By Parrish Alford/NEMS Daily Journal
OXFORD – Mike Bianco asked for heroes, and he had more than one player take on the challenge.
Left fielder Matt Tracy and freshman pinch-hitter Will Allen had RBI hits in a two-run eighth inning, and Ole Miss rallied for a 3-1 win over Kentucky in their SEC series opener before an announced crowd of 8,676 at Swayze Field Friday night.
Wildcats starter Alex Meyer held the Rebels to just one unearned run – a dropped pop-up allowing Blake Newalu to score in the sixth – before scratching out the decisive runs in the seventh.
The Rebels (21-14, 6-7 SEC) have lost six of their last seven SEC series going back to last season but can clinch the three-game set with a win in Game 2 today at 4 p.m.
In the heroes department, Newlau had three hits and scored twice, and relievers Eric Callender and Brett Huber kept Kentucky (17-18, 2-11 SEC) off the board until freshman Bobby Wahl survived a two-out rally in the ninth.
“We challenged the kids before the game and told them we needed heroes; we needed guys to step up,” Bianco said. “We had some plays at the right time, some great at-bats and some pitches … some things we haven’t been doing this year.”
Kentucky took a 1-0 lead in the third against Ole Miss starter Matt Crouse, who left an 0-2 change-up over the plate, and Michael Williams drove it deep over the wall in left. Williams was 3 for 4 on the night.
Crouse went six innings, scattering six hits and two walks.
Callender and Huber both inherited base runners, and both left Kentucky runners stranded at third base.
Huber entered with one out and a runner at third in a 1-1 game in the eighth.
He got a big strikeout against cleanup hitter Thomas McCarthy with the infield in, then got Luke Maile to pop up on the infield for the third out.
“With one out and a guy on third base, I was definitely thinking strikeout, and coach has confidence in my slider,” said Huber, who picked up the win in relief. “You have to have confidence in yourself. Confidence is such a big part of this game.”
The Rebels responded to Huber’s success with a leadoff double from Newalu, who was quickly bunted ahead to third. It was one of three hits for Newalu. Meyer then walked Smith, and Tracy and Allen came up big against reliever Mike Kaczmarek.
Wahl got two quick outs to start the top of the ninth, then gave up three hits and a run before getting fly ball to end the game.