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Special Group And Special Moments

It was 42 years in the making. 

After four previous trips to the Super Regional and knocking on the door of the College World Series, only to come up short, the 2014 Rebels kicked the door down. 

They punched their ticket to Omaha rallying to win games two and three of the Super Regional against top-ranked and national No. 6 seed Louisiana-Lafayette. It will be their fifth trip to the College World Series in school history and the first since 1972.

"The road to Omaha is bumpy and windy, and to be honest with you, I didn't think it would take this long," head coach Mike Bianco said. "When you go, you have to have a special group, and this is group is certainly all of that. When we got them together in August, you could start to see the great mix of older guys and younger guys. They have played so terrific from week one to this point. I'm super proud of all of them."

"It's an unbelievable feeling," senior co-captain Will Allen said. "Coming in here with Austin Anderson and being here for four year and knowing our history, having the ups and down as teammates and on different teams. We wanted this year to be special and leave a legacy. It's a tremendous group of guys. All year, we have have fought through adversity. You can see that in our regional and this Super Regional, starting off with a loss and coming back and winning two straight games against a really good ULL team. They were a national seed for a reason."

When asked what makes this team special, Bianco referenced their toughness, as he has all season, but also specific instances of this toughness.

After squandering a 5-2 lead at Mississippi State, Ole Miss came back and won 12-2 the next day.

After being swept at Alabama, Ole Miss returned home and swept Auburn.

After losing two of three at home against LSU, including 2-0 in the rubber game, Ole Miss swept nationally ranked Kentucky on the road two weeks later.

"The mantra from the beginning is to have that toughness and be resilient and be tough enough to handle what this game deals you day in and day out," Bianco said. "This team is really tough, and they have a lot of belief in one another. The amazing thing is it's been from so many different guy. There's a different star every night."

As was the case Monday. 

Despite being out-hit, 10-9, and committing four errors, the Rebels took the third and decisive game in decisive fashion, 10-4, scoring four runs in the top of the ninth before Josh Laxer closed out his 10-out save.

"This is one of those where you look at the box score, they out-hit us 10-9, and we had four errors," Bianco said. "You don't usually win those games, especially with a six-run spread. We made the most of the opportunities and got some big clutch hits and made some great pitches to get out of some jams."

In addition to special players, it also took special moments, and no play was more special than the perfectly executed relay play from Braxton Lee to Errol Robinson to Will Allen to keep the game-tying run off the board in the seventh.

"We saw the ball go down the line, similar play to last night," said Allen of the play. "Braxton (Lee), being as quick as he is, did a tremendous job to get to the ball and got it into the relay guy. And then Errol Robinson had a good throw to give me an opportunity to put a tag on the guy. It was a huge momentum swing for us to preserve the lead. We were really pumped up about that, and Josh Laxer shut it down from there."

Ole Miss had scored the would-be game-winning run on an RBI double from Auston Bousfield the previous inning, but Holt Perdzock dealt a decisive blow in the ninth. With the bases loaded and nobody out, he cleared the bases with a double to right to stretch the lead to 9-4 in favor of the Rebels.

And the countdown was on in the ninth. 

Two outs away after a strikeout.

One out away after a fly out to center. 

The 27th and final out on a ground out to short. 

And then the celebratory dog pile on the mound.

"Getting that last out is every college baseball player's dream," Laxer said. "It's very hard to put into words right now. It's all sinking in. It's a great feeling."

"It was an awesome feeling," Allen said. "And then it was a little stressful toward the end when you can't breathe and bodies are getting bent up in different way. I feel bad for Josh Laxer who started off with me on top off of him, and then the rest of the guys coming in and tackling him and stuff like that. It's an unbelievable feeling and a reward for the season we have had so far."

Now Omaha and the College World Series awaits Bianco, his team and Rebel Nation.

"It's been a great run," Bianco said. "We have had several great teams. We have had teams that should have been in Omaha. I'm very thankful but I'm very happy for this group, this university and this fan base. They are are unbelievable and second to none. The support has been constant from fans and administration. This is really for everyone. As a university, we deserve this. They deserve to go to Omaha."

Chris Ellis, one of 21 semifinalists for the Golden Spikes Award honoring the nation's top player, will get the start for Friday's NCAA regional opener against Jacksonville State, head coach Mike Bianco said Tuesday.

Despite suffering his first loss of the season against Arkansas at the SEC Tournament, Ellis has turned in a quality start in each of his last seven outings. Ellis has formed a strong 1-2 punch on the mound with Christian Trent, as they have combined for a 17-1 record through the regular season and SEC Tournament. 

