You might say a two-run inning isn’t that big. For an Ole Miss offense that’s failed to score much lately, it was a huge lift. That came in the sixth and tied the game 2-2.
In the eighth, the Rebels put up four runs to all but put the game away. It was a scene not played out much lately for Ole Miss baseball.
“It seems like we’ve been talking about the big inning for the last three weeks or so now,” Alex Yarbrough said. “A four-spot in the eighth was huge. A great day for the offense and something we look to build on.”
In the seventh, with the score still tied, the Rebels had runners on second and third with one out and tried a suicide squeeze with Jake Overbey at the plate to take a lead. But it failed and pinch runner Will Jamison was out in a rundown heading home. Overbey then grounded out, and a big opportunity had passed the Rebels by.
“They were playing in and we felt Jake wasn’t having good at-bats,” said Ole Miss head coach Mike Bianco, his team now 36-24. “We figured one run was going to win the game and the best shot was to squeeze. Why first pitch? Because I didn’t want to get a strike and then try to squeeze and foul a ball off and end up with him 0-2 with a guy at third base. You don’t assume that he’s going to miss it or you wouldn’t squeeze. Me and (Cliff) Godwin talked about not doing it on the first pitch. My fear not doing it on the first pitch was he would get a strike on him and then if he tried it and didn’t get it then you have two strikes on it. Figured he would get a fast ball which he did.
“But it’s tough,” he continued. “Freshman trying to get a squeeze bunt down in a Regional. Just a tough play. But you’ve got to try to win the game.”
The inning before, Tanner Mathis singled to lead off the inning. Yarbrough tripled to the right center gap to score Mathis. Matt Snyder grounded out to score Yarbrough. So the Rebels left that inning 2-2 and headed for more opportunities.
They didn’t get it done in the seventh but the eighth was rewarding. Four runs in the eighth was something Ole Miss hadn’t experienced in a while.
Preston Morrison, TCU starter, went a solid 6.1 innings and allowed just two runs on six hits with five strikeouts and two walks. But the Rebels got into the bullpen past first reliever Justin Scharf and were able to extend the lead.
Mathis walked to lead off the eighth, then Yarbrough singled. With runners at first and second, after Snyder struck out, Kirksey was hit by a pitch to load the bases. Reliever Brandon Finnegan walked Auston Bousfield to score Mathis and give the Rebels the lead they didn’t relinquish.
After Sikes Orvis singled to score two runs, TCU changed pitchers again down 5-2. Austin Knight, in to catch for Will Allen, reached on an error on the second baseman. That scored Bousfield to make it 6-2.
The relief crew had let TCU down, and head Coach Jim Schlossnagle said that was the game.
“Obviously a disappointing finish for us the last three innings,” he said as his team fell into the losers’ bracket at 36-20. “The first half of the season, the back end of our bullpen had been really good. We just didn’t throw enough strikes.
“We set the table for a good offensive team. Throw in a hit batter and bunch all that around a base hit and an error, and you aren’t going to win Regional games like that. Good ballgame for seven innings.”
On the flip side, the Rebels getting some runs across the plate was important – for this win and for this team and its confidence moving on to Saturday night against either Texas A&M or Dayton.
Bianco was pleased with the game for his team.
“I thought we just played really well today. It always starts on the mound, and Bobby Wahl gave us a great effort,” Bianco said. “He had an electric fast ball today, and we stuck with it a lot. R.J. Hively has done what he’s done the second half of the season at the end of the game. We were very clean defensively.
“But probably the thing,” Bianco continued, “is today we got the big hit and were able to put an inning together.”
The top of the lineup with Mathis getting on board and Yarbrough coming through – they combined for four of the Rebels eight hits and four of the Rebels’ runs scored – was key.
“Tanner Mathis kept pressure on them the whole game at the top of the lineup, a guy hitting .350,” Bianco said. “Tough to get out, walks a lot, gets us going.”
Wahl said he felt good, especially after the first inning or so.
“The big thing was going out there in the first inning and I was trying to do too much,” Wahl said. “But after that first inning, I really settled in and was myself again.”
So were the Rebels, especially after scoring some runs late in the Regional opener.
Ole Miss will start sophomore right-hander Mike Mayers (5-3, 3.52 ERA) Saturday night.