Ole Miss needed to bounce back from its loss Thursday night to Kentucky. So it went out and won Friday night 11-5.
The Rebels, had they been able to play better Thursday, play with more energy, and finish the game strong, could have won eight Southeastern Conference games in a row. The table was set for that. But they let Thursday night get away from them, a Bobby Wahl start that rarely ends in a loss.
Friday night wasn’t just about winning. It was about starting well and finishing strong, which Ole Miss did.
“Proud of the way we swung the bats, especially after coming off of last night, which we talked about,” said Ole Miss head coach Mike Bianco. “We just weren’t very good.”
That about summed up Thursday night. They were much better on Friday night.
“I thought we were terrific against a very good pitcher in (Jerad) Grundy,” Bianco said of his team’s offensive output. “Just a good night 1-9.”
Mike Mayers shut down UK in the first, and Ole Miss exploded for four runs in the bottom of the first. Up 4-0, the Rebels were in great shape. But it didn’t last long. In the top of the second, Ole Miss had two errors and Mike Mayers was charged with a balk that allowed a run to score. Kentucky had only one hit in the inning and wound up with three runs.
But after that, the Rebel defense was superb, and Mayers at perhaps his best all season, allowing no more hits while he was in the game.
“I thought Mike was sharp and had a really good mix of all three pitches. Then plan going in was to keep them off balance,” Bianco said. “Certainly Mike was real good tonight.”
“Our offense did a good job attacking from the beginning,” Mayers, 3-4, said. “It was definitely nice to pitch with a lead from the beginning.”
Mayers said he got better as the game went on.
“Pitching with a lead, I wanted to make them hit my fastball,” Mayers said. “I think that just turned around my mentality and from there on out I was about to control my fastball, whereas early in the game I was relying on my changeup.”
It looked early on this one wasn’t going to be much of a game. After Kentucky got no runs off Mayers in the top of the first, the Rebels exploded for four runs in the bottom of the frame. Tanner Mathis walked to get things started, and it was small ball time for the Rebels.
Austin Anderson bunted safely and Auston Bousfield sac bunted Mathis and Anderson to second and third. After Stuart Turner was intentionally walked, Andrew Mistone singled to right to score Mathis. Preston Overbey then singled to left to score Anderson and Turner. The Rebels added their fourth run when Christian Helsel singled to right to score Overbey.
After Ole Miss increased its lead to 6-3 in the third on a two-run homer by Turner, and 8-3 in the fifth, it was a three-run sixth that all but sealed it. Lance Wilson, with his third hit of the game, singled to start things. Two outs later, Bousfield walked to put Rebs on first and second. Bousfield and Wilson moved to second and third on a passed ball, and Turner was intentionally walked. Mistone, with his third hit of the game, tripled to clear the bases and give Ole Miss a 11-3 advantage.
“We just got back to where we were the last couple of weeks swinging the bats,” said Turner, 2-for-3 with 2 RBI and 4 runs scored. “Last night we were afraid to swing it with authority like we had been. Tonight we really went after it and took some good hacks.”
Kentucky added two runs in the eighth with Chris Ellis on the mound in relief of Mayers. Ellis went 1.1 innings. Jeremy Massie finished up the final 1.1 innings with no damage.
Ole Miss (31-13, 11-9 SEC) and Kentucky (25-17, 8-12) play again at 2:15 p.m. Saturday.
—- Jeff Roberson, OMSpirit.com