OXFORD, Miss. – For the third straight game the Rebels rallied for a walk-off win, this time in 13 innings as No. 24 Ole Miss (9-1) defeated UCF (6-3) by a score of 4-3 at Swayze Field on Friday night.
The big hit was a long time coming in the game that spanned more than four hours, but an even longer time coming for senior John Gatlin, who missed the 2013 season with injury and came back for his fifth season this year.
With runners at the corners and two outs, Gatlin laced a ball to third and beat the throw to first, allowing Kyle Toth to score the winning run and give the Rebels the series-opening win.
“I’m proud of the way we hung in there,” said Ole Miss head coach Mike Bianco. “We didn’t play well early. We didn’t have too many opportunities. We had a couple of errors, a passed ball, a ball and a missed signal from the pitcher to the catcher on three-two count. We just made a lot of mistakes and kept them in the game. (Eric) Skoglund was really tough early for them. We weren’t able to manage much through the first seven innings or so offensively. Once it got to the end, offensively we looked terrific. We knew at some point we would get the big hit.”
Cheyne Bickel (2-1) picked up the win as he worked the final 1.0 inning with two hits and two strikeouts. He was the last of seven pitchers to see action on the night.
Starter Chris Ellis continued to pitch well for the third straight weekend, allowing one unearned run on one hit with four walks and five strikeouts through 7.0 innings of work in the start. Through three starts, Ellis has yet to allow an earned run with the only run allowed coming in the game against the Knights.
Parker Thomas (1-2) suffered the loss in relief, working the final 2.0 inning and allowing the one run on two hits with two walks and a strikeout. Skoglund, the Knights’ starter, worked 7.2 innings and allowed three runs – two earned – on six hits with two strikeouts.
UCF got on the board first, plating a run in the fourth inning when Derrick Salberg scored on a sac fly from Eric Barber. Salberg reached on a fielding error at second, one of two on the night by the Rebels, before a walk and a sac bunt pushed him to third before the Barber fly ball.
The Rebels answered in the bottom of the fifth when Will Allen scored on a groundout from Sikes Orvis. Allen doubled to open the inning and took third on a groundout from Preston Overbey to set up the score on the Orvis ball to second.
The Knights moved out to a 3-1 lead in the eighth inning, taking advantage of a balk and wild pitch to set up the two-run inning and grab the lead back.
Ole Miss once again had an answer, capitalizing on a balk and a fielding error to push two runs home and tie the game at three.
Brantley Bell reached on a single and took second on a balk. He then scored on a double to right from Errol Robinson to cut the lead to one. Robinson moved to third on a groundout from Braxton Lee before scoring a batter later when a fielding error at third by the Knights allowed Robinson to score and knot the game.
The pitching and defense continued to work out of jams through the next four innings with the Rebels leaving five men stranded and the Knights stranding nine of their own until the home half of the 13th inning.
Ole Miss then got things started when Allen was hit by a pitch to open the frame. Toth entered to run for him at first and took second on a sac bunt from Overbey. A groundout from Henri Lartigue moved Toth to third and set up the win on the Gatlin hit.
The Rebels and Knights will take the field for game two of the series at 1:30 p.m. Saturday at Swayze Field.
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