Rebs come back again

P Matt Maloney

Ole Miss and Georgia engaged in another dramatic battle at Swayze Field Saturday afternoon with the same result as Friday's night's game. The Rebels overcame a late deficit and prevailed 5-4 in 11 innings after falling behind 4-2 in the ninth. The three-and-a-half hour contest was just as suspenseful as Friday's 4-3 come-from-behind Reb victory.

Oxford, MS - This weekend in a key SEC baseball series with Georgia, it doesn't appear the Ole Miss Rebel Baseball team knows how to do things without causing some tension in the grandstands.

After coming from behind to win 4-3 on Friday night with 2 runs in the bottom of the ninth inning, Ole Miss - down 4-2 in the bottom of the ninth again Saturday - tied the score on a two-run double by freshman SS Zack Cozart in the bottom of the ninth, relied on two innings of scoreless relief work from winning pitcher Stephen Head and won the game 5-4 on Cozart's sacrifice fly that plated RF Justin Henry, who singled and went from first to third on a perfect sacrifice bunt by C Barry Gunther.

The Rebel dugout erupted when Henry slid across the plate with the winning tally ahead of Georgia LF Jonathan Wyatt's throw.

Rebel Coach Mike Bianco, whose team is now 27-12 overall and finally above .500 in the SEC at 9-8, took a deep breath before facing the media.

"All day we could not get the two-out hit or the key hit until late, a lot like last night," Bianco said. "We'd get something started in just about every inning and get runners in scoring position, but we didn't capitalize until the bottom of the ninth. In one inning, we had Chris Coghlan on second with no outs and Head, (Brian) Pettway and (Mark) Wright - the meat of our order - coming up and we can't plate him. That's not going to happen very often, but it did today."

The Rebel fourth was a prime example of what Bianco was talking about. The Rebs got five men on base with a batter being hit by a pitch, a walk and three singles, but they scored only one run, when Jon Jon Hancock's single plated Pettway, who was hit in the back earlier in the inning.

"Their guy in left (Kyle Keen, who had five of Georgia's nine hits on the night) got one of our runs at home on a perfect throw that never got over shoulder high," said Bianco. "That was kind of the story of our night until late in the game."

While the Rebs were experiencing some futility in plating runs, starting pitcher Matt Maloney was almost dominant, limiting the Bulldogs (20-18, 5-11) to just two runs and four hits through eight innings.

"Matt was on and his effort kept us in the game today. Had it not been for his work, we would not have won the game. That will be lost on some, but it's not on me," Bianco stated.

Georgia did touch Maloney for two runs in the third inning when the Bulldogs got a bunt single, a walk, an RBI single by Keen and an RBI ground out from Joey Side.

From there, Maloney held the Bulldogs in check until the ninth. Meanwhile, the Rebs tied the score at 2-all after their fourth-inning run and a run in the eighth when Cozart, who reached on a walk, was advanced to third by a C.J. Ketchum single (Ketchum had the game-winner Friday night) and scored on a passed ball.

The drama was just beginning.

Georgia was not deflated by the Rebs knotting the score in the bottom of the eighth. In fact, it appeared they were energized. After Keen singled - again, cleanup hitter Josh Morris pounded his eighth home run of the year past the left field scoreboard. The two-run shot chased Maloney and gave the Bulldogs their short-lived 4-2 advantage.

Maloney left with a respectable line score - four earned runs, six hits, six strikeouts and two walks, but the numbers did not do justice to his effort, as Bianco indicated.

Pettway relieved Maloney and got the final two outs of the ninth, but the Rebs were staring down another ninth-frame deficit. This time, it was two runs instead of one run like the night before.

Again, the Rebs responded. Head singled, but Pettway and Wright fanned. Henry - who came in off the bench to play right when Pettway went to the hill - singled and Gunther was hit by a pitch on an 0-2 count to load the bases.

Enter Cozart with the first of four heoric efforts. The talented freshman, who has struggled at the plate in SEC play, hit a fastball down the left field line that plated Head and Henry to tie the score at 4 each.

"I haven't been hitting well lately, but I'm trying to get adjusted to SEC pitching," said Cozart. "You can't guess too much in this league - when you are thinking fastball, they'll break a curve off on you and make you look bad. I was just looking for something in the strike zone to drive and I got a fastball over the plate. Luckily it stayed fair."

In the top of the tenth, Head, who came in for Pettway due to Georgia having three lefties at the plate in a row, was tired from the night before, but he wanted the ball.

Unfortunately, he got in a jam. When Keen hit his second infield single of the game, the bases were full with two outs. Again, Cozart to the rescue.

Joey Side hit a hard grounder to Cozart that took a weird in between hop, but Zack stayed with it, gloved the ball and barely threw out Side at first with an off-balance throw while his momentum carried him toward third base.

"Coach (Bianco) told me if I was going to hit .250, that I would have to make some plays in the field," Zack laguhed. "That's what I did. I got a strange bounce, but I was able to catch it cleanly and get the throw over to first just in time for the final out of the 10th."

"Spectacular play," Head said. "I didn't have my best stuff tonight. I was all over the place, but Zack bailed me out with that great play. He makes hard plays look routine. That's the mark of a great shortstop."

In the bottom of the 10th, 3B Chris Coghlan was hit by a pitch - the fifth Rebel batter hit on the day - and stole second base, but a diving catch of a Mark Wright fly to left by Wyatt ended the threat.

In the top of the 11th, with two outs, Jason Jacobs singled and stole second. Justin Neifer walked, but again Cozart turned in a defensive gem to kill the Bulldog rally when he went in the hole for a Josh Smith grounder and flipped to Cooper Osteen for the force at second.

In the bottom of the 11th, Henry got things going with a leadoff single to left on a 3-2 count, his second hit of the game. Gunther laid down a drag bunt down the first base line. On the slow-developing defensive play by Georgia, Henry went all the way to third with some heads-up baserunning.

That's when Cozart delivered the death blow to the Bulldogs, a fly to left that was just deep enough to plate Henry with the winning run.

When the dust settled, the Rebs had the victory with five runs on 11 hits and committed no errors in the hard-fought outing. Georgia had four runs on nine hits and also did not have a fielding miscue.

Head, now 7-2 on the year, was the winning pitcher for the second night in a row in relief. Mitchell Boggs, the third Georgia pitcher on the day, got the loss. He is now 3-4 on the year.

Cozart led the Rebs with three hits while Henry was 2-2. Keen, obvisouly, paced Georgia with five hits.

Bianco praised several players postgame.

"As I said, Matt Maloney was outstanding, even though he didn't get the decision and gave up the two-run homer in the ninth," he began. "Zack was unreal today. Everyone is going to remember the two-run double, but what I will remember is the great defensive plays he made today. They gave us a chance to win the game.

"We didn't even think we were going to be able to use Stephen in relief today, but he wanted the ball even though he was tired. That's fine with me. I knew he would hang in there, tired or not.

"And our bench, which was so intrusmental to us winning last night, came through again today. Justin Henry with two big hits, C.J. with a huge hit to help tie the score - that's good to see.

"All-in-all, though, what is most gratifying to me right now is the pitching we have gotten two nights in a row."

Bianco said he would enjoy this one for an hour or two, but the Rebs have to lace 'em up again tomorrow at 1:30 p.m.

"Every game is a new adventure and at the end of the day they all count the same," he closed. "This is a tough Georgia team that just has not gotten any breaks this year. They will come at us hard again tomorrow and it will be another battle to the wire."

The Rebs have an opportunity for their first SEC sweep of the year tomorrow. Eric Fowler will get the start for the Rebs.

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