The calendar turned to March, but the walk-off wins continued for Ole Miss, as Will Allen hit a walk-off home run in the bottom of the 10th inning. He hit it to the deepest part of Swayze Field, but it carried over the 390' sign in center for the 5-4 win over UCF Saturday, the Rebels' fourth walk-off win in five days.
"I knew I hit it good and I was on time for it," Allen said. "There have been a lot of well-hit balls that go dead center that didn't go out. It carried well. I saw the guy jump. I honestly didn't know until I saw the beer showers and everybody start cheering. I knew it was either going to be caught for an out or go out, so I was was watching it the whole time."
"The games haven't been our best games," head coach Mike Bianco said. "We kicked some balls, we had some poor at-bats, and maybe we didn't pitch our best, but when the games has been on the line deep in the game, when everything is magnified, we have played really well and played with a lot of confidence."
Allen, who leads the team with a .391 batting average and 17 RBI, has come up with a couple of those big plays. On Saturday, he went 2-for-4 with three RBI, which also included a 2-RBI double in the fifth as part of a four-run inning to give Ole Miss a 4-3 lead. His walk-off home run in the 10th was his second walk-off hit this week. Allen came up with a bases-loaded singles with two outs in the ninth to push Ole Miss to a 4-3 win over Louisiana-Monroe Wednesday.
"I'm definitely seeing the ball well," Allen said. "I'm trying to stick to my approach. I worked with Coach Godwin all offseason and continuing to see pitches up, get good pitches to hit and put your best swing on it. That's really our philosophy one through nine."
"He's swinging so well and swinging so confidently," head coach Mike Bianco said. "He had a big 3-0 double in the big four-inning for us. And then at the end, not a lot of balls go out to center field here. It was a well-struck ball."
Stellar pitching performances once again set the stage for the Ole Miss bats in the late innings. Christian Trent allowed four runs on six hits with no walks and a career-high seven strikeouts in 7.1 innings of work. Through three starts this season, Trent has allowed six runs on 12 hits with no walks and a team-leading 19 strikeouts.
"He did what he's been doing this whole season and put us in a good position to win the ball game," said Allen of Trent. "He throws a three-pitch mix all over the strike zone. He kept them off balance. He settled in after the first. He did what he needed to do. He gave us a lot of solid innings, especially after all the pitchers we used last night."
And then it was Preston Tarkington and Wyatt Short out of the bullpen.
After getting two outs with the bases loaded in the ninth last night, Tarkington inherited a runner at third with one out in the eighth Saturday. He walked a batter, but then he got a fly ball to shallow right, not deep enough to score the runner, and a strikeout to end the inning. UCF got a leadoff single in the ninth, but Wyatt Short retired the next five batters in order, which included a double play to end the ninth and three strikeouts, to send the game to the bottom of the 10th tied at 4-4.
"The mantra of this team has been toughness since day one, since we got in the weight room with conditioning and then on the practice field," Allen said. "We knew we were going to be the hardest working team in the country. With that, you have confidence going into these games. When we're in tight situations like that, we have all the confidence in the world in each other, ourselves, our coaching staff to hang in there and do whatever we can to win ball games."
With John Gatlin's walk-off infield single in the 13th to lift Ole Miss past UCF, 4-3, the Rebels have won three straight games, all in come-from-behind, walk-off fashion, which also included two midweek wins over Louisiana-Monroe.
"During the whole fall, new strength coach Ben Fleming preached toughness and put us through everything that you could imagine to prepare us for these situations," Gatlin said. "Coach Bianco preaches it a lot. Honestly, at this time and in these games, we feel like there's no chance that we're going to lose because we're so prepared for it."
Gatlin was the hero at the plate, but pitching staff also played its part in the win, limiting UCF to three runs on eight hits with seven walks and 12 strikeouts in 13.0 innings of work, highlighted Chris Ellis who got the start and then Preston Tarkington and Josh Laxer out of the bullpen.
"I don't know if we have ever had three walk-off wins a week, and they are games where we are behind and then come back," head coach Mike Bianco said. "The neat thing is it's come from different guy, and I don't mean just offensive heroes. To have those, you got to have some pitching and defensive heroes. There are guys who have difference-makers, and it seems like it's a different guy every night.
"And there's not a bigger one than Gatlin tonight. He's a fifth-year senior, very selfless, and he's a guy who has battled back from injury and hadn't played baseball in over a year. He comes off the bench and has a great at-bat at the end to win it for you."
On the mound, Ellis extended his earned-run scoreless streak to 22.0 innings to begin the 2014 season, as he allowed just one unearned run on one hit with four walks and five strikeouts in seven innings of work. Through three starts, the Birmingham, Ala., native has allowed just 10 hits with nine walks and 14 strikeouts, which included a complete-game shutout last Saturday against Georgia State.
"He didn't have his best stuff and a few too many walks, but we extended some of those innings with some errors," Bianco said. "That's unfortunate. We made him work a little harder than maybe he should have."
Ellis left with the game tied at 1-1 after seven innings. In the eighth, UCF took a 3-1 lead, but Ole Miss answered with two runs in the bottom of the inning to send the game to the ninth tied at 3-3. UCF threatened again in the ninth and 10th, but the Ole Miss bullpen got big outs to extend the game and eventually give Gatlin and the Ole Miss bats a chance in the 13th.
