OXFORD – Jake Morgan’s mother must surely be proud.
The Ole Miss closer showed the Rebels what they missed for six weeks, pitching 2 1/3 scoreless innings as the Rebels completed an improbable SEC series win against No. 2 South Carolina on Mother’s Day.
Preston Overbey’s sacrifice fly drove home Matt Tracy with the winning run in the bottom of the ninth, and Ole Miss won 7-6 before an announced Swayze Field crowd of 8,332.
It is the Rebels’ (27-21, 11-13 SEC) first series win against an SEC opponent that finished – or will finish – with a winning conference record since March 26-28 of last year – the second weekend – when they defeated Florida here twice.
It is the first series loss of the season for South Carolina (37-10, 18-6).
With six games remaining, Auburn, Mississippi State and Ole Miss are tied for second in the Western Division, one game behind leaders Arkansas and Alabama. If the season ended today, Auburn, MSU and Ole Miss would resort to tie-breakers to determine the last two SEC tournament berths.
MSU visits Ole Miss for three games beginning Thursday at 6:30 p.m.
“We’re in the mix, and with two weekends left, that’s where you want to be,” Ole Miss coach Mike Bianco said.
Morgan had already earned five saves and had not allowed an earned run when he left Game 3 against Alabama with severe shoulder pain on March 20. He pitched for the first time in in six weeks last weekend, but the game at Florida was already well in hand for the Gators.
On Sunday, Morgan entered with two outs in the seventh in a 6-5 game. An inherited runner scored on a hard-hit ball to short that Blake Newalu seemed to glove on the short hop before having it drop and roll several feet to his left. The play was ruled a hit, but Morgan got out of the inning with a pop fly.
As he took the mound to begin the top of the eighth, Ole Miss catcher Miles Hamblin signaled to Bianco that Morgan was in pain. Bianco and his trainer went to the mound, and two relievers went to the bullpen.
“In the eighth inning, the shoulder tightened up, but I felt like I could throw through it,” Morgan said. “So I kept going. It didn’t get any better, but it didn’t get any worse.”
‘It was gutsy’
Morgan retired six of the last seven batters he faced, getting the top of the Gamecocks’ order in the eighth and setting Carolina down in order in the ninth.
“It was gutsy. He’s hurting. We went out there with the umpire, and he said, ‘I’m fine. I can do it.’ You have to trust somebody, and I don’t know that there’s anybody I trust more than Jake Morgan,” Bianco said.
Morgan earned the win to improve to 3-0. He has now thrown 221⁄3 innings this season and has allowed just one run, unearned.
The Gamecocks had solid relief pitching of their own. Right-hander Matt Price gave up just two hits in three innings, but one was the Miles Hamblin with one out in the ninth and Matt Tracy at first.
Tracy drew a leadoff walk – There were nine issued in the game by Gamecocks pitching – and would have scored the game-winner on Hamblin’s single to right field had the Rebels successfully bunted him ahead.
Freshman Gabe Woods, in his 13th at-bat of the season, was unable to do so, but Tracy took two bases on Hamblin’s hit.
“I was just looking for something to drive, to put the ball in play,” said Overbey, a freshman.
He got a slider from Price and struck it well. Carolina center fielder Evan Marzilli made the catch moving to his left but had no chance to get Tracy.
The Rebels built a 3-0 lead before the Gamecocks went ahead with two runs in the fourth and three in the fifth. Matt Snyder’s two-run home run tied it in the fifth, and Alex Yarbrough’s RBI double put Ole Miss back in front, 6-5, in the sixth.
“That’s what we haven’t been able to do the last four weeks,” Bianco said. “It’s like when we get smacked in the gut it’s hard for us to respond in any phase. The last two games we were able to do that.”
Parrish Alford/NEMS Daily Journal