The pressure to secure the first conference win of the season is finally off the defending national champions, though it took longer than Ole Miss wanted or expected it to.
A night after suffering its seventh straight loss in Southeastern Conference play Ole Miss got off the mat with a resounding 14-7 win over Texas A&M on Saturday. The much-needed win, for several reasons, allows the Rebels to now take a sigh of relief and maybe get back to just playing baseball.
No longer is there a quest to eliminate the zero from the SEC win column and Ole Miss (16-10, 1-7 SEC) can now get to work of climbing out of the whole it put itself in.
Starting with Saturday’s win, Ole Miss got its offense back to the dominant form it was the first month of the season. Hits came from up and down the lineup, especially the bottom of the order.
“It’s been a tough road for us the last couple weeks,” said Ole Miss head coach Mike Bianco. “We played well tonight. Xavier (Rivas), certainly wasn’t his best outing in a few weeks but the message for young pitchers was he was able to hang in there. He wasn’t able to give up any big innings.”
A key moment in the game looked provide the energy boost Ole Miss needed after an overturned home run.
In the bottom of the fourth inning Aggies shortstop Hunter Haas appeared to have hit a grand slam that would have tied the game at 7-all. Instead Bianco challenged it and the review overturned the call.
Texas A&M (16-11, 2-6) only managed a run after the Rebels scored five in the top of the inning. In the fifth inning Ole Miss added on with three more runs.
“I think we kind of stayed the course,” Bianco said. “I think we all knew (the home run was foul). Obviously it’s a big call that goes our way. Sometimes you need that when you haven’t won in a while. It was a big play in the game.”
The Rebels pitching also benefited from the shot in the arm of the homerun that was not. From the fifth through eighth inning the Aggies were held scoreless by Rivas and reliever Brayden Jones.
Jones picked up his first career win, pitching three innings of relief. He struck out four batters and walked another.
“I think over the last couple weeks (Jones has) pitched as well as anybody out of the bullpen,” Bianco said. “He just hasn’t had a lot of opportunities in conference play and on the road in a pretty tough environment here at A&M he was terrific tonight.”
Reagan Burford was another hero in the win, making the most of an opportunity he has not had since last season.
Making a start at third base for the first time since middle of last season, Burford made plays in the field and at the plate.
He went 2-for-4 with three RBIs and a home run as part of the one-two punch at the bottom of the order along with right fielder TJ McCants. In the nine hole McCants went 2-for-3 and recorded four RBIs.
Burford has had playing time here and there since he was relieved of third base by Justin Bench last season. He’s made designated hitter appearances throughout this season but Saturday was his first true return to the starting nine.
If Burford can get his bat going and keep it hot, along with keeping his fielding clean then that is nothing but a positive for Ole Miss. Third base has been tricky this season with Ethan Lege struggling defensively and a bat that is more cold than hot in his first season at Ole Miss.
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