Ole Miss rallies late to stun Georgia
ATHENS, Ga. - Down to their final five outs and trailing 5-1, No. 11 Ole Miss simply refused to throw in the towel. Back-to-back home runs from Kevin Graham and Tim Elko tied the game in the eighth gave the Rebels a sudden chance to take the series, which they did in 11 innings with an 8-5 victory over Georgia on Friday.
Brandon Johnson (1-0) came away with his first win of this season after a gutsy bullpen effort, going 2.2 innings and getting three crucial strikeouts late in just his second SEC appearance. Taylor Broadway finished things up with a second consecutive save, moving his total to an SEC-leading 12 saves on the year.
Jacob Gonzalez and Kevin Graham each recorded three hits at the plate with a combined six RBI between them and two home runs. Tim Elko added one of his own to tie the game late while TJ McCants and Justin Bench each recorded their only hit late in order to take the lead and not look back.
The Rebels reached base early in the contest after Bench was beaned for the 21st time with one out, but Liam Sullivan took care of the next two Rebel batters in the opening frame. Ole Miss starter Derek Diamond responded by walking two but getting out of the inning with a pop up. After a 1-2-3 inning for Sullivan, the Bulldogs strung together three-consecutive singles. One of those singles drew first blood as a throwing error set up Garrett Blaylock to score on an RBI single from Randon Jernigan to give Georgia a 1-0 lead after two complete.
John Rhys Plumlee’s first at-bat resulted in Ole Miss’ first hit, a one-out single, but Sullivan responded again by retiring the next two batters. Georgia did even more damage in the bottom half of the fourth. Diamond beaned leadoff batter Josh McAllister and set up another Georgia run courtesy of an RBI double by Corey Collins to go up 2-0 on Ole Miss. Collins later moved to third after a flyout and scored a run of his own on a Chaney Rogers single to give the Bulldogs a 3-0 lead after three innings.
Gonzalez used just one pitch to get Ole Miss on the board with a leadoff homer to right field to cut the deficit two runs. Diamond responded with a quick 1-2-3 fourth inning on the mound. Diamond went three-up, three-down for a second consecutive inning en route to the sixth inning, where the Rebels had an opportunity to put runs on the board. A leadoff walk by Bench and Graham single put runners at the corners with one out, forcing Jaden Woods to come out of the Georgia bullpen. Woods got out of the jam with a strikeout and pop up.
It appeared as if Rogers hit a leadoff Georgia home run in the bottom of the sixth, but a review minimized the hit to a leadoff double with no outs. After a strikeout to Parks Harber, Jackson Kimbrell replaced Diamond on the mound. A groundout by Blaylock moved Rogers over to third and a decision was made to intentionally walk Jernigan and put runners at the corners. Jernigan then stole second base and a Ben Anderson single scored both runners to extend Georgia’s lead 5-1 after six innings played.
Woods and Kimbrell both made quick work of the opposing lineups in the seventh before the Rebels went to work in the eighth inning. Following a strikeout of McCants, Bench and Gonzalez hit consecutive singles. On a 2-1 pitch, Graham blasted a three-run home run deep to right field to cut the Bulldog lead to just one. Ben Harris immediately came out of the Georgia bullpen to stop the bleeding, but Elko hit another bomb the other way to left and tied the game 5-5 with one out in the inning. Harris retired the next two batters, giving Georgia a chance to retake the lead in the bottom half of the inning.
After a ground out by Rogers, Kimbrell walked Harber and beaned Blaylock to put Georgia in scoring position. Johnson came out of the Rebel bullpen and took care of Jernigan and Anderson en route to the ninth inning, where McCants reached via walk and nothing else for the Rebels. Two pitches from Johnson put Ole Miss an out away from going into extra innings, but a walk to Collins and a Fernando Gonzalez single put Georgia in position to win it. However, Johnson escaped the inning with a clutch strikeout of Rogers to advance to the 10th inning.
Elko reached on a two-out walk, but worked through it to put Georgia in a spot to win it at home. Harber hit a leadoff single, but the Bulldogs again failed to capitalize as Johnson retired the next three batters and sent the game to the 11th.
Dunhurst reached on a dribbler down the left field line and later advanced to second on a wild pitch. Following consecutive strikeouts, McCants won an eight-pitch battle to come away with a clutch 3-2 single to left field. Dunhurst scored on the play in order to give Ole Miss its first lead of the night, 6-5. Harris intentionally walked Bench and allowed the Rebels to extend their lead after another hit by Gonzalez scored McCants to make it a 7-5 lead. Nolan Crisp replaced Harris after 77 pitches. Two pitches in, Graham widened the lead with yet another single to left field to score Bench and make it a three-run gap.
With the game on the line, Ole Miss turned to Taylor Broadway. The Rebel closer once again delivered with his 12th save of the season and second in two nights, retiring the Bulldogs in short order for a series-clinching win.
Ole Miss will look for its fourth SEC series sweep of the season tomorrow to conclude the 2021 regular season. First pitch is set for 1 p.m. CT and can be seen on SEC Network+.
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