Miller lifts Rebs with bat, glove in game 1

Zach Miller knew his teammates needed a lift, so he gave them one.

The redshirt freshman second baseman strolled to the plate in a tight 4-4 game in the fifth inning and ripped a Sam Houston State starter Jacob Howard 2-2 pitch to the right center wall to get something started. Justin Henry got him home on a ground out to second. The Rebs led 5-4 and would not trail again in a 14-5 victory.

"I was trying to get on base any way I could," said Miller, who was 2-for-5 on the night with 2 RBI and 3 runs scored. "I had two strikes in that at-bat, and I was just trying to move the ball. I got good contact on it."

That he did as the crowd of more than 7,000 roared its approval. It was one of many highlights for Miller on the evening. A first-pitch single off Sam Houston State reliever Tom Gray in his next at-bat, which came in the sixth, got Evan Button and Fuller Smith home to increase the Rebel lead to 8-4.

Defensively Miller had several all-star plays, including a throw to Button at first in the seventh inning after Miller raced to his right past shortstop Zack Cozart, moving to his left, to come up with a ball that a lesser effort would have allowed more than the one run to score that crossed the plate. The Rebel lead was reduced to 8-5 at that point, but it would be the final run for SHSU on the night.

"It was close," Miller said. "We were both in double-play depth, and we both had a good shot at it. I just didn't back off and went behind him and saw it missed his glove. I just grabbed it and tried to make a good throw to first. Evan (Button) made a good play by stretching."

Miller said it was just one of those nights.

"All around, offensively, defensively, I felt good out there tonight," Miller said. "It's nice to do that in a Regional game. We needed to step up and we did. We got some runs early, and then they came back. They never went away and they battled."

But when Miller tripled, things were never the same for the Bearkats.

"You just try to run as far as you can on an extra base hit," he said. "I saw the ball was at the wall when I was at second, so I just went for it, taking a risk, I guess you could say. It ended up working out for the best."

Head coach Mike Bianco quipped, "You didn't ask him if he didn't see Coach Rob's hands up (Reinstetle signaled Miller to stop at second)."

"No sir, I didn't," said Miller as the room of reporters and support staff laughed, along with Miller and Bianco and other Rebel players assembled.

Bianco said Miller wasn't just a "special" player in this one. He was much more than that.

"If you had to pick an MVP, Zach (Miller) was the MVP," Bianco said. "Defensively that play (mentioned above) where he threw the guy out, that was a big momentum shift. Of course a run scored, but if that ball gets through, then we might not get out of the inning with only one run. He was terrific all night."

"We came out with a lot of energy tonight," Miller said of the Rebels' fast start to lead 4-0 in the first. "We haven't played in almost a week. We were just ready to go."

Thanks to Zach Miller getting things started again there in the bottom of the fifth, the Rebels were not only ready to go but roll.

"I was just out there trying to make something happen," Miller said.

That he did, several times in this one.

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Ole Miss and Southern Mississippi have been playing baseball for years, and usually two or three times a year. But never has a game between the two instate institutions meant as much as the game at 5 p.m. Saturday.

"It will definitely be different," said team captain Justin Henry of playing USM on a weekend and in the NCAA Tournament as opposed to the usual midweek games. "You're not usually seeing a weekend pitcher and so it will be different in a lot of ways. Anytime you play an instate rival, it's a big game. They swung the bats well earlier today (in a 14-1 victory over Troy). It's going to be a good game."

Bianco said playing the Golden Eagles, now 39-21, will be a tremendous challenge and quite an event for coaches, players, and fans.

"They've had a very good year and certainly finished well," he said. "They played great today, just like they have the last few weeks of the season. They pitch well and have great numbers on the mound. It's going to be a great game."

The Rebels, 38-23 after the victory over Sam Houston State, and Golden Eagles split games this season with Ole Miss winning 6-5 in Pearl and Southern Miss winning 4-2 in Hattiesburg.

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