Clark, the true freshman first baseman from New Palestine, Ind., flew out to right field in his first at-bat as an Ole Miss Rebel. In his second, he hit the top of the right center wall for an RBI double. Then came the third at-bat, and this time the 6-foot-2, 210-pounder launched one out of the park, a two-run home run that gave Ole Miss a 6-2 lead over visiting New Orleans.
The Rebels won 7-2 to open the 2007 season as the Privateers fell to 0-1 before 4,524 at chilly Oxford-University Stadium/Swayze Field.
"I just wanted to drive the ball," said Clark, 2-for-3 with 2 RBI in the game. "I got under a couple of them, but I hit that last one real well. He (UNO starter Bryan Cryer) came with a fast ball and tried to blow it in on me. But I was ready for it."
Indeed he was and the blast gave the Rebels some insurance in a game that was fairly tight to that point with Ole Miss leading 4-2. UM starter Will Kline had gotten out of a jam in the top of the sixth inning. There were men on second and third with just one out. Kline stood tall and got a strikeout and a ground out to end the UNO threat.
"We're up two runs with guys on second and third and a base hit ties the game, so I just buckled down," Kline said. "I told myself this is what you're here for. I just wanted to make pitches and get out of that inning. That was big for us that I didn't give up a hit there."
Earlier, Kline had struggled a bit in the first inning but got things together.
"Lot of adrenaline and getting caught up in opening day with the crowd and all," said Kline, who went six innings allowing one earned run on three hits with three walks but with eight strikeouts. "I just knew I had to battle through it."
UNO took a 1-0 lead in the top of the first when Kline walked a couple of batters and the Rebels committed an error.
In the bottom of the first, the Rebels came back with three straight singles by Justin Henry, Zack Cozart, and Fuller Smith to lead off the frame. Cody Overbeck flew out to left to score Henry to tie the game. C.J. Ketchum singled over the third baseman's head to left field to score Cozart and give Ole Miss a 2-1 lead.
Ketchum said UNO starter Cryer was typical of good pitchers the Rebs will see each weekend of the season.
"We knew he was tough," said Ketchum, who went 3-for-3 with an RBI in the contest. "He's the kind of opening day pitcher that was going to be tough. You have to be able to handle all his pitches because he will throw a lot of different stuff. You just have to be able to adjust to him, and you want to be able to hit the ball up the middle against a guy like him. We were finally able to get him out of the game."
Cryer took the loss and went six innings allowing five earned runs on nine hits with no walks and no strikeouts. David Burch relieved Cryer in the seventh, and Saltillo native and former Itawamba Community College pitcher Matt McKissick finished the last inning and a third for UNO.
Up 2-1, the Rebels added a run in the second and third innings and led 4-1 when New Orleans scored in the top of the fourth to cut the UM advantage to 4-2. The Privateers threatened again in the top of the sixth. But that's when Kline got out of the precarious situation, and Clark homered in the bottom of the sixth to put some space between the two ballclubs.
"Not a bad day and not unexpected to us," said Bianco of Clark. "We know how talented he is. But anytime a freshman comes in and gets off to a good start like that, it's exciting."
Bianco said he was pleased with reliever Brett Bukvich, who went the final three innings with no damage and two strikeouts.
"I don't think Brett made a bad pitch or missed a spot in three innings," he said. "He did a great job."
The Rebels and UNO meet again at 1:30 p.m. Sunday. RHP sophomore Lance Lynn will go for the Rebs, while New Orleans sends senior RHP Ryan O'Shea to the hill.
Clark, Ketchum lead Rebs past UNO
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