By Parrish Alford/NEMS Daily Journal
OXFORD – The Ole Miss bullpen made good on its second chance Sunday, and the Rebels approach the second half of SEC play a game over .500.
Ole Miss overcame a five-run Kentucky sixth inning with three runs in the seventh to win 6-5 before an announced crowd of 8,003 at Swayze Field.
The Rebels dealt the Wildcats their 12th straight SEC loss and swept a conference foe for the first time since winning three at Mississippi State on the first weekend of May last year. Since that time the Rebels (23-14, 8-7 SEC) had lost six of seven SEC series until Kentucky (17-20, 2-13) reached town.
Ole Miss, which faces MSU in the Governor’s Cup on Tuesday night in Pearl, begins the week in a three-way tie for the lead in the SEC Western Division, a game ahead of Auburn, where it travels for this weekend’s series, which begins Thursday.
The Rebels share first place with Alabama and Arkansas.
Ole Miss reliever Brett Huber survived a leadoff walk in the ninth, setting down the next three batters to earn his fourth save of the year. He also pitched a scoreless eighth.
The Wildcats, in fact, did all their scoring in the fifth when middle reliever Eric Callender, the first man out of the bullpen, allowed two inherited runners to score, plus three of his own.
Huber gets the call
Ole Miss coach Mike Bianco has made freshman Bobby Wahl his closer, but Wahl had pitched three previous times this season, including Friday and Saturday when he earned saves against the Wildcats.
“We knew we would go to Brett at the end,” Bianco said.
Huber had 12 saves last year en route to freshman All-America honors but has struggled with control at times this season.
Starter Austin Wright was not a part of the decision but turned in a winning effort with five straight scoreless innings.
With five hits and three walks he had runners on base each frame but stranded them, something his relief help didn’t do.
Callender, who allowed just one baserunner in 11⁄3 innings in Friday’s 3-2 win, allowed two inherited runners to score, plus a two-run home run by DH Braden Kapteyn, and by the time Kentucky finished in the sixth it had sent nine men to the plate and led 5-3.
Ole Miss also committed two errors in the inning.
Callender, though, did something very important to advance the cause, throwing a scoreless seventh. He picked up the win in relief.
“After the five-run inning, we don’t score, and we got back in the field and Callender gets them 1-2-3. There was a little momentum switch there. When you’re going to win the game, your pitchers have to hold them down. Obviously we didn’t do that in the sixth,” Bianco said.
The Rebels built a 3-0 lead through the first five innings against Kentucky starter Taylor Rogers with solo home runs from Alex Yarbrough and Will Allen and an RBI single by Matt Tracy.
Ole Miss rallied in the home half of the seventh. Yarbrough and Matt Smith opened with back-to-back doubles against Kapteyn, the first out of the Kentucky bullpen.
Later, with the bases loaded and one out, Miles Hamblin hit a potential double-play ball to second but beat the throw, allowing Smith to score and tie the game at 5. Taylor Hightower followed with an RBI single to score Preston Overbey, and Huber made the run stand for two innings.
After he walked Kapteyn on five pitches to start the ninth, the Wildcats bunted Kapteyn to second.
Hamblin made a diving stop of a ground ball at first baser for the second out, while Kapteyn took third, and Huber got the next man, Luke Maile, with a swinging strikeout.
“I love emotion. I live for the pressure situations,” said Huber, who pitched out of an inherited jam in the eighth on Friday. “I’ve got my confidence back. I’ve got it back. I think I was rushing to the plate too much at the beginning of the season, and that happens with the walks I have, but I feel so much better out there now.”