In the ninth, Tarkington inherited the bases loaded with one out and got an infield fly and a strikeout to end the inning. In the 10th, Laxer entered the game with runners at first and second with one out and got a foul out to third and a strikeout to get out of the inning.
"From there, there was no way that my teammates were going to let there be any other result," said Tarkington of his inning-ending strikeout in the ninth. "We were definitely going to come out and win the game after that happened, and especially when Josh Laxer came in and did the job that he did. That was incredible."
"We had a couple of big spots for the bullpen, one by Tark there in the 9th, and certainly Laxer in the 10th," Bianco said. "That gave us a chance to get some momentum back. It looked like with runners on base, we just couldn't find the hit. We made a little harder than we had to, but I'm proud of the way we competed."
After a scoreless inning from Cheyne Bickel in the top of the 13th, Will Allen led off the bottom of the inning with a hit by pitch on a 2-2 count. Preston Overbey advanced the runner to second on a sacrifice bunt. After another out and a walk to Colby Bortles, Gatlin stepped to the plate with runners at first and third, and he delivered with an infield single to third.
"We had so many guys set that up for us," Gatlin said. "It couldn't have been done without everybody getting on base like that. I saw it hop, and I saw him bobble him once, and I figured he must have bobbled it more than once for me to beat it out. I was running as fast as I could. It had been a while, but it felt good."
Mahesh Bhupathi and Ali Hamadeh became the first ever NCAA Champions in program history by winning the NCAA Doubles Championship. The tandem defeated Texas' Chad Clark and Trey Phillips 7-6, 6-2 in the televised championship match.
Bhupathi and Hamadeh took down three nationally ranked teams, including No. 2 seed Paul Goldstein and Scott Humphries of Stanford to reach the final. For winning the doubles championship, Bhupathi and Hamadeh were rewarded with a wildcard into the 1995 U.S. Open Championships. They made their presence known as they took down veteran pros Mark Kyle and Peter Nyborg to advance to the second round, before falling to the No. 6 ranked doubles team in the world.
Subsequent to the Rebels winning the doubles championship, Ole Miss head coach Billy Chadwick said, "This is a great way to cap off a tremendous NCAA Tournament and truly makes this one of the outstanding accomplishments in Ole Miss sports. I am extremely proud of the team and their commitment all year. These players worked hard from day one."
Monday we will finish off 1995 and proceed chronologically to the following year. There are plenty more "firsts" and exciting moments in store as the years progress for coach Chadwick. Stay tuned.
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Special assistance from Media Relations student Wesley Boock.
The Ole Miss men's tennis team kicks off Southeastern Conference play, as they host No. 31 Auburn and No. 37 Alabama this weekend at the Palmer/Salloum Tennis Center. The Rebels enter the weekend with a 2-3 record, and they see the start of league play as the beginning of a new season.
"It's very exciting," said senior Johan Backstrom. "It's going to be like a new start for us. This feels like the beginning of the season. We feel like if we play up to our potential with the team that we have now, we can cause some damage in the SEC this year."
The Southeastern Conference race appears wide open, with six teams ranked in the top 25 but no teams ranked in the top 10 in this week's ITA National Team rankings.
The defending champion and preseason favorite, Georgia, is 3-5 overall and ranked No. 35, with losses to No. 22 Florida and No. 16 Mississippi State at the ITA National Team Indoor. The highest ranked team, No. 11 Tennessee, is 10-3 overall, with a loss to No. 13 Texas A&M. Ole Miss was picked sixth in the coaches' preseason poll.
"The SEC is wide open," head coach Billy Chadwick said. "It's already been proven that any team can beat any other team in the SEC, so it's going to be a tough weekend because Alabama and Auburn both have quality programs."
"It's hard to predict, and there are going to be a lot of close matches," Backstrom added. "With Ricardo (Jorge) being eligible, we have a deep team. If we play to our potential, we should have a really good chance of winning championships this year."
Jorge, a freshman from Tavira, Portugal, made his debut last weekend in Waco, Texas, where the Rebels went 1-1 with a 4-0 win over SMU and a 4-0 loss to No. 7 Baylor. Jorge won at No. 5 singles to clinch the win against SMU and then paired with junior Nik Scholtz at No. 2 doubles for a win against Baylor.
"He has good returns," Chadwick said. "He's a good natural doubles player because he's good at the net. In singles, he relies on his forehand. He likes to dictate the play with it. He's very fast with his feet. He has a really good overall game. From a coaching standpoint, he is an easy young man to work with and listens well. He is an extremely hard worker. He's going to be a good one."
A year ago, Ole Miss defeated Auburn and Alabama in the regular season, both by a score of 4-3, but in the SEC Tournament, 12-seed Alabama upset 5-seed Ole Miss, 4-3.
"We need to get off to a good start, and these are two teams that we match up well with, and we're playing at home, so we need to take advantage of that," Chadwick said. "They're very similar to last year's teams. It's a lot of the same faces. When you look at the results this fall, both of them have improved since last year."
Ole Miss begins play this weekend against Auburn Friday at 2 p.m., and then concludes against Alabama Sunday at 1 p.m.
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In case you missed it, here's Episode 1 of The Season: Ole Miss Women's Basketball.
Lt. Col. Christopher Davis surprises his family with an early return home from overseas at the Ole Miss-Alabama basketball game Wednesday night.
BEHIND THE SCENES: Col. Davis gets ready in media room without his family knowing.. pic.twitter.com/nmXnlycxfi-- OleMissPix (@OleMissPix) February 27, 2014