Ellis ranks eighth in the SEC in ERA (2.17), while Trent ranks 13th (2.44). Trent also ranks 10th in strikeouts (67) and third in fewest walks allowed (16).

Trent was scratched from an SEC Tournament start against Vanderbilt last Thursday due to arm stiffness but is healthy and scheduled to pitch in the regional this weekend.

"He was fine," head coach Mike Bianco said. "We didn't want to make a big deal of it. On short rest, we didn't want to push him and get him to a point where maybe he wasn't at his best this week. We wanted him to throw, but we weren't willing to push it at that point. When we got to Friday before the Arkansas game, he did his throwing and felt great. He would have started that Saturday and I would have put him on normal rest for this week. He threw a bullpen, felt great and is ready to go."

"I'm good," Trent said. "It was a little bit of fatigue but I threw a pen on Saturday and everything is great. There are no worries there. I'm ready to throw. There was no arm pain, just fatigue and after talking to coach (Bianco), obviously regional play is most important."

In Trent's place, Jeremy Massie got the spot start against Vanderbilt, his eighth start of the season, and worked 4.1 innings with one run on four hits with three walks and three strikeouts, as the Rebels went on to defeat the Commodores by a score of 7-2. Massie holds a 2.34 ERA over 53.1 innings this season, having split time as a starter and in the bullpen.

"It gives you flexibility, but you don't know how you're going to use him," Bianco said. "He's certainly one of our main guys out of the bullpen. Can he start? Sure. A lot of it will depend on the weekend and where you go to how you use him."

Before the SEC Tournament, Bianco talked about the team's pitching depth, particularly in the bullpen. That depth played itself out over the three games in Hoover, Alabama with five different relievers seeing action, including two appearances by Josh Laxer. Including Massie, seven different relievers have appeared in at least 15 games, and they hold a combined 2.32 ERA over 209.1 innings.

"The good thing about the SEC Tournament was we got just about everybody in, just short of a couple of guys that we were saving for the next day in (Evan) Anderson and (Matt) Denny, but all the other relievers got in, and everyone pitched well," Bianco said. "Over the past few weeks with no midweek games, it's been tough with guys like (Josh) Laxer and (Wyatt) Short, who have seemed to not pitch as much. Laxer got in twice, and although it was a little tougher for Short in his outing, at least he got out there.

"You want to win the tournament, but one of the biggest things is how it prepares you for this tournament. I was happy with how we used the pitching and how much everyone got in."

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Riding a six-game win streak, Ole Miss travels to face Mississippi State in a three-game weekend series as part of Super Bulldog Weekend, which also includes Saturday's Maroon-White spring football game.

Mississippi State has averaged 7,700 fans at Dudy Noble Field, which ranks third in the nation behind LSU (10,770) and Arkansas (7,871) and just ahead of Ole Miss (7,481) and South Carolina (7,408). Mississippi State has set a goal to break the on-campus attendance record, which the school set in 1989 with 14,991.

"With Super Bulldog Weekend, it's going to be a ton people, and certainly when your rivals come to town," head coach Mike Bianco said. "We have also been to South Carolina. It's exciting for them. That's why people come to play here and play in the SEC. You want to play in those types of atmosphere, so the guys are excited for it."

Ole Miss is no stranger to that type of atmosphere, having played in front of 7,000-plus fans in all three games at South Carolina and four SEC home games with 9,000-plus fans at Swayze Field, including 10,523 at last Saturday's doubleheader against Auburn.

"It seems like every spring game for them, it's something like 12,000 or 14,000," Bianco said. "We draw pretty well here, too. Once you get to that number, it's a lot of people. It's not really the amount of people; it's your rival. That's what playing in the SEC is all about. You have to go play baseball regardless."

NOTABLE

Ole Miss has had a knack for the dramatics with an 8-3 record in one-run games, 6-2 in walk-off wins and 11 come-from-behind wins, none more dramatic than Austin Anderson's three-run walk-off home run in the 13th against Auburn last Friday.

Including a pair of home runs by Will Allen and Sikes Orvis Tuesday against Memphis, Ole Miss has 24 home runs through 35 games, which eclipsed last season's mark of 23 in 62 games. Compared to last season through 35 games, the Rebels have also raised their batting average, from .272 to .303, and lowered their earned run average (2.68 to 2.21) and opponents' batting average (.237 to .219).

QUOTABLE

Head coach Mike Bianco: "We're playing really well. In that (0-4) week, we had trouble putting innings together. We had trouble closing out games and trouble doing a lot of things. This offense has been good and pretty consistent throughout the season."

