OXFORD, Miss. (AP) - With their gaudy .333 team batting average,
Western Kentucky players feel like they can swing their way out of
any problem. They proved it Sunday night.
Wade Gaynor hit two home runs during a game-tying eight-run
rally, then Jake Wells hit a solo shot to give the Hilltoppers an
improbable 10-9 win over Mississippi, forcing a deciding game in
"We never feel like we're out of a ballgame," catcher Matt
Rice said. "Whenever you're down 9-3 at Ole Miss with all those
fans, you don't feel like you have anything to lose."
The teams will meet Monday night with a super regional berth on
the line. That game will have to be something to match the
excitement Sunday night.
More than 8,300 fans watched Ole Miss (42-18) build what
appeared to be an insurmountable 9-3 lead and imposing closer Jake
Morgan trot on the field. Morgan baffled the Hilltoppers the night
before for his ninth save. But by the end of the six-run eighth
inning, he'd been chased by Gaynor's three-run home run that made
Western Kentucky (42-19) put together 15 hits earlier in the day
to eliminate Missouri 11-6, then had 20 against Ole Miss. Starter
Brett Bukvich handed over a 7-1 lead after five innings and seven
strikeouts, but the bullpen gave up nine runs in the loss.
The Hilltoppers extended a school record for runs in a season
set earlier in the day to 536 and they improved to 26-0 this year
when scoring 10 runs or more.
Gaynor, who became Western Kentucky's first player with at least
20 home runs (25) and 20 steals when he swiped a base against
Missouri, helped start an eight-run rally when he and Rice hit
back-to-back solo homers in the seventh inning.
Matt Smith hit a two-run homer in the bottom of the inning for
the Rebels, though, and Ole Miss coach Mike Bianco felt comfortable
enough with the lead to call on Morgan to put the game away.
But he quickly loaded the bases before giving up a run-scoring
single to Jeremy Coleman, a two-run single to Rice and then the
home run to Gaynor, who tied the Western Kentucky record for runs
in a single season with his 83rd. The loss snapped Ole Miss'
11-game home regional win streak.
"It's tough to pitch with the lead," Bianco said. "I'll look
back at it and wonder if I should've brought (Morgan) in that
Bianco has more tough pitching decisions to make after most of
his pitchers threw over the first three days of the tournament. He
expects to start Drew Pomeranz, who threw 109 pitches in an 8-1 win
over Monmouth on Friday.
Western Kentucky coach Chris Finwood wasn't ready to begin
talking about who might get the start Monday. He was going to give
his players a night of rest before sorting out Monday's lineup.
After all, they deserved a little time to enjoy the moment.
"I'm fairly certain that's the biggest win in our school's
history," Finwood said. "I'm going to go out on a limb there."