OXFORD, Miss. - No. 3 Ole Miss appeared to be on the ropes in the waning minutes of Saturday’s series decider vs. ULM at Swayze Field, down 5-4 in the bottom of the ninth, but junior Kevin Graham played hero once again as he lifted a fastball over the right field fence for a walk-off victory in stunning fashion.
The Rebels have now won back-to-back series since dropping the home opener vs. UCF and are victors of eight straight ballgames. Ole Miss also added yet another walk-off victory, to increase their total to three in this long home stretch.
Graham is on a tear this week after starting off the season with lower numbers than he would have hoped. The Rebels’ typical starting left fielder, who notched his first season start at first base today, recorded his fourth home run in the past five games. Today’s game was Graham’s most impactful effort yet, but the junior has been a critical piece in each victory throughout the Rebels’ winning streak.
On the mound, sophomore Drew McDaniel earned his first career weekend start today and proved his presence immediately, going a career-high 5.2 IP with just one earned run allowed, five strikeouts, and zero walks. ULM’s late lead prevented McDaniel from securing the win, but Taylor Broadway patched things up with 2.0 late relief innings to earn his third victory of the season.
McDaniel made easy work of the Warhawks throughout most of his outing but got out to a slow start in his first inning on the mound. The Rebel starter’s first batter faced reaching on a throwing error by Jacob Gonzalez, and although McDaniel retired the next two, a snap throw from Hayden Dunhurst to catch a runner stealing helped limit McDaniel’s first-inning pitch count to 24.
Still, McDaniel was effectively working through ULM hitters, and the Warhawks didn’t even get their first hit until the third inning.The Rebels, meanwhile, were having more luck at the plate against ULM starter Ty Barnes.
Kevin Graham recorded the first run of the ballgame in the bottom of the second on a Hayden Leatherwood fielder’s choice that was mishandled by the ULM middle infield.Ole Miss tacked on two more an inning later, again with the help of Graham. After Peyton Chatagnier and Tim Elko reached on a walk and double, respectively, Graham was in prime position with two runners in scoring position and sent both home on an RBI single to center field.
ULM finally broke through with a manufactured run in the top of the fourth against McDaniel on an RBI single for their first run of the ballgame to make it a 3-1 score. Although the Rebels had a golden opportunity in the bottom half after they put their first two men on to force a pitching change, the first ULM reliever of the afternoon retired three in a row to strand both Rebel runners and hold the Ole Miss lead at just two.
McDaniel appeared as if he could close out six complete innings on the mound, but through 5.2 IP, the Rebel starter ran into some trouble with two outs after a runner reached on an Elko error and advanced on an errant pickoff attempt. ULM cashed in with a two-out RBI single, and Bianco elected to turn to his first reliever in Austin Miller with two outs in a one-score game. Dunhurst closed the inning with his second caught stealing of the day, and it took Miller just two pitches to close the inning.
Ole Miss had another opportunity to extend their lead in the bottom of the sixth after TJ McCants reached on a bunt single and Chatagnier put them both in scoring position with a two-out double, but Dunhurst grounded out to strand both runners and leave the score at 3-2.
Miller worked another flawless inning and retired three straight in the seventh before handing the ball off to his fellow reliever Taylor Broadway to start out the eighth.To Broadway’s advantage, however, the Rebels increased their lead in the bottom of the seventh as Calvin Harris added an RBI by scoring Elko on a groundout, and Ole Miss took a 4-2 lead into the eighth for Broadway to work with.
Broadway was able to get two quick outs but ran into some trouble with two down. Ole Miss allowed a few runners to reach on some defensive mishaps around the infield and later allowed three different runs to cross the plate, all with two down, that let ULM take its first lead of the weekend. Elko appeared to make an inning-saving diving play on a 5-3 groundout, but after review, the runner was ruled safe and later went around to score. The Warhawks added their third and final run of the frame on a delayed double-steal with runners on the corners.
Ole Miss was down to their last two outs in the bottom of the ninth, but after an Elko HBP with one down, Graham lined a 1-1 fastball into the home bullpen for a walk-off, two-run home run. Graham’s shot turned the one-run deficit into a one-run lead as Graham and Elko both came around and plated two on the walk-off shot.
No. 4 Ole Miss will go for the series sweep against ULM tomorrow from Swayze Field with a first pitch of 1:30 p.m. CT.