On Fire

Just before the game, Florida changed its Saturday pitcher for its Sunday starter. Bad move. Ole Miss hitters locked in early and hit the baseball often as the Rebels rolled past the Gators 15-3 Saturday night.

Announced starter Brian Johnson, a freshman LHP who will now start Sunday – we think – was pulled in favor of freshman RHP Hudson Randall. If it wasn't a bad move, perhaps it was because the Rebels were, as third baseman Zach Miller put it, "On fire."

Indeed they were, with 19 hits on their way to the rout.

But Rebel starter Aaron Barrett had to put a halt to some early bleeding of his own. Florida got two runs in the top of the first as leadoff man Matt den Dekker walked, followed by a one-out single by Preston Tucker and a two-RBI single by Austin Maddox.

After Nolan Fontana walked, Ole Miss head coach Mike Bianco walked himself – straight to the mound to talk to Barrett. The senior righty followed up the short visit with two straight strikeouts, and with only six pitches, no less.

Unbeknownst to the Gators, their fun on this night was over.

Ole Miss answered with four runs in each of the first two innings to lead 8-2 after two complete and run away with this one in a big way.

"I made some good pitches (early)," said Barrett, who ended up getting the win to move to 6-0. "Sometimes you've just got to tip your hat and go back out there and keep making pitches. I had a few more walks than I'd like, but I just tried to battle out there."

Bianco said he didn't have any great words of wisdom for Barrett when he met with him on the mound in the first.

"I told him ‘You've made good pitches. Just continue doing what you're doing.' He didn't need to think all of a sudden he had to do something different," Bianco said. "Sometimes you make good pitches and they hit it."

But the Gators all but stopped hitting it, and the Rebels started. And kept on.

"They scored two in the top of the first and we scored four in the bottom of the first," said Miller, who was 3-for-5 with three RBI and two runs scored, along with a stolen base. "It's our job as an offense to help our pitchers out. We're just really seeing the ball and have a lot of confidence right now. We're battling each at-bat, just hitting missiles all over the ballpark."

Centerfielder Tim Ferguson, 5-for-5 with an RBI and four runs scored, said it was just his day – along with the Rebels' entire offense.

"This is what I needed," he said, batting in the leadoff spot Saturday. "Today was one of those days where things were falling. It's good for me and good for the team."

Ferguson was indeed pleased with his performance and impressed with the team's.

"Top to bottom, Yarbrough, Mathis or Mort, Hamblin. Everyone is solid and it doesn't matter where you are," he said. "(Pitchers) can't just blow it by them, because there's nobody in the lineup they can do that against."

Ole Miss and Florida each added a run prior to the Rebels putting up three spots in each of the fifth and sixth innings. Nobody scored in the final three innings, but it didn't matter. This was one was over well before that.

Barrett, who went six innings with three earned runs on four hits with nine strikeouts and six walks, was relieved to start the seventh by LHP Matt Crouse. The sophomore was impressive as well, allowing no runs on three hits with a couple of walks and a couple of strikeouts.

Randall was saddled with the loss, his first of the year along with two wins. He was chased in the second inning, and Matt Smith took advantage of the change, hitting a two-run homer to left off Nick Maronde that made it 7-2 at that point.

The Gators used two more pitchers in the contest. Alex Yarbrough was the big stick in the fifth, a double to right off reliever Anthony DeSclafani that scored two runs for the Rebels.

After Taylor Hightower led off the sixth with a double, UF brought in Chas Spottswood who quickly found the going rough as Ferguson got an RBI single, Tanner Mathis doubled to score a run, and Miller singled to score the game's final run.

Game time is 1 p.m. for the finale. Trent Rothlin, the Rebel starter the first three weekends this season, will start again, after giving way to Matt Tracy the past two Sundays. The junior right-hander is 3-1 on the year with a 3.63 ERA in eight appearances.

"He's been solid in his relief outings and very consistent," Bianco said of Rothlin. "I think I like a right-hander against them than a left-hander. The good news is we've pitched well for two days, and we've got a lot of pitchers available."

Gator Sunday starter Johnson enters the game with a 1-1 record and a 4.29 ERA. He's walked only three in 29 innings pitched.

Miller said he doesn't know that much about Johnson.

"I know he didn't pitch today," Miller said, candidly.

After watching the Rebels' hitting barrage in this one, he may not want to on Sunday either.


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