomley to score Gabe Scott and tie the game at 3-3. Crimson Tide Emeel Salem then fouled out to the catcher with a high pop up; then Pettway struck out pinch-hitter Spencer Pennington to end the inning and keep the game tied.
In the bottom of the eighth, Chris Coghlan reached on a one-out single with a hustle effort as he slid head and arms first into first base just ahead of a throw from the second baseman.
That's when Pettway came up and belted a first-pitch off David Robertson over the wall in straight away center to put the Rebels up 5-3. The home run was his 19th of the season, moving him to within two of Jason Huisman's school single-season record of 21 set in 1998.
But the drama was not over. After Pettway got two outs in the top of the ninth, Gabe Scott singled to center field, followed by a deep ball to the center field wall by Evan Bush as Ole Miss center fielder Miles Franklin leaped high and crashed into the wall to make the catch to end the game.
"Obviously Brian Pettway is a very good player," said Bama coach Jim Wells, who admitted that his team would most likely not be able to host an NCAA Regional now that they were eliminated from the SEC tourney so early. "Hopefully he will go high in the draft and we will never have to see him again. We had some missed opportunities tonight, but we'll move on from here."
Pettway allowed one hit and walked two in 1 2/3 innings, and also struck out two. David Robertson (7-5) was charged with the loss, allowing two runs on two hits and striking out two in two innings.
Alabama junior starting right-hander Jordan Davis pitched six innings, allowing three runs, one earned, on six hits and no walks, while striking out two.
Cooper Osteen went 2-for-3 with a RBI to lead Ole Miss at the plate. Scott was 3-for-4 with a RBI for Alabama. The Rebels out-hit the Crimson Tide 8 to 5.
Ole Miss, 42-17, now faces Florida, 41-18, at 1:30 p.m. Saturday. The Gators beat the Rebels 10-7 Thursday night. Ole Miss won the regular season series 2-1 in Oxford.
Bianco said the Rebels will start RHP Anthony Cupps (7-3, 5.61 ERA), while the Gators are scheduled to go with junior RHP Bryan Ball (6-3, 2.76 ERA).
"We will get ready for the game at 1:30 tomorrow," said Bianco, noting that the Rebels would play two if they win the first game against Florida. "Then we'll worry about another game if we win that one."
Pettway comes through for Rebs against Tide
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