OXFORD, Miss. - In eight hours of baseball at Swayze Field, the Rebels had their first walk-off win of the season courtesy of captain Tim Elko. However, that success could not be replicated in the series-deciding third game as Ole Miss split Saturday’s doubleheader with a 6-5 win and 7-2 loss to the UCF Knights.
DOUBLEHEADER GAME 1
In the first game of the day, Gunnar Hoglund went the distance, going seven innings and striking out 10 while giving up six hits and two runs. Jackson Kimbrell (2-0) closed the game out and gave up three hits, but yielded no runs and finished with the W. At the plate, Jacob Gonzalez went 2-for-5 while eight other Rebels recorded a hit. They took advantage of UCF closer David Litchfield in the ninth inning with three hits, setting up Elko’s game winner.
The Rebels drew first blood with an RBI double from Cael Baker that scored Hayden Dunhurst all the way from first base. On the following pitch, Hayden Leatherwood hit his first home run of the season, smacked to center field, giving Ole Miss an early 3-0 lead.
Fast forward to the fifth inning, the Knights threatened with back-to-back singles from Alex Freeland and Tom Josten, no outs. With runners at the corners following an out at second base, John Montes got UCF on the board with a two-RBI double down the right field line that scored Pablo Ruiz and Freeland. Elko then tagged John Montes out at third base before a strikeout of Gephry Pena got Ole MIss out of the inning with no further damage.
The Knights again threatened in the seventh inning after back-to-back singles by Freeland and Josten, but Hoglund struck out the side and left the bases loaded. Ole Miss had its own chance to tack on some runs in the inning, but UCF caught John Rhys Plumlee at home plate and quashed those hopes.
Josh Mallitz replaced Hoglund on the mound after seven innings. A walk and fielding error allowed Matt Archer and Jordan Rathbone aboard the bases with one out in the eighth inning, Forsyth then came out of the bullpen and succeeded Mallitz. After striking out Crouch, Ben McCabe launched a three-run homer to center field to give UCF its first lead of the afternoon, 5-3. Back-to-back walks issued to Freeland and pinch hitter Orlando again gave the Knights a golden opportunity to tack on more runs, but a strikeout and pop up ended top half of the inning. The Rebels left Bench and Elko stranded to conclude the eighth inning.
UCF continued to get hits off the Rebel bullpen. Rathbone and Josh Crouch both reached with a single following a double play, but new pitcher Kimbrell struck out the side, setting the stage for Ole Miss to win it down to their final three outs.
Trey LaFleur started things off by getting his third home run of the season with a solo shot to make it a 5-4 UCF lead. After TJ McCants struck out, Harris came in to pinch hit for Plumlee and doubled down the right field line. After Gonzalez lined out to right field, Bench singled and scored Calvin Harris to tie the game. A fielding error by the shortstop put Bench 90 feet away from home plate. With two outs and Elko down to his final strike, he smacked one down the right field line to score Bench and complete the rally.
DOUBLEHEADER GAME 2
The following game saw Derek Diamond (1-1) go 5.2 innings and give up eight hits while striking out nine batters. The Knights churned out 12 hits and recorded a hit in six of nine innings while scoring in five of them. Bench led the Rebels at the plate, going 3-for-4 with a solo home run in the sixth inning while Hayden Dunhurst finished 2-for-3. AJ Jones (1-0) went six innings, giving up four hits and getting 10 strikeouts. Jones also stranded six Rebels on base, minimizing multiple chances for the Rebels to score and take the series.
It was Ole Miss that trailed early after a solo home run by McCabe to left field gave UCF a 1-0 lead. Montes began the third inning by singling to right field, stealing second base, and eventually scoring after Pena doubled to left center to make it 2-0 Knights.
Jones continued to keep the Rebels down while his teammates continued to get hits off Diamond and got a run on the board for the third consecutive inning with an RBI single by Ruiz. Diamond responded with two consecutive strikeouts to end the fourth inning.
After a quick and scoreless fifth inning, UCF again extended their lead in the sixth. McCabe found the base path after being hit by pitch and later stole second base. Ruiz doubled down the right field line to score McCabe and go up 4-0, making Luke Baker come out of the bullpen. In the bottom half of the inning, the Rebels finally broke through. Bench snapped the two inning drought and a solo bomb to left field to get Ole Miss on the board for the first time. The Rebels soon had a golden opportunity with the bases loaded and two outs. On a 3-2 pitch, Jones struck out the side to end the inning.
Baker took care of the first two batters in the seventh inning before the Knights started to pour it on. Rathbone reached after being hit by pitch, followed by a single by Crouch. McCabe then doubled down the left field line to score Rathbone and extend UCF’s lead to 5-1. Johnson came out of the bullpen for Baker and gave up a single that scored two and made it a 7-1 ballgame. The bases were later loaded after a walk and HBP, bringing in Cody Adcock out of the bullpen. A fly out got Ole Miss out of the inning with no further damage. Harris hit a one-out single, but the inning ended with a double play.
Late in the top half of the eighth inning, UCF had runners on second and third with two outs and Cole Baker on the mound for the Rebels. Baker retired the side via strikeout. After two singles an a muffed throw, Ole Miss had the bases loaded with no outs. Bench scored on the next play, but it came on a double play. The inning ended abruptly following a ground out by Gonzalez. With Ole Miss down to their final three outs, Zachary Bennett delivered out of the bullpen and secured the weekend series win.
The Rebels will be back in action on Tuesday, March 2 to take on the Memphis Tigers in midweek action. First pitch is set for 4 p.m. CT and can be listened to on the Ole Miss Radio Network.