It was like two boxers trading punches for nine rounds, neither giving ground, neither expecting any.
But in the end, the Ole Miss Rebel baseball team got a much-needed - almost critical - 9-8 victory over Southern Mississippi at O-U Stadium Tuesday night on the strength of a two-run Chris Coghlan single in the bottom of the eighth inning and strong relief pitching from winner Garrett White in the top of the ninth.
White gained a little redemption because in the top of the eighth, with the Rebs leading 7-4 and the bases juiced, he gave up a two-out grand slam to Marc Maddox on an 0-2 count to put the Golden Eagles up 8-7.
"I just had to put that behind me," said White, now 2-0 on the year. "It wasn't that bad of a pitch - it was more good hitting on Maddox's part, so I shook it off and went back out there in the ninth with a good feeling."
It didn't hurt matters, he said, that the Rebs were up a run when he took the mound to close the game out.
"The two runs we scored in the bottom of the eighth to regain the lead made everyone feel a lot better, me included," White added. "There is a different mindset when you are up a run rather than down one entering the ninth inning. The guys had confidence in me to deliver and I needed that support after giving up the grand slam."
Chalk that up to Coghlan, the preseason All-American who has struggled some at the plate this season.
With his team trailing 8-7, the bases full and USM ace closer Daniel Best, who entered the game with a 0.00 ERA, on the mound, Cogs came through in the clutch with a soft single to left that plated JoJo Tann, running for C Justin Brashear, who had reached on a single, and Justin Henry, who had walked off Best.
"We still believe," said Coghlan. "I knew Best would have to come to me with a fastball with the bases loaded and I just sat on it and fought it off into left field. This win is huge for us considering what we have been going through and how tonight was playing out. Our belief paid off."
Coghlan said the key to the game was not hitting the panic button after several bad outings in a row and a 1-5 SEC start.
"When you panic, you press and you can't play baseball when you are pressing. We were relaxed going into the game, but we all knew we needed a win to get some momentum going before we headed to Georgia this weekend," Coghlan noted. "After we took the lead, we all knew Garrett would close out the game in the ninth."
The contest was one of those games in which neither team asked for nor received any quarter. Every time one team would strike, the other would answer.
The Rebs got on the board early with a run in the bottom of the first on a Henry double and a fielder's choice on a Coghlan dribbler to third. USM answered in the third with one run on three hits off starter Brett Buckvich. Buckvich was the first of four Rebel pitchers to make an appearance in the game while USM sent five hurlers to meet the Rebels.
In the bottom of the third, the Rebs regained the lead when Evan Button, Henry and C.J. Ketchum singled in succession. Ketchum's single plated Button from third. Again, Southern Mississippi answered the bell with a run int he top of the fourth on three hits. Maddox, who led off with a single, scored when a grounder off the bat of Brian Dozier took a bad hop and hit Coghlan in the temple. Cogs said after the game that nothing was hurt except his feelings for allowing the run on the error, bad hop or not.
In the bottom of the fifth, Ole Miss struck again with one run on one hit. Button had a one-out single, moved to second when Henry walked and advanced to third on a fielder's choice on a Ketchum grounder to short. Button scored when USM starter Barry Bowden tried to pick Ketchum off first and threw over errantly.
A two-out single by Kevin Coker scored Maddox - there's that name again - from second in the top of the sixth to tie the game at 3-all. Maddox led off the frame with a sharp single to left, stole second and scored on Coker's hit.
In the seventh, it appeared the Rebs had blown the game open with four runs on three hits. A single by Zack Cozart scored Ketchum from second and then a successful squeeze bunt by Alex Presley plated Coghlan from third. Mark Wright mashed a Cole Basinger pitch 372 feet on a line over the left field wall for the third and fourth runs of the inning.
With a 7-3 lead, Reb Coach Mike Bianco sent Cody Satterwhite, who had control problems against Alabama last Friday and lasted on one inning, to the mound to protect the lead and close out the game. The best laid plans. . . Satterwhite hit the first batter, walked the second, gave up a hit to load the bases, walked in a run and was yanked in favor of White.
White got the first two outs easily and had an 0-2 count on Maddox, but the baseball gods were in Maddox's corner when he smashed a White fastball over the left field fence for an 8-7 Golden Eagle lead.
Enter Coghlan and his eighth inning heroics.
"We needed this one," said Henry in an understatement after going 2-2, scoring twice and walking three times. "We needed it badly. I have to admit, we were thinking a little about past games when we were up 7-3 and then gave up the grand slam to find ourselves down 8-7, but we put that behind us and stepped it up."
Bianco was philosophical about the comeback.
"We tried to impress on the players that it was just like a 2-1 game. We were down one run and had two at bats to tie the game or go ahead," he said. "You have to put the grand slam behind you and play ball, just like Alabama did to us Saturday when we took an 8-7 lead with a late grand slam and ended up losing to them 9-8.
"If you let it, baseball can be a cruel sport. You can't let it. Where we have been lately, with games going against us, I knew it wouldn't be easy. Tonight was a tough game against a tough opponent, but we showed a lot of heart and character to come back and win the game late. Baseball isn't always fair, but I think we deserved something good to happen for us tonight and it did."
Bianco was particularly proud of the job the Rebel hitters did against Best.
"Best is a very good pitcher with a submarine delivery that is hard to pick up," he continued. "Justin Brashear led off with a huge single, Logan Power laid down an excellent sac bunt, Henry walked on a great at bat and Cogs came through with the big hit. To do that against Best is a great effort and we won the battle with some excellent at bats."
Henry, Button and Ketchum each had two hits for the Rebs, now 14-11 overall, in their 12-hit attack. Coghlan drove in three runs and Wright's homer gave him two ribbies.
USM, now 20-7 overall, also had 12 hits and was led by Maddox with three hits, four RBI and three runs scored. Quite a night for the Ferris Trophy finalist. Dozier and Toddric Johnson added three hits apiece for the Golden Eagles.
Buckvich worked five innings, giving up three runs on 10 hits with all three runs earned. Craig Rodrigues worked 1.1 innings and gave up no hits, but walked two. Satterwhite was off the charts, giving up four runs and not recording an out as his control woes from last Friday continued.
Best, 2-1, took the loss for the Golden Eagles.
"We're hoping this win will put a good taste in our mouths and give us some momentum going into the Georgia series. We have dug ourselves a hole in the SEC, but a good series this weekend could get us back on track," Bianco closed. "That's our goal."
Rebs top USM 9-8
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