Dismal night puts Ole Miss season on the line

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Hays Collins, TwentyEleven Media

Andre jackson scores for Utah in the fifth inning on a sacrifice fly as Ole Miss catcher Henri Lartigue fails to hold the ball.

OXFORD — Utah and Mother Nature both rained on the Ole Miss baseball parade Friday night, spoiling an otherwise splendid day of Mississippi baseball.

With rain falling over the last several innings, Utah, erased a three-run deficit and then scored a run in the top of the 10th for a 6-5 victory to send the Rebels into the losers’ bracket of the Oxford Regional of the NCAA Tournament.

Southern Miss had opened the day with a 14-2 trouncing of South Alabama at Tallahassee, followed by Mississippi State’s 9-5 victory over Southeast Missouri State at Starkville. Then, with 10,166, mostly red-clad fans cheering them on, the Rebels took 5-2 lead in the fifth inning Friday night. The mood was festive. The beer was flowing in the outfield.

But the Rebels could not hold the lead.

Rick Cleveland

Melanie Thortis

Rick Cleveland

And so, Ole Miss will try to stay alive Saturday, weather permitting, in a 1 p.m. elimination game. Utah moves on in the winner’s bracket, facing Boston College at 5 p.m. A stormy weather forecast makes all those times “iffy.”

“Iffy” also would be an apt description of the situation the Rebels face now. The Rebels must beat a good Tulane team and then win three more consecutive games to advance to a Super Regional next week. Difficult? Yes. Do-able? Yes, again. You should know the Rebels had six winning streaks of four games or more during the 2016 season.

Said Ole Miss shortstop Errol Robinson, “We have answered in this situation all season long. We are a confident team. I know we will play our best baseball now.”

Utah came into the Regional as Pac-12 Conference Tournament champions, having defeated Washington 21-7 in the championship game. But the Utes also entered with a 25-27 record, which is why they were a No. 4 seed and had to play top-seeded Ole Miss in the first round.

Give Utah credit. The Utes came into a difficult atmosphere, fell behind midway through and then rallied.

Said Utah coach Bill Kinneburg, “It was a great college baseball game in a great atmosphere. I could not be more proud of my 27 guys who hung in there and kept battling.”

For sure, Utah is not your normal, No. 4 seed. And the Utes are especially dangerous with their ace right-hander Jason Rose (8-5 record, 102 strikeouts in 103 innings) on the mound.

Rose pitched six innings, allowing four hits and striking out five, before leaving with the game tied at 5.

Ole Miss also got a really good effort out of its ace, Brady Bramlett, who pitched five innings, giving up three hits and two runs. He exited, leading 5-2.

The Rebels’ normally dependable freshman reliever Brady Feigi entered the game for Bramlett in the sixth and he struggled.

“With a 5-2 lead, we’re usually pretty good,” Ole Miss skipper Mike Bianco said. “We just couldn’t get off the field in the top of the sixth.”

Feigi gave up three runs, all earned, on two hits, including Josh Rose’s two-run double.

Said Bianco, “Brady has been so good for us, but he had a tough time tonight. Sometimes, we forget he’s a freshman. It was a tough situation, big game, 10,000 people in the stands, we’ve got the lead and it’s raining.”

It was a tough situation for Utah, as well, but the Utes got it done. Indeed they did it, scoring the winning run after two were out and nobody was on base in the 10th. Hunter Simmons’ double scored pinch-runner Chandler Anderson with the go-ahead run. The stadium went silent except for the cheers of the Utah players and perhaps 40 or 50 Utes fans.

Rick Cleveland writes a weekly sports column running Fridays at Mississippitoday.org.