Ole Miss 6, USM 5: Baseball, in a nutshell

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Adam Ganucheau, Mississippi Today

Ole Miss defeated Southern Miss 6-5 on Tuesday night in Pearl on a walk-off wild pitch.

 

Baseball. Been going to games for six decades, but I never saw one end on a wild pitch on an attempted intentional walk until Tuesday night at Trustmark Park.

Ole Miss defeated Southern Miss 6-5 in 12 innings when rarely used pitcher Jason Barber raced home from third base after USM’s Austin Millet sailed the first pitch of an intentional walk over the head of catcher Cole Donaldson.

“Never seen that,” Southern Miss coach Scott Berry said.

“I have,” said Ole Miss coach Mike Bianco, but he also said he couldn’t remember when.

Baseball. It is such a wonderfully capricious sport, which surely is why so many of us love it so. In baseball, you never know. You may think you do, but you don’t.

Melanie Thortis

Rick Cleveland

At Trustmark Park, we had a red-hot Southern Miss team, ranked as high as No. 17 in the country and having won 15 of its last 16 games. And we had a slumping Ole Miss team that had lost five of its last six. We also had a Southern Miss team that had won 10 of its last 12 games against Ole Miss.

What’s more, we had Southern Miss bolting to a 4-0 lead early with Taylor Braley blowing away hitters and bullpen aces Jake Sandlin and Matt Wallner rested and ready to pitch.

But isn’t that just like baseball? Just when you think it’s going according to plan, it does not.

Ole Miss was coming off being swept at home by arch-rival Mississippi State. Southern Miss had won six straight, including five last week when the Golden Eagles outscored opponents 36-8.

But, again, you just never know in baseball. You really don’t. The sweep over Ole Miss made it seven straight victories for Andy Cannizaro’s first Bulldog team. So, of course, Tuesday night in Starkville, Florida International dispatched the Diamond Dogs 8-3. Baseball.

Before the game, Bianco, in his 17th season at Ole Miss, was talking about how this so-promising season had soured over the last two weeks.

Ole Miss Athletics

Ole Miss Head Baseball Coach Mike Bianco

“Pitching and defense have remained good, but we haven’t hit collectively, which is what we thought would be our strength,” Bianco said. “Our hitters had a great fall and early spring and then it just shut down all at once.”

Let’s put it this way: If you had told Bianco back in February that his leading hitter would be hitting .278 and that his team would be hitting .241 at this point in the season, he would have thought you were smoking something against the law.

“We’re a better hitting team than that,” Bianco said. “It’s like this past weekend. We lost three games we could have won, two that we maybe should have won. Two times, in the bottom of the ninth, we had the trying run at third and winning run at second with one out. A hit probably wins the game, but we don’t even tie it.

“We gotta do better than that, and I believe we will. We’re a good ballclub. Yeah, we’re young, but we’re talented. I believe we’ll turn it around, and maybe it starts tonight. We haven’t played well lately, but we haven’t caught a break, either. Sometimes, it just takes one break to turn it around.”

Meanwhile, in the other dugout, Scott Berry was talking about his team’s fast start but doing so in a very cautious manner.

“Yeah, I am pleased with the way we’ve been playing, but I want us to remain humble and focused,” he said. “Our guys have got to understand the hard work and focus it has taken to achieve this success and keep at it.

USM Athletics Dept.

USM Head Baseball Coach Scott Berry

“I haven’t even looked at our RPI or the polls, although I hear people talking about it,” Berry said. “I just know if you look at the best teams and the best players, they stay on an even keel. They don’t get too high when things are going well, or too low when they don’t.”

Berry went on.

“Look, I know what a humbling game baseball is,” he said. “Look at where Ole Miss was three weeks ago, and look at what’s happened lately. Same guys, so much talent. They’ll get it back going. I just hope it’s not tonight. All I know is you gotta come out every day, work hard, play the game the right way. It’s a great game, but, boy, it can humble you.”

Four hours later, it did. Baseball.

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Rick Cleveland, Mississippi Today’s sports columnist, this year was named Mississippi Sportswriter of the Year — an honor he achieved for the 10th time — by the National Sports Media Foundation. Read his previous columns and his Sports Daily blog. Reach Rick at rcleveland@mississippitoday.org.

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