Opportunistic Rebs fight off adversity

They were recognizable by the normal Friday night pinstripes, the bleach-blond hair at shortstop and the frustrating freshmen duo at the top of the lineup. But this wasn't the same Rebels that lost 13 one-run affairs in 2007. These guys in Red and Blue were opportunistic. They had a killer instinct. They ignored the baseball gods.

A flustered Mike Bianco talked about those "powers that be" and how they haven't been kind to Ole Miss following the doubleheader loss to Vandy last Saturday. Another negative mishap occurred during the fourth inning against Sam Houston State, but it was how the Rebels responded that was the difference.

Ole Miss jumped on the Bearkats early but saw a four-run cushion evaporate by the bottom of the fourth. The electricity was dwindling inside Oxford-University Stadium, and momentum was pushing hard toward the visiting dugout as Ole Miss came to the plate.

The Rebels mounted a possible rally with a single by Zack Cozart and a walk by Logan Power but back-to-back strikeouts put two outs on the board. Alex Kliman was in the hole with two strikes early, but then the nine-hole hitter responded. The catcher ripped one back through the middle that would score Cozart and put Ole Miss ahead. That is, if the ball didn't connect squarely with pitcher Jacob Howard's foot. The ball stayed in the infield and the score stayed tied. Jordan Henry grounded out a batter later to end the threat.

It was the kind of thing that would have placed permanent damage on the Rebel psyche at times this season. It is easy to recall situations where one piece of bad luck has sent Ole Miss in a tailspin. But Friday wasn't one of them.

Will Kline stranded a Sam Houston State runner at third the next half inning, and the Rebels opened up the offense soon after to take the tenseness out of the outcome.

A Zach Miller triple was the go-ahead run in the fifth to re-energize the crowd, but an inning later was when an opportunistic outburst put the game away.

Power again walked and Evan Button sent a groundball to the right side a batter later. Automatic double play was the thought that ran through the mind of the collective Rebel faithful, but Bearkat shortstop Jeremy Holzback botched the turn and both runners were safe.

That was the opening Ole Miss needed. A bunt, a walk and a liner plated three runs to put the game in hand.

The Rebels received breaks, and they also took advantage of them. Kline discussed in the postgame about how stats don't matter in a regional. It is just about winning. It is a time where guts are as important as anything else, and the Rebels definitely showed theirs.

The clutch hitting mixed in with superb run-saving defense was the mixture that Ole Miss used frequently. All three outfielders turned probable extra-base hits into outs as Kline was getting hit hard early in the game. Miller and Cozart each went up the middle in different innings to keep a runner at third. Bianco called the play by Miller the "best play he has ever seen from a second baseman."

Even with the early adversity, it was one of those nights in a good way for Ole Miss. Bianco stayed with Kline during a sixth inning jam and the junior responded by getting out unscathed. Reliever Justin Cryer was selected to finish the contest, and he delivered with three shutout innings. Peyton Farr, who is a normal defensive replacement, made a highlight-reel diving catch to end the top of the eighth.

Coaching coin-flips have haunted Bianco all season, but most worked themselves out in the regional opener. The head coach pushed the right buttons, the players padded the lead when necessary and Kline battled for six innings without his best stuff.

It wasn't a perfect game by any stretch, but it was an important one for a team searching for consistency and making a third-straight push toward Omaha. The opportunity to gain a commanding regional position will present itself at 5 p.m. Saturday against the Golden Eagles. Winning will take a solid all-around effort, and Friday was a solid foundation to gain confidence and increase swagger.

Perhaps the baseball gods weren't kind against the Commodores, but Friday showed what Ole Miss needs to do when that occurs. The Rebels have to take matters into their own hands and play fundamental baseball.

The kind that Omaha contenders play.

OM Spirit Top Stories