Junior right-hander Josh Laxer, on the weekend: "It's going to be fun. I can't wait. It's going to be a great series. Two great teams, us and State. It's going to be a battle out there. It's going to end up being who's the most clutch because there are probably going to be some close games, so we're excited about that."

Ole Miss held Auburn scoreless for 22 straight innings, from the seventh inning of the series opener Friday through the sixth inning of the series finale Saturday, but the weekend sweep remained in doubt in the eighth inning of the series finale.

In that eighth, Auburn loaded the bases on three straight walks before head coach Mike Bianco turned to Josh Laxer for the second straight day out of the bullpen. He retired the next three batters in order to strand the bases loaded and worked a perfect ninth to preserve the win and complete the sweep.

"It's not the place that you want to bring anybody in," Bianco said. "We're trying to make it easy on him. We wanted him to only pitch one innings after 34 pitches yesterday, and it doesn't work out that. We have a tough top of the eighth, and now the tying run comes to the plate. He comes in and strikes out the side. 

"I'm proud of him. You can see the competitor but you can also see the confidence. He's had some adversity, but he's battled through it. He looked terrific today. Even after pitching yesterday late into the night, to come sit all day today and then get up at the end and do that is pretty impressive."

In game one of Saturday's doubleheader, Christian Trent tossed a complete game shutout, the first of his career. He scattered five hits with two walks and seven strikeouts, which tied a career high. Trent said it was his best outing of the season, as the Rebels won 6-0.

"I felt good," Trent said. "I really felt like early I was struggling a little bit with the walks and stuff. I felt like I started to lock in around the third or the fourth, and then the game kept rolling, so it made it easier. Early on, it was off-speed, and I didn't have great fast ball command, and then later on, my fast ball command picked up, but my off-speed was still there."

"Even though we talk about how many low-scoring games there are, there aren't a lot of shutouts, where the pitcher can go all nine and not give up a run," Bianco said. "That was a great start of the day."

In the second game, Sam Smith recorded his sixth straight quality start, giving up just one run on seven hits with a walk and five strikeouts in 6.2 innings. He left with a 5-1 lead in the seventh before the bullpen, led by Laxer, closed out the 5-1 win.

"We broke through in the sixth innings, and it was good to finally get that run support," Smith said. "Coach Godwin has been teasing me, 'We're going to get you some runs,' so that was fun."

"The starters and relievers have been great this year," Laxer added. "You can't really ask for more out of the guys that are starting and coming out of the bullpen. Everybody's doing their job. It's good, and I hope it keeps going."


 

In game one of last Saturday's doubleheader at No. 1 South Carolina, junior right-hander Josh Laxer allowed three runs in the ninth, as the Gamecocks rallied to win 5-4 in 10 innings.

On Wednesday, Laxer bounced back and earned the save in a 4-3 win for Ole Miss over Arkansas State. He followed that outing with a five-out save, his third save of the season, to close out a 4-3 win over Missouri in the Rebels' SEC home opener Friday night.

"Coach B sat me down after that game, and he said I went in there and did what he wanted me to do, which was throw strikes," said Laxer, referring to the 5-4 loss at South Carolina. "He told me if I wanted to be the closer for this team that I to have to have a short memory, and that's what I tried to do."

"He was terrific," head coach Mike Bianco said. "I'm really proud of him. He's done that basically the whole year."

Missouri had cut the Ole Miss lead from 4-0 to 4-3 on three-straight base hits in the eighth when Bianco called for Laxer out of the bullpen, the Rebels' fourth different pitcher of the inning. He inherited the would-be game-tying run at first with one out.

Laxer struck out the first batter, and senior catcher Will Allen erased the runner at first throwing him out at second on an attempted steal. He came back out for the ninth and worked a scoreless inning, punctuated by his strikeout of the game.

"I was kind of expecting to go in in the ninth, but I'm learning slowly but surely," Laxer said. "I'm not used to coming out of the pen, but you have to get ready fast. That's what I had to do and I did. I was just happy to come in and get outs for my team."

Ole Miss staked a 4-0 lead after three runs in the first and another in the third. Senior third baseman Austin Anderson hit a two-run home run into the right-field bullpen, and junior first baseman Sikes Orvis followed with a solo shot to nearly the same area two batters later in the first.

Down 4-0, Missouri threatened in the fifth with runners at second and third and no outs, but Ellis limited the damage to one run. For the game, Ellis allowed one run -- unearned -- on five hits with two walks and five strikeouts, as he lowered his earned run average from 0.82 to 0.67. 

