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Top-ranked Gators hit the Wahl

 

Sunday’s bottom of the ninth started at 3:41 p.m. Because of travel rules, no inning could start after 3:45 p.m. No. 16 Ole Miss was tied 6-6 with No. 1 Florida in the rubber game of the series. Sophomore catcher Will Allen singled to right-center with one out, and none other than sophomore right-handed pitcher Bobby Wahl, who pitched masterfully in Friday night’s win, came out of the dugout to pinch run for Allen.

“I didn’t have my spikes or my jersey on,” Wahl said. “I didn’t think I was going to get any action today. Coach asked for the fastest pitcher and a couple of guys said me. It was actually supposed to be Mike (Mayers), but he pitched today. So I was next in line.”

With Wahl standing on first, sophomore right fielder Preston Overbey hit a single up the middle and Wahl rounded second and slid safely into third base to set up a dramatic series finale finish.

Overbey scooted to second on the throw the third base, so Florida elected to intentionally walk senior designated hitter Zach Kirksey to set up a double play.

The bases were loaded and Wahl was the winning run standing just 90 feet away at third with freshman outfielder Senquez Golson at the plate.

“I settled down before I got in the (batter’s) box,” Golson said. “I told myself that they are going to feel as much pressure as me. I’ve just got to put the ball in play somewhere, and hopefully, they’ll toss it around and make a mistake.”

And that is exactly what Golson and the Gators did. With a 1-2 count, Golson got a piece of a ball that slowly rolled its way toward first base. Wahl was charging home as right fielder Preston Tucker, who was playing as Florida’s fifth infielder on the play, gloved the ball and threw home, but the throw got away from catcher Mike Zunino as Wahl scored the game-winning run.

The Rebels (20-8, 5-4 SEC) had defeated the top-ranked Gators (24-4, 6-3 SEC) 7-6 to win the three-game series. For the third time in four seasons, Ole Miss walked away with a series win against the nation’s top team.

“Just a great baseball game,” head coach Mike Bianco said. “Obviously, it was just a war. Both teams were fighting. I thought we got off to a great start offensively. We swung it terrific against a very good pitcher in (Jonathan) Crawford.

“It was like a heavy weight boxing match.”

Ole Miss came out hot early as they built a 5-0 lead in the first two innings on three RBI by junior second baseman Alex Yarbrough, who was 4-for-5 on the day with a double and a triple, as well as an RBI each from senior first baseman Matt Snyder and Kirksey.

However, Florida battled back in a big way.

Sophomore right-hander Mayers had not given up a hit in the first three innings, but once the Gators got one, they got rolling.

The fourth inning saw Florida cut the deficit to 5-4. Sophomore Aaron Greenwood relieved Mayers, who lasted 3.2 innings giving up four runs on five hits with a walk.

Greenwood ate up outs for Ole Miss, but he did give up a run in the sixth that tied the game. In the seventh, Florida took their first lead of the game on a solo home run by Tucker off junior left-hander Dylan Chavez, who replaced Greenwood.

The Rebels responded in the bottom half of the inning, however, with a run of their own on an RBI double from Snyder, who finished the game 2-for-5 with two RBI.

Brett Huber (1-1) ultimately got the win after pitching 2.0 innings of no-hit ball to set up the ninth-inning dramatics.

“I think his effort kind of gets lost in all of it,” Bianco said. “To come in with a tie score, which he hasn’t done all year, and just really dominate the last two innings, really gave us a chance to win the game.”

Bianco is glad to get the win heading into two consecutive weekends on the road at Kentucky and Georgia.

“What a big weekend for us,” Bianco said. “One, (we came in) 3-3 in the league. Two, we’re about to go on the road and play two top-25 teams. Three, we were playing a team that’s on top of the conference, and on top of that, they’re the No. 1 team in the country.

“The other thing that is yet to be determined is how much will this help us grow as a team. Do we use this to help elevate us and gain some confidence? A lot of these guys haven’t played in this kind of atmosphere. It was big.”

SATURDAY: No. 1 FLORIDA 9, No. 16 OLE MISS 4

No. 1 Florida took the second game of the series against Ole Miss 9-4 on Saturday as a result of a six-run eighth inning.

“You’ve got to play all nine,” Bianco said. “We played pretty well through seven. The truth of the matter is, we left a lot of opportunities out there. We had chances that if we got a hit here or there we could’ve extended the lead. But we didn’t, and they made us pay.”

Ole Miss held a 3-2 lead after five innings until the eighth on a two-run home run from sophomore catcher Will Allen in the fourth and go-ahead RBI single by Yarbrough in the fifth. Senior right-hander R.J. Hively’s day was done after 5.1 innings of work. Hively gave up two runs on eight hits on the day while striking out eight batters. Chavez (3-1) came on in relief for Hively.

From there, the Rebels squandered a chance to score, leaving the bases loaded in the seventh.

Then Florida made them pay by doing what they do best — score. In the eighth, the Gators sent 10 batters to the plate, including having the first seven batters reach base, and exploded for six runs off Chavez. The lefty went 1.2 innings giving up four runs on five hits.

“It just comes down to not making pitches,” Chavez said. “They’re a great club, and they capitalized on it. When you don’t make pitches, it’s a one-run game and your team needs you, it’s going to be tough.”

The Rebels came back in the bottom half of the inning to load the bases, but once again, they couldn’t get the timely hit.

The Gators added another one in the ninth and Snyder hit a home run for the Rebels in the ninth to end the scoring at 9-4.

FRIDAY: No. 16 OLE MISS 3, No. 1 FLORIDA 0

In typical Friday night fashion, Wahl and No. 16 Ole Miss beat the top-ranked Florida Gators at their own game 3-0 in the weekend series opener.

“I thought we played really well,” Bianco said. “Bobby was tremendous and continued to make pitches even when he fell behind. He just pitched a terrific game.”

The first inning saw the Rebels jump on Florida starter Hudson Randall (3-1) right out of the gates, which were the only runs for the entire game between the two teams.

Junior left fielder Tanner Mathis got it started with a single up the middle. After Mathis was moved to second on a sacrifice bunt, junior second baseman Yarbrough drove him in on an RBI single to right field.

Immediately following Yarbrough’s at-bat, Snyder hit his third home run of the season over the right field wall to give Ole Miss a 3-0 lead that it would never relinquish.

“It was unbelievable with the amount of energy we were able to have in that first inning,” Snyder said. “I just wanted to fight and get a quality at-bat to try to get a guy in. (Randall) threw a pitch that I was able to stay back on and hit it out. We had a lot of energy and momentum after that.”

From there, it was all Wahl.

The talented sophomore out of Springfield, Va., commanded the strike zone all night and kept Gator hitters off balance with all his pitches. He went 8.0 scoreless innings giving up just two hits and three walks while striking out six Gator batters, but Bianco said this wasn’t the best he’s been.

“He’s been terrific in several outings,” Bianco said. “There have been times where maybe he did locate the fastball better or maybe he did have a better breaking ball. But the thing that I think about tonight, Friday night in SEC facing the No. 1 team, it’s hard to be much better than that.”