Ole Miss got its 44th win of the season, and Mark Wright got the jersey.
The Rebels say they want to use the front door to get to the College World Series in Omaha. It says so right there on those shirts a team member is awarded after each game for superlative accomplishment that particular outing.
A number of players could have gotten it in this one. Wright's three-run shot out of the park to tie it in the bottom of the fifth was obviously what did it for the fourth-year junior outfielder.
His blast was part of a six-run bottom of the fifth that made this one a whole new ballgame.
The Rebels are one win away from taking that next step through the front door and playing in Omaha for the first time since 1972.
The Miami Hurricanes will have something to say about that. Big-time programs don't lie down. When the going gets rough, they bounce back. We all saw that last year when Texas fell in Game One and bounced back to win Games Two and Three and advance to Omaha.
We saw that tonight from both the Rebels and the Hurricanes in the 20-run, 26-hit slugfest on Swayze Field. It was a big-time game between two big-time programs.
Miami answered Ole Miss' first onslaught but couldn't the second. The Rebels won Game One of the 2006 Oxford Super Regional 11-9 before an announced crowd of 9,202, third largest in Oxford-University Stadium history.
Ole Miss took a 3-1 lead into the second inning, but the visitors from Coral Gables, Fla., scored four runs in the second and two in the third to lead 7-3. But they weren't done yet.
The Hurricanes led 9-3 after a Jemile Weeks two-run home run over the left-field wall in the top of the fifth. Against a post-season seasoned program like Miami that probably should have looked insurmountable. For the Ole Miss players, it didn't look that way at all.
It was as if the Rebels didn't even look up at the scoreboard, certainly not Zack Cozart. In the bottom of the fifth, trailing by six runs, Justin Henry and Chris Coghlan grounded out. That's when Cozart sent one into the top rows of the leftfield terrace area, some 412 feet from home plate. They needed something positive, with Cozart's round-tripper they got it.
"Hitting's contagious, just like everybody always says," Cozart said. "Once we got a couple of hits together, the hits just kept on coming."
Things were just getting good for the Rebels. It was 9-4. Alex Presley singled. C.J. Ketchum doubled to score Presley. It was 9-5. There were still two outs, and the crowd was beginning to feel it, at least a bit.
Logan Power was hit by a pitch. Justin Brashear singled to score Ketchum.
Miami relieved starter Scott Maine with Jon McLean. The hits and runs continued, thanks to Wright.
He sent a 2-2 slider over the right field wall, and Rebel fans into a frenzy. The game was tied 9-9, and the momentum belonged totally to Ole Miss.
"I really wasn't thinking home run," Wright said. "I was just trying to keep the rally going. When it got to 2-2, I was just looking for a fastball. I hit it hard and got some air on it. The balls were flying out of here tonight."
Enter Craig Rodriguez, who had actually entered the game for starter Will Kline back in the third. In the sixth with a Hurricane runner on second base, Rodriguez got two consecutive batters to strike out to keep the momentum on his team's side.
Go back to the fourth for yet another dramatic moment for Rodriguez. The Rebel junior lefty struck out Tommy Giles, but a wild pitch on the strikeout allowed him to reach safely. Jon Jay singled to left to put runners on first and second with no outs. Danny Valencia walked to load the bases. It looked like the Hurricanes' 7-3 lead would expand at that time.
But two infield fly outs and a strikeout later, and Rodriguez had done what a reliever is supposed to do - hold them where they are.
Rodriguez's teammates were highly aware of his effectiveness in the four-and-a-third innings he pitched, allowing only two earned runs on three hits with four strikeouts and two walks.
"When Craig got the bases loaded and didn't let anyone score, that got the momentum for us," said Cozart.
Ole Miss head coach Mike Bianco agreed.
"Craig Rodriguez was tremendous when we needed some life and energy out there," he said. "I thought that inning when he had the bases loaded was huge to keep the game intact. At that point it could have gotten ugly."
But it didn't, and in the bottom of the fifth the Rebels made it a brand new game, thanks to Rodriguez.
"When I came to the mound Coach told me we need you to put up a couple of zeroes for a couple of innings," Rodriguez said. "I just went out there and tried to throw strikes. There were a few hitters I fell behind, but I felt for the most part I filled up the zone. It was the best I've thrown out of the bullpen in my life."
Miami head coach Jim Morris, whose team fell to 39-22, said he was impressed with Rodriguez.
"I would guess that was one of his better outings," Morris said. "He was throwing his breaking ball over the plate, and he had a good fastball."
Ole Miss scored two runs in the bottom of the sixth as a Cozart single scored Coghlan who had singled and advanced on a wild pitch. A fly ball to center field by Ketchum scored Cozart, who had advanced on another wild pitch and moved to third on an Alex Presley single.
Could the Rebels hold on to a two-run lead? Would they score more? Lots of baseball left, but Rodriguez was able to get Ole Miss through the seventh. Garrett White came on to finish off the Hurricanes as he had done both Bethune-Cookman and South Alabama last weekend in the Regional.
Bianco says the Rebels, now 44-20, have some work to do, but he likes the way they've gotten things done for a while now.
"We've been playing well for a month and a half," Bianco said. "But really it's been more like two months now."
To win a national championship they'll have to do so for a few more weeks; to get to Omaha, just one more game.
Sunday's game is set for 6 p.m. Rebel freshman LHP Brett Bukvich (6-5 record, 4.08 ERA) will go for the Rebels, while Miami will go with either sophomore LHP Manny Miguelez (8-4, 4.01 ERA) or junior RHP Danny Gil (3-2, 3.11 ERA).
Rebs move to Sunday with 11-9 win over Miami
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