"It was his best outing in three or four weeks," Bianco said. "He had good command with all three pitches. He got ahead on a lot of hitters."

"Mental toughness is a lot of it," said Ellis of his ability to strand runners this season, including five against Missouri. "(Strength and conditioning coach) Ben Fleming kicking our butts in the weight room helps a lot with it, and not just trying to throw it by people like last year but being able to make pitches."




With John Gatlin's walk-off infield single in the 13th to lift Ole Miss past UCF, 4-3, the Rebels have won three straight games, all in come-from-behind, walk-off fashion, which also included two midweek wins over Louisiana-Monroe.

"During the whole fall, new strength coach Ben Fleming preached toughness and put us through everything that you could imagine to prepare us for these situations," Gatlin said. "Coach Bianco preaches it a lot. Honestly, at this time and in these games, we feel like there's no chance that we're going to lose because we're so prepared for it."

Gatlin was the hero at the plate, but pitching staff also played its part in the win, limiting UCF to three runs on eight hits with seven walks and 12 strikeouts in 13.0 innings of work, highlighted Chris Ellis who got the start and then Preston Tarkington and Josh Laxer out of the bullpen.

"I don't know if we have ever had three walk-off wins a week, and they are games where we are behind and then come back," head coach Mike Bianco said. "The neat thing is it's come from different guy, and I don't mean just offensive heroes. To have those, you got to have some pitching and defensive heroes. There are guys who have difference-makers, and it seems like it's a different guy every night. 

"And there's not a bigger one than Gatlin tonight. He's a fifth-year senior, very selfless, and he's a guy who has battled back from injury and hadn't played baseball in over a year. He comes off the bench and has a great at-bat at the end to win it for you."

On the mound, Ellis extended his earned-run scoreless streak to 22.0 innings to begin the 2014 season, as he allowed just one unearned run on one hit with four walks and five strikeouts in seven innings of work. Through three starts, the Birmingham, Ala., native has allowed just 10 hits with nine walks and 14 strikeouts, which included a complete-game shutout last Saturday against Georgia State.

"He didn't have his best stuff and a few too many walks, but we extended some of those innings with some errors," Bianco said. "That's unfortunate. We made him work a little harder than maybe he should have."

Ellis left with the game tied at 1-1 after seven innings. In the eighth, UCF took a 3-1 lead, but Ole Miss answered with two runs in the bottom of the inning to send the game to the ninth tied at 3-3. UCF threatened again in the ninth and 10th, but the Ole Miss bullpen got big outs to extend the game and eventually give Gatlin and the Ole Miss bats a chance in the 13th.

In the ninth, Tarkington inherited the bases loaded with one out and got an infield fly and a strikeout to end the inning. In the 10th, Laxer entered the game with runners at first and second with one out and got a foul out to third and a strikeout to get out of the inning.

"From there, there was no way that my teammates were going to let there be any other result," said Tarkington of his inning-ending strikeout in the ninth. "We were definitely going to come out and win the game after that happened, and especially when Josh Laxer came in and did the job that he did. That was incredible."

"We had a couple of big spots for the bullpen, one by Tark there in the 9th, and certainly Laxer in the 10th," Bianco said. "That gave us a chance to get some momentum back. It looked like with runners on base, we just couldn't find the hit. We made a little harder than we had to, but I'm proud of the way we competed."

After a scoreless inning from Cheyne Bickel in the top of the 13th, Will Allen led off the bottom of the inning with a hit by pitch on a 2-2 count. Preston Overbey advanced the runner to second on a sacrifice bunt. After another out and a walk to Colby Bortles, Gatlin stepped to the plate with runners at first and third, and he delivered with an infield single to third.

"We had so many guys set that up for us," Gatlin said. "It couldn't have been done without everybody getting on base like that. I saw it hop, and I saw him bobble him once, and I figured he must have bobbled it more than once for me to beat it out. I was running as fast as I could. It had been a while, but it felt good."

Throughout the summer here on the Ole Miss Sports Blog, we'll take a look at current Rebels and update Rebel fans on how the individual players are performing in their respective summer leagues, headlined by four players in the Cape Cod League.


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C/1B Will Allen -- Baltimore Redbirds -- Cal Ripken Senior League


Allen is listed on the roster for Baltimore, but he has not played in any games.


LHP Scott Ashford -- Richmond RiverRats -- Prospect League


Ashford has appeared in relief in seven games for Richmond. He holds a 7.14 ERA and has allowed nine runs on 10 hits with 12 walks and 11 strikeouts in 11.1 innings of work.


