Mike Bianco made a pretty bold statement after Will Kline pitched in Sunday's 5-3 Ole Miss win over Tennessee.
"That was a Stephen Head performance today," said Bianco after the third-year sophomore relieved starter Lance Lynn in the top of the fifth inning with the Rebels leading 4-2 and Volunteers standing on first and second base with no outs.
So what exactly does that mean? For followers of Rebel baseball the past three seasons, no explanation is needed.
But here's what the sixth-year Rebel mentor meant. Head was called on for three years to, among several other things, close games by entering well before what most would call a closer situation - like Kline did today in the top of the fifth.
Head would often finish strong, just like Kline did today. The Rebs would often win, just like they did today to complete the three-game sweep of the Volunteers.
So there you go. A very Stephen Head like performance indeed.
Kline, who got two UT batters to strike out and another to ground out after entering in the fifth, went the rest of the way, allowing just one run on four hits with four strikeouts and a walk.
The lone run was a leadoff bomb in the top of the seventh by Michael Rivera that cut the UM lead to 4-3 and made things a bit shaky. But all Kline did was shake it off, and move on, just as he had done on the pitch that left the park off Rivera's bat.
"In this system, Coach Bianco gives us the ability to shake off," Kline said. "I wanted to come with something soft. I shook off and threw a changeup and the kid hit a home run. I just tip my hat to him."
Other than that, Kline was nearly perfect.
The Rebels trailed 2-1 in the third when Justin Brashear sent a 3-2 changeup out of the park to tie things up. After a Zack Cozart double in the fourth, Alex Presley made it 4-2 on a two-run blast to the opposite field just shy of the left field terrace seats.
Presley said when Kline came in with Ole Miss still up 4-2, he felt confident that things would continue to be positive for the Rebels.
"He's really got it going right now." Presley said of the righty from Tupelo. "He's throwing with a lot of confidence. When he's on, we just assume they're not scoring. He's got sick stuff."
Sick stuff? We know what that means. It means really good stuff that's hard to hit. So what does "stuff" actually mean in pitching terms? That was asked of Bianco Sunday after the victory.
"It's what a pitcher uses to get them out," he explained. "His repetoire, his stuff. That's just what it means. Fast ball, changeup, whatever a pitcher uses to get the other hitters out. In Kline's case, fastball low to mid 90s, slider 83-86, and a great changeup. Will throws a great changeup, a great slider, and a great fastball. Put it all together, and when he's filling the zone and throwing strikes, his stuff's the best out there."
Impressive assessment by his head coach. But ever the team player, or in this case pitcher, Kline said it was more about the Rebels than himself on this day.
"It feels great," he said of his pitching performance after moving to 2-2 on the year. "But it feels even better that Ole Miss won, to be completely honest. It feels great to keep winning."
But Bianco reiterated that Kline's emergence lately has made a huge difference in a team that's 17-4 in its last 21 games, starting with a 9-8 come-from-behind win against Southern Mississippi in Oxford on March 28.
"He's been doing this for the last several weeks," said Bianco of Kline, who has 19 strikeouts and only one walk with just three earned runs in his last 18 innings of work, beginning with a seven-inning performance as the starter in a 1-0 win over Mississippi State in Jackson. "He has a lot of confidence. When you look at his stuff out there, no doubt he has the best stuff on the team."
Good stuff indeed. For Kline and for the Rebels Sunday, this weekend and the last 10 games, winning them all to move from 20-15 to 30-15. In the SEC, the Rebels are 13-8 and tied for second place in the overall race behind league-leading Alabama.
But Bianco also had good words for the starter, Lynn, who gave up two runs, none earned, with four strikeouts but five walks.
"We did it with pitching and defense today, and what will get lost in all this is how hard Lance battled," Bianco said. "He just really battled out there, and we made it difficult on him (defensively). But he did a nice job early and Kline came in and finished it out."
And Bianco had all intentions of letting Kline finish it out.
"There was really no reason to make a change," Bianco said. "As well as he was pitching and as strong as he was out there, there was no reason to do so."
So, like Stephen Head might have done in the three years prior, Kline took the Rebels home to victory.
*** Notes from Sunday's game:
Tennessee fell to 25-19 overall and 7-13 in SEC play.
Starter Josh Lindholm, 4-5 on the season and one of two pitchers used by UT, went seven innings allowing just four earned runs with one strikeout and no walks. Lindholm pitched against Lynn in their homestate of Indiana. Vol head coach Rod Delmonico said Lindholm did his part.
"Lindholm pitched well and gave us a chance to win," the veteran Tennessee mentor said. "He got a couple of balls up and they hit them out. They had the timely hit, and that was a big difference today."
Ole Miss has now won 10 games in a row since losing the second game of the series at South Carolina 6-3 on April 15.
This weekend, coupled with last weekend's sweep of LSU, marks the first back to back SEC sweeps by Ole Miss since beating Kentucky and Vanderbilt in 2002. The last time Ole Miss had three SEC sweeps in a season was in 2004 when the victims were Florida, Vanderbilt, and Tennessee.
Actually beginning on March 31 with the Friday game at Georgia, Ole Miss has had all three of its SEC sweeps this season in the month of April.
Ole Miss has now won 30 games or more for nine straight seasons.
Ole Miss hosts Nicholls State at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday at Oxford-University Stadium/Swayze Field. UM will start senior LHP Tommy Baumgardner (3-4, 5.40 ERA, 12 appearances, seven starts) against the Colonels of NSU.
Kline closes door on UT as Rebs sweep
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