June 5, 2009

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Rebel Yell: Smith’s Blast in 12th Wins it for Ole Miss

By Jimmy Jones

Special to CollegeBaseballInsider.com


Jimmy Jones is the world’s greatest baseball fan cleverly disguised as a proud father of five beautiful children. He loves to write about the sport, but it is his action photography that has earned him numerous awards. He has contributed to CollegeBaseballIinsider.com for the past few seasons.


OXFORD, Miss. – Matt Smith (right) hit a walk-off home run in the bottom of the 12th inning to lead the Ole Miss Rebels to a dramatic come-from-behind 4-3 victory over Virginia on a gorgeous sunny Friday afternoon at Oxford University Stadium.
The four runs scored by Rebels (44-18) in the game doubled the number of runs that the Virginia pitching staff gave up in 27 innings in the Irvine Regional last week.
Cavaliers left-hander Danny Hultzen started the game a little shaky with walks to Jordan Henry, who promptly stole second to extend his school record to 36 stolen bases on the season, and to Kyle Henson but settled down nicely to throw a high fastball past Zach Miller, hitting out of the 5-hole to end the inning with no damage done and runners on the corners.
Franco Valdes got Virginia (46-13) on the board in the top of the second with a liner into the right-field gap off Ole Miss starter Phillip Irwin (left) that was good for two bases to score a hustling Steven Proscia from first.
Zach Miller broke up Hultzen’s no-hitter in the fourth with a ball skied into the bright afternoon sun that neither second baseman Keith Werman nor right fielder Dan Grovatt could pick up, resulting in Miller wheeling into second base standing up. Kevin Mort ripped a solid single to center to score Miller with two outs to tie the game at 1. Rebels second baseman Tim Ferguson’s line drive into the alley in right-center field died in the glove of center fielder Jarrett Parker, who made a nice catch going away.

The Cavaliers kept the pressure on the Rebels in the fifth, utilizing a leadoff walk to Valdes and three consecutive hits by Parker, Phil Gosselin and Hultzen, who entered the game hitting .335 to go with his 2.01 ERA, to take a 3-1 advantage to quiet an overflow crowd of 9,213 clad largely in Ole Miss Red.
Ole Miss pulled to within a run in the sixth on a base hit by Miller and a RBI double by Jeremy Travis. Travis was stranded in scoring position when Virginia reliever Tyler Wilson got Kevin Mort to ground out to short for the second out with no advance by Travis. Rebels coach Mike Bianco called on Evan Button to pinch hit for Tim Ferguson, but Button looked at two strikes before popping out to the second baseman to end the inning.
Right-handed reliever David Goforth kept the Rebels within striking distance with a strong eighth. He struck out the first two hitters he faced and recorded the third out on a weak grounder to third baseman Proscia.
Kyle Henson led off the Ole Miss eighth with a line-drive single and Miller was asked to sacrifice for only the fourth time this season. The strategy backfired when Miller’s bunt was directly to the charging pitcher, who forced Henson at second. Matt Packer (right) pitched his way out of the inning with back-to-back grounders off the bats of Matt Snyder and Mort.
The left-hander had his work cut out for him again in the ninth when Button hit a ground ball to the normally sure-handed Werman, who booted the ball to give the Rebels a lead-off runner. Packer then added to his own woes when he hit Basham, who was squaring to bunt. Henry followed with a sacrifice attempt that went airborne and into the glove of sliding third baseman Proscia for the first out. Cavaliers closer Kevin Arico was summoned from the bullpen to face Power with runners at first and second. Power brought the crowd to its feet with a clutch RBI single to tie the game before Arico put out the fire with strikeouts of Smith and Henson, ending regulation and ensuring free baseball for all.


After two scoreless innings with both teams squandering potential winning rallies, Smith, a 6-3, 231-pound sophomore from Milan, Ga., ended the drama with a no-doubt-about-it homer over the left-field fence on the first pitch he saw from Arico in the bottom of the 12th to set off a wild celebration throughout Swayze field.


“I wanted to see if he would challenge me inside and he did,” Smith said. “I don’t remember too much after that.”
It was Smith’s first hit of the game after previously stranding three base runners, the eighth homer of the season, and the first walk-off hit of his career. He helped the Rebels reach the Super Regional with a two-run triple in their Regional-clinching win over Western Kentucky.
The two teams hook up again on Saturday for the second game of the best-of-three series. The first pitch is scheduled for 11:00 a.m. Central.

(photos by Jimmy Jones)