LHP Austin Blunt -- High Point-Thomasville HiToms -- Coastal Plain League


Blunt has made eight appearances, including two starts for Thomasville. He is 0-1 with a 4.50 ERA and has allowed 11 runs -- 6 earned -- on 14 hits with eight walks and 17 strikeouts. Since his two starts, he has moved into the bullpen and has allowed just three runs -- all unearned -- on seven hits with two walks and 12 strikeouts. Thomasville plays the USA Baseball Collegiate National Team on June 29 and 30.


OF Auston Bousfield -- Yarmouth-Dennis Red Sox -- Cape Cod League


Bousfield has a hit in five of his nine games, including four of his last six. He is hitting .188 (6-for-32), including a home run on June 16 against Chatham. He also has four runs scored, four RBI, four walks and a stolen base. He also has a 1.000 fielding percentage and an outfield assist.


RHP Hawtin Buchanan -- Bourne Braves -- Cape Cod League


Buchanan has made three appearances, all in relief, for Bourne. He has allowed just one hit in his eight batters faced. In a combined 2.1 innings, he holds a 0.00 ERA with a walk and strikeout. It is his second summer for Bourne, where he posted a 1-2 record and recorded three saves with a 3.78 ERA in 16.2 innings over 14 appearances last year.


LHP Matt Denny -- Baltimore Redbirds -- Cal Ripken Senior League


Denny, who worked out of the bullpen for the Rebels this past season, has made two starts for Baltimore. In his most recent start, he worked four scoreless innings, giving up just four hits with a walk and three strikeouts. In a combined 7.0 innings, he holds a 2.57 ERA with three walks and six strikeouts. He has allowed just seven hits in his 31 batters faced.


OF Cameron Dishon -- High Point-Thomasville HiToms -- Coastal Plain League


In six games for Thomasville, including three starts, Dishon is hitless in 11 at-bats with a walk and four strikeouts. He also has a 1.000 fielding percentage and an outfield assist. Thomasville plays the USA Baseball Collegiate National Team on June 29 and 30.


RHP Chris Ellis -- Cotuit Kettleers -- Cape Cod League


Ellis, both a starter and reliever for the Rebels this past season, has made two starts for Cotuit. He took a no-hitter into the seventh in his most recent start, June 21 against Harwich, giving up just one unearned run on hit with two walks and three strikeouts. In a combined 10.0 innings of work, he has faced 40 batters and allowed just two runs -- one earned -- on four hits with three walks and nine strikeouts. His nine strikeouts is tied for third in the Cape Cod League.


2B Christian Helsel -- St. Cloud Rox -- Northwoods League


Helsel, who transitioned into a starting role at second base for the Rebels this past season, played left field, third base and right field in his first three games for St. Cloud, but has settled in at first base in recent games. He has four hits in 22 at-bats with a double, two runs scored, two RBI and two walks. He has not played since June 18.


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RHP Josh Laxer -- Bourne Braves -- Cape Cod League


Laxer, a midweek starter for the Rebels this past season, has made two appearances, both in relief, for Bourne. In his most recent appearance, June 22 against Cotuit, he combined with two other pitches for a no-hitter. He recorded a walk and strikeout in three no-hit innings. In a combined 5.2 innings of work, he has faced 22 batters and allowed just one unearned run on one hit with three walks and three strikeouts.


1B Sikes Orvis -- Waynesboro Generals -- Valley League


In 10 games for Waynesboro, including seven starts at first base and designated hitter, Orvis has two hits in 22 at-bats with a double, three walks, a run scored and an RBI.


C Holt Perdzock -- Wilson Tobs -- Coastal Plain League


Including his first appearance on June 12 against Gastonia, Perdzok has played in six of the last nine games for Wilson, including five starts. He started a game each at left field and right field and three behind the plate. In all, he has six hits in 20 at-bats with a double, two walks, two runs scored and an RBI. Behind the plate, he threw out one of four base runners. Wilson plays the USA Baseball Collegiate National Team on June 25.


RHP Scott Weathersby -- So Cal Catch -- California Collegiate League


Weatherby, a reliever for the Rebels this past season, has both started and worked out of the bullpen for So Cal. In his two starts, he has allowed just two runs -- one earned -- on 11 hits with two walks and eight strikeouts. His most impressive performance came in his last start, June 22 against Santa Paula, in which he allowed just one unearned run on six hits with five strikeouts. In a combined 10.0 innings of work, he holds a 2-0 record and 0.83 ERA with two walks and 10 strikeouts. 

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