Kline gives thumbs-up performance in Hoover

HOOVER, Ala. - Will Kline gave Mike Bianco, his head coach, a thumbs up after the eighth inning. Who would have expected anything less from the Rebel right-hander?

Wednesday night was vintage Will Kline in every way. He's a big-game pitcher. This was a big-time game.

His nine-inning, complete-game, one-run, eight-hit performance against fourth-seeded Mississippi State lifted fifth-seeded Ole Miss to a 3-1 SEC tournament-opening victory. It puts the Rebels, if they can beat eighth-seeded Tennessee on Thursday night, in excellent shape for another run at the title this weekend.

Bianco said he for sure saw the thumbs up. He just wasn't totally sure what it meant, to be honest.

"The last two innings I thought he hit another gear," Bianco said of the fourth-year junior. "He looked real sharp and was dominating the strike zone. After the seventh I asked him how he felt and he said great. After the eighth he just walked by me and gave me a thumbs up and that was it. I went to (pitching) Coach (Kyle) Bunn and I asked him if that meant he was OK. So I went and asked (Kline) and he said 'Yeah. I'm ready.' He really wanted to be out there."

That much was a given. A Mississippi kid pitching for Ole Miss against Mississippi State. Oh yeah. He wanted to finish this one up.

"I usually pay attention to Coach Bianco late in the game, but I just ignored him tonight late in this one," said Kline, whose game moved up a level as a collegiate pitcher against MSU in Jackson last season, a 1-0 shutout victory. "I just thumbs-upped him and sat down. I really wanted this game.

"It's a big win to get us off on the right foot in this tournament. Tonight was a special night, a good night all around," Kline added. "This is the SEC Tournament. We're the defending champs. The crowd, it was great. The adrenaline took over, even if I were to have gotten tired any. You don't even realize what you're doing out there when you pitch on adrenaline."

Kline, with 10 strikeouts in the contest, now has 123 on the season. That's a new UM record, but it might be surpassed by his teammate, Lance Lynn, on Thursday night against Tennessee. Lynn currently has 120 Ks this year, which matches the old record of 120 set by Mark Holliman in 2005.

Kline, with the win now 6-2 on the year, got out of a couple of jams in this one. He got MSU's Brian LaNinfa to strikeout in the third with runners on second and third and two outs. The pitcher's best friend, a double play, ended the fifth with a run already in for MSU.

But the bottom of the sixth, a five-pitch inning for Kline, helped move him along, and he appeared to only get stronger from that point on.

Bianco said Kline was "the game" for Ole Miss on this night.

"That was the whole game," Bianco said of Kline, who threw 132 pitches, walking only two Bulldogs. "He was so dominant tonight holding down a very good offensive Mississippi State team. It was a great effort by him, and we needed every bit of him tonight."

The opposing head coach said Kline was obviously at his best.

"Kline was an ace tonight," said MSU skipper Ron Polk, whose team lost to the Rebels 17-7 when Kline started against the Bulldogs in late April. "The last time we faced him in Oxford, his command wasn't that good. Tonight he was tough."

"Will was just tremendous," said Rebel first baseman C.J. Ketchum. "He had everything working for him, and he kept them off balance for the better part of the night. When he's like that, he's tough to beat. He was definitely on tonight."

Indeed he was. But nobody expected anything less from Will Kline. A thumbs-up performance for sure.

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